Local History

Fasnacht 2019, Sujets. Foto/Photo: TES.

A Short History of Fasnacht

Basel has been a Protestant city since 1529 and yet the beginning of Lent, a Catholic ritual, is celebrated exuberantly even after the Reformation. The Fasnacht, as the event is called today, is based on the beginning of Lent, but according to the old Catholic calendar.

For this reason, the Fasnacht starts the first Monday after Ash Wednesday. Pope Urban II (1042-1099) brought forward Lent by six days in 1091, so only the calendar of Basel counts 40 days to Easter and is therefore actually correct.

Until about 1930 Fasnacht was written with a ‘t’, so Fastnacht. The Fasnacht was first documented in 1376 and then several times in urban regulations until 1529. The Church was not amused by this feast and tried in vain to prohibit it. In the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, there were also references to the wearing of masks, perhaps for reasons of anonymity, perhaps as imports from Italian regions.

After the Reformation, the Protestant Church was not a supporter of Fasnacht neither, especially since it was seen as a Catholic custom. The mighty burghers and their Guilds inspected their militia the Monday after Ash Wednesday, on Fasnacht, and combined this with parades, including with drums and the use of masks.

It was not a party for the common people, but an event for and by the wealthy citizens of the city. They also organised masked balls in the private sphere. This would remain the situation until 1813.

The ancien régime came to an end and a new class of citizens emerged and many Catholics immigrated from other cantons and Germany.

The German influence was so great that around 1900 and 1925 a Prince Carnival and the German language were prominently present.

From 1910 onwards Fasnacht acquired its present character, as it is now known, with piccolo’s, drums, costumes, present masks of paper-maché (after 1925) and satire, the Sujets, which were conceived, designed and shown by ever more  associations, so-called Cliquen.

The Fasnachts begins punctually at 04.00 in front of the St. Martin’s church, the so-called Morgenstraich with drums and piccolos only.  The Cortège takes place in the afternoon with around 11 000 participants. The Schnitzelbänkler perform Monday evening and night in numerous cafes and restaurants. They are the troubadours of satire. Tuesday is dedicated to the children.

The illuminated Sujets are shown on the Münster on Tuesday evening. Other musical instruments (the Guggenmusiken) are allowed on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The Fasnacht ends on Thursday morning 04.00 (Source: Museum der Kulturen Bazel, www. mkb.ch).