Joannes, Sophie, Issam, David and Philipp take us on a discovery tour of Basel, a city near the German and French border with a turbulent 2,000 year past. Basel still charms visitors with its charming blend of the traditional and modern and its unparalleled art scene.
The Saint-Alban district, with its romantic canals (and the odd rat), half-timbered houses, a Medieval paper mill and modern buildings such as the modern art museum. The Dalbeloch, as the remaining portion of the old rampart is called, is much prettier than its name – a local word meaning ‘St Alban’s hole’ – would suggest. The district itself is also referred to as the ‘Venice of Basel’. Walking through the picturesque area, there’s much to see in a magical setting.
What monument or building holds a special place in your heart?
Basel’s city hall, built in red sandstone. Red also features prominently in Kleinbasel, a district which is particularly animated at night. A closer look into the history of red city hall shows that the facade of the government building was painted in the early 17th century by a certain Hans Bock.
Any local celebrities?
The most famous local is also the city’s symbol: the Lällekönig, located opposite the Mittlere Brücke, which sticks its tongue out at residents 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And he’s been doing it for centuries. The original figure is in the history museum, but the reproduction remains provocative in relation to Kleinbasel – Medieval squabbles between both sides of the Rhine river mustn't be forgotten or forgiven. At least the residents of Basel no longer kill one another. Most of the time, anyway.
A not-to-be-missed event?
Carnival, for sure! It is referred to here as “Drey scheenschte Dääg” (the three best days). Though you’re not required to purchase an entrance ticket, or ‘plaquette’ to carnival, it is recommended. Months later, you’ll still find räppli (or confetti, for non-locals), in your clothes.
What should visitors definitely take home?
Burgermeisterli, a traditional herb liquor. If you don't like strong liquor, try a Basler Läckerli, a delicious gingerbread-type cake. Both specialties can be bought in traditional boutiques downtown.
Where can one find your favorite (sweet or savory) treat?
Fastenwähe, at the Sutter Begg bakery. This bread is traditionally eaten after the Christmas season and until just before Easter. Fastenwähe, or ‘Faschtewaije’ (literally ‘fasting bread’) has nothing to do with lent – to the contrary, it’s gobbled up by locals! Its name is connected to ‘Fastnacht’, or carnival. From a culinary perspective, people from Basel are a bit partial to falsehoods!
What other specialties is the city famous for?
Mehlsuppe, or flour soup. The basic recipe for mehlsuppe couldn’t be more simple: flour and water. While it’s not only served during Carnival, this is the time when it’s best and most appreciated as a way to warm up.
What’s the most incredible thing you’ve seen in the city?
The Fantasy Show. Every year, the streets of Basel fill with hobbits, elves, jedi knights, aliens and super heros. It’s hard to believe your eyes. The new exhibition center, shaped like a larger-than-life boat, is a perfect setting for these otherworldly sightings.
What languages are spoken in Zurich, and what common words should visitors know?
Bale German, standard German, French, Double Dutch, internet slang and English. Like other cities, 21st-century Basel has become a melting pot of languages that rivals Babylon. But the local dialect, ‘Baseldytsch’, is the most common language – unless you want older Basel residents to look at you funny, it’s best to learn a few words. Some important ones are: “Hösch” (listen) and “Dini Mueter” (your mother).