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Basel cheers brazen antics of savage

Lesser Basel's wild man on parade

(Keystone Archive)

Residents of Basel living on the right bank of the Rhine will be flocking to the riverside on January 27 in anticipation of the arrival of the savage. Once a year, the "wild man" comes to help the people of "Lesser Basel" get their revenge.

Travelling on a raft, the costumed figure performs a wild dance, repeatedly showing his backside to the people on the other shore in "Greater Basel".

Many believe his antics are revenge for the "Lällekeenig" (tongue king) figure, which sticks its tongue out at Lesser Basel, day in and day, out from its position on Greater Basel's side of the river.

But the event is the annual highlight of a centuries old rivalry between the people belonging to the traditional working class on the right bank and the merchants, traders and craftsmen of Greater Basel.

Around mid-morning, the wild man comes ashore in Lesser Basel and is welcomed by two other costumed characters; the griffin and the lion. There's a gun salute before the three set off through the streets of Lesser Basel, dancing and performing age-old rituals.

The custom goes back before records were kept in the city. The wild man is said to be a fertility symbol while the lion represents power and light, sun and fire. As for the mystical griffin, one 16th century scribe wrote that it came from three miles beyond the land of milk and honey.

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