Monday, February 14, 2005


at 4am, the bells toll, and the lights go out and the crowd cheers, once, and it will be the only time the crowd is loud, all night.
the morgenstraich in basel, it's magical.

till and i drove out to basel in heavy snow, leaving at 2:30am, thinking we'd have to turn around before we get to the a5, because the view sucks: looking at the windshield is like looking into a washing machine of snow. driving 80 is the max.
but strangely the snowfall lessens the further we get south, the view gets better, and soon enough we're cruising south.
till jokes it's because the swiss got better connection to the weather gods. i joke that they simply got a deal with them to not waste that snow somewhere where you can't ski.
we talk, as we always do, till and i, and it's all fine.

just before 3am, we turn on the radio, joe cocker sings "you can leave your hat on", and in that instant i hope a woman is stripping for her lover in heitersheim or any other boring little breisgau town for that matter, just because of it.
the road info tells us that all is fine on the a5 and up in schleswig-holstein, too (does germany shrink at night?), and the lone moderator on swr1 announces that bill clinton won a grammy for the audiobook of his memoir, and the way he says the word "memoir", you know he thinks about cigars and blowjobs and stains on dresses.

we drive through weil, and yes, we take yet another route than last time, end up at yet another border crossing, this is the end of the eurpean union, and weirdly enough, it's just right, that one, the guards on patrol are superkind this time, no evil questions, a quick look into the papers and a goodbye-have-fun and we're past them, and at the badischer bahnhof, in a parking lot, in the crowds, in the tram and in the crowds, heading downtown.

i've never seen anything like it.
the city is packed, people are heading there from all directions, young, old, dresed up or not, but the mood is quietly excited. celebratory. magical. it's not like any other large crowd i've been in.

carnival groups, "cliques" as they say in basel, are meeting up, hidden in costumes and masks, holding lanterns yet to be lit.

the crowd is calm. there is no pushing. no shoving. no screaming. no evil drunks. not a moment of discomfort. a little bit of a pot smell every once in a while, but we're in switzerland, so what. we're past the cathedral, down the pedestrian mall and on the market square by 8minutes to 4. what i'm supposed to expect, i don't know.

at 4am, all the bells in the city toll. all(!) lights go out. the crowd cheers.

and then the drummers and pipers start and the lanterns are being lit, and the cliques start moving through the packed streets, holding up their lanterns, displaying beautiful, funny, satirical, ugly, critical, political, artistic giant themed-lanterns.

it's beautiful. all of it is beautiful, breathtakingly beautiful.
i usually hate these kinds of things, large crowds, rituals, costumes, but this is different. the mood is different. the feel is, too.

i stand in the large and strangely quiet crowd on market square, paralysed by the beauty of it all, by the ritual, by the snow that's still falling lightly, by the happiness i feel, by the longing i feel.
i feel like a beacon of calm and happiness and sweet pain in this night of strange drums and pipes music and lights and and masks and costumes.
i could cry.

we stand in one spot for a good long while, till and i, before we realise that what you do is follow cliques here and there, going to different spots in the inner city, so that you don't miss out on any. we're always admiring the lights and the mood and the costume, cliques of kids, of teenagers of adults, and the behaviour of the crowd.
we end up in the middle of barf├╝sser square, being surrounded by moving cliques on all sides, moving from gerbergasse to freie strasse or up the square. from where we stand, a bit higher up, you can see in all directions, and it's wonderful, all those lanterns and lights and strange music and costume.
till and i, we don't talk much beyond "wow, this is awesome. fucking awesome."
i wish i had a camera, but i don't. i borrow till's for three or four shots before he thinks i'm overdoing it (typical flickr-ite, me).
i take mental pictures.
i can not describe them.

by 6am, we're both cold and exhausted, even though i'm sure i could stay till the end of the night, but we sit in front of the kunstmuseum sharing tea and cake and then head to the tram and the parking lot and the car ("caro, you're the only woman i know who's got a sense of getting around places.") and then through riehen and weil to the a5, and it has stopped snowing and there's classical music on the radio and a french chanson station, too, and i get sleepy and fall asleep and then we're in freiburg, it's 7am, and i walk through the awaking city, close the shutters, get out of my clothes and only realise then that i'm freezing, really freezing, and tired, and that it was good to head home even though i didn't want to. and then i go to bed. at 7am.

basler morgenstraich 2005.
it was the first, not the last time.