Basel’s Fasnachtsplakette (Fasnacht Badges)

Since early January, you have heard the cries on the streets: “Blaggedde! Blaggedde!” These cries come from street vendors located throughout town selling Fasnachtsplaketten (Fasnacht badges) to passers-by. And when you look at people in the streets, you’ll see many of them sporting a copper, silver, gold, or silver/gold badge on their coats. These badges are an integral part of the Fasnacht in Basel and many other communities, a sort of “entry ticket” to the Fasnacht.

Why Fasnacht Badges?

The profits from the sale of the Fasnacht badges are the only kind of financial subsidies the various Fasnacht clubs, or Cliques, receive. Being an active participant in the Basel Fasnacht is a very expensive hobby. The Cliques spend enormous amounts of money on their costumes—both the face masks (Larven) and the rest of the costume (Maske)—their lanterns, and possibly their wagons. All of these are generally newly designed each year to match the Clique’s chosen topic, or Sujet, for the year. And even if parts of previous costumes, lanterns, or wagons can be recycled, the new items require additional materials that must be paid for by the participants themselves. The Cliques receive no public funds to cover these costs; any support for the Fasnacht from the city is given in the form of public services, such as traffic diversions, security, and cleaning up the enormous amounts of confetti and other trash that accumulate on each of the three days of Fasnacht. Therefore, the Cliques rely on the income from the badges to help defray their costs. The proceeds of the sales are split among the accredited groups (usually all groups that participate in the big parades on the Monday and Wednesday of the Fasnacht week).

Of course, you are not required to purchase a badge and can attend all public Fasnacht events without one; however, buying and displaying a badge is strongly encouraged and you are much more likely to receive goodies during the parades rather than be doused in confetti if you have one.

A Short History

Fasnacht badges in Basel have been around for more than 100 years. In 1910, the Fasnacht Committee was founded in Basel to help coordinate the main Fasnacht activities, and in 1911 they produced and sold the first badges to raise some funds. Since then, a new badge has been designed almost every year. The only interruption was from 1915-1919, during World War I, and during World War II, the same design was used in 1941 and 1942.

So how do they come up with the new designs? Every year, shortly after the Fasnacht ends, the Committee holds a new competition for the design of next year’s badge. Local artists are invited to submit their ideas and drafts that either depict a general aspect of the Basel Fasnacht or a specific topic of interest that is likely to shape the upcoming Fasnacht. The winning design of 2021 in the shape of a toilet paper roll made reference to the pandemic and the associated “toilet paper crisis,” whereas 2020’s pre-pandemic design with some Fasnacht figures rolling along on an e-scooter highlighted the new trend of e-mobility, shared economy, and sustainability that really took off around 2019. The competitions can yield more than 100 entries. During late summer, the Committee then meets to look at all entries (which are presented anonymously) and choose one design. This is then presented to the public and the artist revealed at the end of December, shortly before sales of the new badge begin. Usually, the design and topic of the Fasnacht badge is one of the best-kept secrets in Basel, but occasionally the information is leaked ahead of the big reveal, as happened in 2012, with the 2013 badge.

How the Badges Are Made

Since the 1930s, the Basel Fasnacht badges (as well as those for many other Fasnacht organizations) have always been created by the same local company. When the winning design has been selected, the artist works together with an engraver to create an enlarged model from plaster. This model then is used to create a plastic negative, also in the large size, which serves as a template for the creation of a steel mold in the desired final size. Separate molds are created for the front and the back of the badge. The molds are used to create copper or brass badges in a hydraulic press, which then are trimmed to the final size and shape. Next, the pins are pressed into the back of the badges. Finally, the badges are polished or are treated further with a thin layer of nickel (for the silver version) or gold before being polished. For the “Bijou” version, the silver badges are glued to a slightly larger gold background badge.

The 2022 Badge

The design and motto of the 2015 Fasnacht badge was revealed during a vernissage on December 29, 2021. It features an older drum major standing on a scale who, over the course of the pandemic, has gained quite a bit of weight and is now finding that he doesn’t quite fit into his costume, which has been cobbled together from leftover accessories (such as brushes for the epaulettes of his uniform jacket or the toilet paper role instead of a badge, a subtle nod to the design of last year’s badge and the “toilet paper crisis” at the onset of the pandemic). The accompanying motto, “Bassts no?” (Does it still fit?) can refer to many of the questions that still remain after 2 years of the pandemic. This year’s design (chosen among 129 entries in this year’s competition) was created by Basel artist Kurt Walter—the fifth time that he has won the competition.

The badges are available in 4 versions: copper (CHF 9), silver (CHF 18), gold (CHF 45), and Bijou pendant and/or needle (CHF 100). They are available directly from the Fasnacht Cliques, at certain Kiosks, and from numerous street vendors associated with different Cliques.