It may lack the uninhibited atmosphere of Rio and the drunken debauchery of Mardi Gras, but the "Fasnacht" in Basel still attracts tens of thousands of people from Switzerland and abroad for three days of merriment.This content was published on March 7, 2001 - 07:40
The lights went out on the stroke of 4am. There was a short silence and then lanterns were lit and the sound of thousands of fifes and drums filled the streets and alleys for the traditional morning procession - or "Morgestreich", as it is known in the local Swiss-German dialect.
Other Basel carnival sounds include the discordant - but catchy - "Gugge" music played by brass bands.
For the best part of a year, some 12,000 active participants have been preparing the grotesque masks and a dazzling array of costumes and floats for the Fasnacht.
They all belong to "cliques" or carnival groups which take the fun very seriously. Float themes and satiric verses are vetted in advance by carnival committees and there's a degree of organisation that would be unthinkable in the carnivals of South American cities and New Orleans.
The subjects of satirical verses prepared by the cliques this year include the "war" between rival free newspapers throughout Switzerland and the television programme "Big Brother".
But most are about local politicians and are only understood by the people of Basel. Another theme is the way the city is celebrating the 500th anniversary of its entry into the Swiss Confederation.
Basel Fasnacht is one of the world's oldest, dating back to 1376. Its start was switched to the Monday after Ash Wednesday in 1757 - and no one seems quite sure why it takes place in the week after the beginning of Lent.
by Richard Dawson
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