Basel, Herbstmesse. Foto/Photo: TES.

Nostalgia in Basel 1471-2021

The autumn market (Heerbschtmäss) of Basel is taking place for the 547th time since 1471. In 1721 and 1722 (pest), 1831 (cholera), 1918  (Spanish flu) and 2020   (Covid-19) the market was canceled. The first market took place on October 27th, 1471.

Petersplatz, Hääfelelimäärt for crafts and artisans

More than 500 stands offer their products, food and drinks at seven locations: the Münsterplatz, Petersplatz, Barfüsserplatz, Messeplatz, Rosentalanlage and the Kaserneareal. The market is the largest in Switzerland and one of the largest in Europe.

Nostalgia and Homesickness

The motto of the jubilee in 2021 was  “nostalgia” for two good reasons. Firstly, the market is an annual event that is passed on from generation to generation with nostalgia.

Secondly, the term ‘Nostalgia’ was used for the first time in Basel. Johannes Hofer (1669-1752) examined in his dissertation ( Dissertatio Medica de Nostalgia, Basel 1688) the mental health of Swiss mercenaries.

He concluded that nostalgia for the homeland was a significant cause of illness. He combined the Greek words νóστος (nóstos), meaning to come home, and ἄλγος (algos), pain. In German it is called Heimweh, in English Homesickness.



In 1471 Basel was still part of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation (Heiligen Römischen Reiches der deutschen Nation). Basel joined the Confederation of Swiss cantons, the Eidgenossenschaft, in 1501. Moreover, Basel was not just any episcopal city, but the bishop was also a Prince, Reichsfürst, of the Empire.

In 1471 Emperor Frederick III  (1415-1493)  granted the long-awaited permission for the annual market. Because of the Basel Council (1431-1449) and the support of Pope Pius II (1405-1464), who also founded the University of Basel in 1460, the city had a good reputation.

The presence of publishers, printers, scholars, humanists, and good accessibility by water and land also increased the status.

The mayor Hans von Bärenfels (1430-1495) succeeded in 1471. He was one of the last aristocratic mayors. The Bärenfelserstrasse in Kleinbasel is named after him. 

According to the charter, the autumn market must take place before 11 November, St. Martin’s Day. On the last Saturday in October, this year on 29 October, the bells of St. Martin’s Church ring at noon and the market opens with a mass.

Except for a few short interruptions (on the corn market in front of the Town Hall and on St. Peterplatz (1877-1982) the market takes place on the Münster. The Münster has always been the (medieval) location for (military) parades, royal entrances and other high-profile visits, tournaments, processions and other events.


There have always been attractions, wild animals, elephants, for example, games and other entertainment. The horse carousel ((Rösslìritti), the motor scooter (bumper cars), a roller coaster, a Freefall-Tower and an ever-higher Ferris wheel were and are among the attractions.

The market ends as it began: the bells of St. Martin’s Church will ring at noon, November 12th and the market ends with a mass.

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