Morgestraich… forward, march!

A few days ago we woke up at 1.30 in the morning. We had some coffee, bundled up, then headed to the empty train station. We (and quite a few other sleepy freiburgers) caught a special train at 2.30 in the morning. It was a bit strange and kind of cool and it felt like we were in on a big secret. I felt like we were on Hogwarts express! And we did go to a magical place: Basel. Woohoo!

You’re probably thinking, Basel is quite nice (they have a little ferry boat that crosses the rhine without engine or oars, just by sliding along a rope like a cable car!), but it’s not exactly magical… well, one night a year, it is a magical place.

The night of the Morgenstreich (or “Morgestraich” in the completely unintelligible – for me, that is :-) – local dialect) is when all the magic happens.

Around 4 in the morning, the Basel carnival cliques that have been gathering in streets, in strange costumes and eerie masks called “Larven”, carrying Basel drums and fifes, turn on the little lanterns they wear on their heads. At precisely 4 in the morning all the lights in the city go out. The clique vanguards lift their wands up in the air and yell: Morgestraich..vorwärts, marsch!, and the carnival troops start wandering the dark streets of Basel, carrying their lanterns and playing marching tunes on the fife and drum…

The only light is the one coming from the colourful lanterns of the cliques, and the music resonating in the narrow cobbled streets is strangely moving. Here’s what it sounded like:  Music at night .

It’s not a parade – there is no designated “cortège” route (that’s for the kiddie parade on the next day!), the cliques are free to wander aimlessly around the streets of the city playing music into all hours of the morning.

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Carnival is a pretty serious affair in Basel – the Morgestraich has been its official and festive launch for about two hundred years. It then goes on to last precisely 3 days, during which the city practically stays awake – the cliques have the run of the streets and most bars and Fasnacht hangouts stay open for 72 hours straight.

We spent the night following little cliques around the smallest of streets, hypnotised by their music – like children following the piper of Hamelin. Remember the story?

It was so strange, and eerily beautiful. The whole town was alive with music and those little lights floating in the air like fireflies, but it also felt magically unreal, like it was alive in a different dimension – in a slightly surreal dreamworld, or in a brothers Grimm fairy tale.

During the Fasnacht, the cliques open their secret hangouts to the public. It’s little cellars hidden around the city where none but their members can go – except on these nights. Completely by accident,  we managed to sneak into one of them – and were very excited to find out that it’s practically impossible to get in (local people that were sharing our table told us they’d been trying to get in for ten years!).  The Ari-Keller is one of the oldest ones, belonging to the Alti Richtig clique. It’s covered in old Carnival signs and masks!

We had some nice beer, and also some Zwiebelwähe (delicious onion quiche) and the traditional flour soup (tastes kinda strange), and went on our way. We followed the cliques around the streets till 7 in the morning. I couldn’t get enough of it!

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8 in the morning, we were back, tired, sleepy and feeling somehow like the whole night had been a dream. Who knows – maybe it was!


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