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Basel buskers must sing “softly”

Basel has banned "excessively loud" instruments from its streets Keystone

Buskers seeking to ply their trade in Basel now have to comply with a dozen new regulations.

The city and its police decided to take action after receiving more than 240 complaints about street music in 2011, up from 85 in 2010 and 47 in 2008.

Since March, musicians and street artists have been limited to 30 minutes of performance time per location per day – after which they must move on.

There are also restrictions on the size of the group, the times when music is allowed – no performances are permitted on Sundays, when the shops are closed – and the volume. Musicians must sing “softly”, according a list of rules published (see sidebar).

“When it’s good, of course everyone likes street music. But when it’s loud – or bad – and it goes on a long time, that is hard for people to take,” canton Basel City police spokesman Martin Schütz told The problem was especially bad around Basel’s Freie Strasse and Barfüsserplatz, both of which are pedestrian zones.  

Basel had already revised its rules on street music in May 2010, stipulating a ban on workdays after 8pm. This was judged to be ineffective, as 78 per cent of complaints in 2010 came after that change.

Mixed response

Basel is not alone in putting some sort of restrictions on street musicians. In Lucerne, would-be street musicians have to get a permit, and Zurich keeps performers out of certain city centre areas.

Zurich police information officer Michael Wirz told that the current system in the city worked well. They have printed maps showing where busking is allowed.

“People come and ask what the regulations are, and we can give them a flyer. In most cases, if we find someone playing in the wrong place, we talk to them, and tell them how it works.”

If there are no complaints, “it is not a problem for us,” he added.

Basel’s new rules have had a mixed response amongst buskers. Tina & Jo, a duo from Lörrach in Germany, remain sanguine about the rules. “We understand the reason for the rules, and that’s fine. We can understand why people want to keep the city peaceful, even though we like hearing music.”

But another busker, who didn’t want to be named, told she was treated rudely after she unwittingly broke one of the rules.

“I started singing at 11:15, and stopped before 11:30, like I should. At noon, I started again, and a man told me I should shove off from Rümelinsplatz where I had been singing, and move somewhere else. I said, ‘Come on, I only sang 10 minutes’. There are so many rules, you cannot help but break one.”

Noisy or nice?

Outside of FC Basel’s match nights and the town’s carnival, when plenty of noise is made, Basel has never been seen as a loud city. Instead it is more famous for its art and culture. Christoph Bosshardt, associate director of Basel Tourism, told that the tourism office welcomed the new rules.

“The quality of street musicians has decreased steadily over the past couple of years. We would of course like it if the buskers were better, and then the city would not have to make any restrictions,” Bosshardt said.

However, the new rules mean that Sundays and bank holidays are particularly silent. During the Men’s Curling World Championships, held in Basel at the beginning of April, curling tourists headed to the city during a rest day – which happened to fall on Good Friday.

“Basel is nice, but it’s very quiet,” commented tourist Lynne Stevenson. “I’m from Edinburgh in Scotland, and street theatre really adds something to the city. Except it’s often linked to criminality and begging. I don’t like that.”

Peace, please

Basel’s police are adamant that the new rules don’t stem from moves against petty criminality.

“It’s all about the quality of life for people living in the city centre,” Schütz emphasised. When announcing the new rules in January, Basel’s justice office drew attention to the fact that earlier and “more liberal” rules on street music had made the city “a draw for organised musical groups from eastern Europe”.

One member of the Innenstadt Quartierverein, a residents’ association that campaigned for this change, told that while passers-by may find street music pleasant, for residents it can be hard to take. “If it were music students, say, people with some sort of knowledge, that would be OK. But often you had talentless people singing for two hours or more under your apartment. It was terrible.”

Another city centre resident complained that “either the good musicians have got thinner on the ground, or the bad musicians have multiplied. Everyone thinks they can do it. It’s really not good enough to pick up an accordion and belt out a tune”.

With the new legislation in place, Basel’s police can punish anyone disturbing the peace by issuing fines of up to SFr80 ($87) for breaking the rules. Yet enforcement of these rules will be a different matter. The police have acknowledged this by printing the rules on posters in both English and in German.

Police say they have tried to spread news of the new rules as widely as possible, but acknowledge that they will probably see many more buskers – possibly rule-breaking ones – as the weather gets better. 

1. Music may only be played during the first 30 minutes of the hour. At half past the hour all music must stop.

2. Music may only be played at lunchtime and early evening, between 11am and 12:30, and 16:00 and 20:30, Monday-Saturday.

3. Up to 4 people maximum per group.

4. Musicians must change location after every time slot expires.

5. Musicians must choose locations out of earshot of any other they previously played at.

6. Musicians may not return to any location they’ve played at on the same day.

7. No “excessively loud” instruments.

8. No playing near a transport stop.

9. No music near hospitals and Basel zoo.

10. No music near cafés or restaurants with outdoor seating, unless explicit permission from establishment given.

11. No amplifiers.

12. Musicians must sing “softly”.

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