The Basler Fasnacht (Basel Carnival)
Museum der Kulturen, Basel
The Basler Fasnacht (Basel carnival) is a major annual event with a rich tradition steeped in history. Every year it attracts tens of thousands of spectators from Basel and from across the world. The Museum der Kulturen offers a permanent exhibition that presents a colorful overview of this unique events, with exhibited items ranging from costumes, lanterns, masks, and musical instruments to historical documents and a replica of a typical “carnival pub.” In addition, a multimedia station provides a lively insight into the hustle and bustle of the Basel carnival.
The permanent exhibition “Basel Carnival” takes visitors into a historical suite of rooms abounding with the unmistakable carnival atmosphere. Accompanied by the typical sound of piccolos and drums, visitors proceed from room to room. These are richly furnished with mostly historical artefacts that lend the Basel carnival its typical guise.
For every Fasnacht group, or Clique, the lanterns are the showpiece of their presentation. They are newly created every year, poking fun at or expressing criticism about events or persons that were relevant in the past year; thus, they represent a formidable and colorful “means of protest.” Ceiling-high lantern screens in the corridor of the exhibit bear impressive evidence of this form of pictorial resistance and the occasionally scathing criticism of the local ruling class and politics. They reveal that the Basel carnival is not only an epic celebration of tones and sounds, but also a momentous feast of colors and imagination.
The Art of Masking
Not only large parts of the population but also many artists actively take part in the “three best days of the year,” as the people of Basel like to call the Fasnacht. This is not only borne out by the colorful lanterns but also by the facemasks, which are locally referred to as “Larve” (lit. larvae). Three rooms are dedicated to the art of mask-making. One room is a replica of a mask studio, the second features traditional models, while the third shows masks that are typically worn today.
The typical atmosphere of the Fasnacht comes out best in the reconstructed “carnival pub,” which also includes the performance of a so-called “Schnitzelbangg” singer. Schnitzelbangg are satirical rhyming songs that in a witty, occasionally mocking form comment on events that occurred over of last year. According to the UNESCO, Schnitzelbangg help to promote tolerance through social criticism and foster social cohesion.
Overall, the UNESCO declared, the Basel carnival can be compared to a huge satirical magazine, which is one of the reasons why the event was included in the organization’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2017.