Local History

Kleinbasel, 20. Januar 2020. Photo/Bild: TES.

Vogel Gryff, Leu and Wild Maa

The piccolos, drums and (march) music are very similar to the Fasnacht (this year from 2-5 March in Basel). The tradition that is honoured annually on 13, 20 or 27 January in Kleinbasel has a different origin, however.

Three companies (Ehrengesellschaften) with centuries of tradition welcome their patrons Vogel Gryff (Bird Gryff), Leu (Lion) and Wild Maa (Wild Man). This tradition dates back to the thirteenth century when Kleinbasel and Grossbasel were still two distinct towns separated by the Rhine.

In 1225 the (wooden) Rhine bridge was built, which would only be replaced by the present Mittlere Brücke in 1905. This bridge led to significant growth in trade and economic prosperity in Kleinbasel, and in 1285 Rudolf I of Habsburg granted city rights.

In the following decades, prominent citizens organised themselves in these three groups: the Society (Ehrengesellschaft) zum Rebhaus (1304 first mentioned) with the Leu, the Society (Ehrengesellschaft) zur Hären with the Wilde Maa, mentioned fort eh first time in 1384 and the Society (Ehrengesellschaft) zum Greifen with Vogel Gryff (first mentioned in 1409).

These societies were not guilds, but united citizens who represented the interests of Kleinbasel and took on tasks including guarding the city walls. As a result, in the fifteenth century, the custom grew of presenting arms once a year on a march through the city. In this respect, there is a parallel with the Fasnacht, because it also stems from the annual presentation of the weapons by the city guards.

The companies organised their march on 13, 20 or 27 January. Since 1839 they have been doing so with rotating dates. The three figures Vogel Gryff, Wild Maa and Leu present themselves through a ritual dance to dignitaries of Kleinbasel.

It is an intensive event because it takes place at about 40 different locations for different people. Three standard-bearers of the three societies, drummers and four jesters, the Ueli, accompany Vogel Gryff, Wilde Maa and de Leu. Members of the three organisations (150 per society) have a joint meal in the afternoon, the Gryffemähli.

The separation from Grossbasel is strictly maintained in this tradition. The parade goes precisely to half of the Mittlere Brücke, and the figures always keep their faces to Kleinbasel and thus turn their backs to Grossbasel. 

In the cathedral in Grossbasel, the heraldry of the three companies is depicted on windows and societies from Grossbasel even support their Kleinbasler colleagues.

Until late in the evening the group marches through Kleinbasel, accompanied by piccolos, drums and locals, young and old. (Source and further information: www.vogel-gryff.ch).