Imagine if you will.
You’re seated outside an ancient cathedral in the centre of Europe. The breeze is sweet and the air smells of grass and river. You’re eating lunch in the fresh air with your Lovely One and you see little flags waving on the bridge in the distance, which has stood for nearly a thousand years. The river flows swift and glittering in the spring air.
You hear… drums. At first you think it’s the giggling of your companion but there is is, distinct, urgent. You see shapes moving on the bridge. Then you hear pipes, and cymbals. You wander in search of the sound, leaving the cathedral grounds, hearing drums from all directions (so far, so Wicker Man). The whitewashed square dazzles in the afternoon sun and suddenly a small troop of children appears. There’s a group playing piccolos and a troupe of boys carrying large silver drums, keeping time while a boy in white gloves solemnly conducts the troupe. You follow them because it’s so peculiar, then you hear more drums, more urgency. You see a group of long-bearded older men, all carrying silver drums and moving in a stately, ordered fashion. Coming up behind them are a group of men in dark suits, carrying tubas and walking more quickly. All playing marching tunes, a cacophony of music and sound.
You run into town, pursuing your little bands, and as you wend your way through the streets of the Altstadt you hear music, you hear the drums. You are surprised by a group of seven year olds playing pipes and bursting out of a side street. You watch groups of men negotiating each other and the corners as they pass another in the street. Suddenly, everyone is wearing a badge, or carrying a flag. Hundreds of people whirl around the streets playing music and shouting, dancing and marching and singing at the top of their lungs. The young play toy drums and the old are wheeled around town with joy and tears on their faces. It was one of the strangest and most joyous experiences of my life and utterly, completely unexpected.
This is the Fasnacht Bummel.
In Basel, each Ash Wednesday heralds Fasnacht. It’s Carnival, but not as you know it. At four a.m., the townspeople rise and dress in fantastical costumes and party for 72 hours. It is satirical, festival, carnival atmosphere and the dancing, singing townspeople practice for weeks their tunes and reels. Each Sunday afterwards is the Bummel, where the townspeople recreate Fasnacht magic until the third sunday afterwards, the day we were there, when the townsfolk celebrate the “Last Blast” in the main square before their ancient Rathaus.
Astonishing. And I’m going back next year for more.