It’s like I’m allergic to chronology. During mid-February, right after my trip to Munich, I had travelled to Luzern for unorthodoxed reasons. In spirit of Halloween, Luzern Fasnacht definitely put the “international day of all things spooky” to shame. It might have been the oversized masks and loud marching bands, but Switzerland sure knows how to scare people in more than one way! (Have you seen their prices for a pair of Adidas sneakers?)
ESN Zürich hosted this event, but many of my friends used this trip as a template to later visit Basel Fasnacht the following week. Unfortunately, I had early morning classes when they made plans, so I skipped out on Round 2.0. The traditions are crazy to say the least, starting a parade at 4:00 on a Monday and ending it exactly 72 hours later. Needless to say, I valued sleep above all else in this instance.
Taking a quick train ride (after 19:00 because free with Gleis 7) to Luzern took you to the heart of it all. Even from the station, you can hear the cacophony of marching bands as they weaved through the streets above. More importantly, you can feel the unfamiliar “sticky shoes” as you climbed closer to the action. Think fraternity floors if you need a reference. Regardless of sanitation, the streets were strewn with elaborate costumes, terrifying décor, and festive spirits. February is typically a dead month in North America, so it was a pleasant change from old habits.
The group of ESN attendees attempted to navigate the winding Old Town. Numbers quickly diminished, as we lost people in pairs to colourful drinks sold from theme vans (a lot safer than how I described them here), gigantic blow up dolls that blocked the streets (again, a lot safe than how I described them here), and generally the spastic crowds that were divided by a consistent flow of marching bands (definitely more dangerous than I described them here). If you compare before and after photos, you’ll know that we spent a good half of the trip attempting to reunite with friends. One of the more memorable adventures was connecting with a fellow from Australia. Not to out him in this post, but he happened to stumble across my friend from Germany is the most piss-drunk manner. Between dropped calls and screaming above brass bands, we finally met up at a checkout counter to split vodka bottles. No oranges were harmed in the making of those drinks, if you must know.
Other than less-than-sober shenanigans, the night was filled with genuine curiosity about the fanatical festival. Historically, Fasnacht celebrations were established to signify the end of the Reformation. To differ from Catholic practices, the practice, especially in Basel, were of strictly Protestant nature. If you’ve noticed with the dates, the festival purposefully ends with Ash Wednesday. With any knowledge on religious practices, the significance of these timelines coincides with the idea of giving up something for Lent and Easter. Just tidbit of fun facts for your quick read.
Back to Luzern and the crazy costumes. The main attractions were the ominous floats and brass marching bands that entertained the city. Each float had a theme with disfigured ghouls and frightening trolls. I’m still not entirely sure why this is the case, but it did prove to provide interesting conversation topics as my friends and I explored the area. More often than not, the sound of clashing cymbals halted our conversation, but that’s also part of the fun. In advice, don’t get in their way. It’d considered rude and warranted to an immediately whiplash with one of the instruments. Some brave souls also dressed up in our group. Many of my friends visited the Brockenhaus prior to departure to get some last minute outfits. We had a 90’s pimp, an authentic samurai, and a cold Canadian. Guess who dressed up as the last one? Some impressive costumes from the night included Minions(!), cute pandas, self-made hot air balloon travellers, family imitation of The Flintstones, and my all time favourite, political satire based on the most recently elected president of the United States. I’m a sucker for relevance and sarcasm.
If you ever find yourself in Switzerland during down time, that awkward window at the end of skiing season and before summer glory, consider exploring the “small” festivals that occur around the country. Fasnacht is just another example of how the Swiss celebrate the end of winter or beginning of spring/summer. Make sure to wear layers, as it might be a little chilly at night. However, with all the movement, you’ll quickly be warmed without the relative help of alcohol (my inner-scientist would argue the physiological effects of this toxin). As well, festivals are the only time you’ll see the Swiss be “non-Swiss”. Often orderly and demure, these celebrations are an opportunity to participate in true Swiss traditions. Later, I’ll be comparing my experience of Luzern on the night of Fasnacht to a typical tourist day through the “the most beautiful city in Switzerland”. Quite frankly, I didn’t realize I had visited Luzern 10 year’s prior until I mentioned it to my mother. Same trip in which I had forgotten about Mt. Titlis. I swear, Switzerland is definitely a memorable country, I was just really young! With that, I’ll be going back to my own scary Halloween of marketing reports and informatics presentations. Boo!