After several years of hearing about it, we finally made it to the Chienbäse parade and bonfires in Liestal, just outside Basel. It kicks off the annual Basel carnival (Fasnacht) by taking place the night before, always the first Sunday night after Mardi Gras.
Arriving in the evening at around 7pm we were stuck by the strange sight of the village in a complete state of disarray with rubbish and confetti everywhere and people dressed up in funny costumes wandering around in a drunken state. How far from the usual Swiss picture perfect villages, with nothing out of place! The carnival had obviously been going on all afternoon but we had got there just in time to see the fire parade.
The parade dates back to the 19th century but of course the celebration of fire goes back much further to pagan rituals of expelling the winter months. The torchlight procession creates an impelling and dramatic pageant as it moves through the darkened town. Firemen hose down the ancient city gates as both men and women carrying huge burning bundles of pinewood run of walk through the archway. More recently burning carts have been added and their huge crackling blazes often reaching as high as the rooftops get the crowds roaring.
We tried to watch the parade from the top of the village but it was difficult to get a decent view because of the crowds. However after squeezing through the tiny alley ways between the houses we managed to find a great spot right next to the gateway and had amazing close up views of the procession with the firemen hosing down the buildings and the torch carriers. The heat and the smoke was almost unbearable but the atmosphere and the spectacle was incredible.
As the procession came to an end, we naturally had to have a beer and a bratwurst to end the evening while the carnival continued with brass bands playing their favourite 70’s and 80’s songs.
A shower and a complete change of clothing is necessary after the event!
Where: Liestal ( 40 mins from Mulhouse)
When: The first Sunday after mardi gras (Feb/March)