A highlight of the year in Basel, Switzerland, is the city's annual carnival celebrations, known there as Fasnacht. It is 72 hours of fun that starts on the Monday following Ash Wednesday and ends in the wee hours of Thursday morning.
It all begins with what is known as the Morgestraich.
At exactly 4 a.m., all the lights in the city center go off. Out of the pitch darkness, the sound of drums and piccolos waft through the cold night air. Closer and closer it comes, and a faint light glows in the distance.
Suddenly, there they are, coming from all directions, the musicians and marchers of the city's Fasnacht cliques. Each wears masks. Some have small lamps on their heads. They carry painted lanterns that mock things that happened during the past year.
For hours, this eerie procession crisscrosses the old town, playing strange melodies. Then at dawn it is over. Participants and spectators alike wander into cafes and restaurants for food and drink. A favorite choice is the traditional fare of Basle Fastnacht: Mehlsuppe, a thick soup of flour and "Zwiebel and Käsewähen," onion and cheese cakes.
At 1:30 p.m. the musicians start up again, joined by brass bands, known as Guggemuusiger, and floats. More than 10,000 participants parade on a set route through the crowd-lined streets. It's a more joyous, boisterous celebration now, with confetti, oranges and mimosa flowers flying through the air. The parade is repeated Wednesday afternoon at the same time. Unlike carnival celebrations elsewhere spectators don't wear costumes, only the participants do.
After the parade, many bands continue to march through the streets and it is not uncommon for them to give impromptu concerts on the city squares.
Monday and Wednesday nights feature the so-called Schnitzelbank groups singing in the city's taverns. They sing ditties in the local dialect, known as Baseldeutsch, that end in a joke. Unfortunately, if you can't understand the dialect, you won't get the joke.
The Guggemuusiger make a comeback on Tuesday night, playing their loud, out-of-key-sounding brass songs on the Marktplatz, Barfüsserplatz and Claraplatz starting at 8 p.m.
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