Basel's colorful autumn fairTwo days ago, the Basel Herbstmesse, the biggest and longest-running autumn fair in Europe, kicked off with a feisty clanging of bells and the traditional wave of the bell ringer to a crowd on Martinskirchplatz. It was a Saturday trying to show off a bit of wintry bluster, and the numbers at the opening did appear to be down from sunnier autumns past. Still, the faithful were out to help launch the start of one of the city’s largest annual events. With three weeks to run, we’re sure to get several chances to celebrate the change of season under clear skies.

Bell ringer waves a glove
The Herbstmesse is open!

Herbstmesse traditions

The opening act goes like this. In times past, the bell-ringer was paid in gloves (!), doled out one at a time. Even today, the chap gets one glove at the beginning of Herbstmesse, which he waves out a window of the Martinskirche bell tower. He will receive the second one at the close of the fair. He also blows a small horn to mark the event.

The first round of rides at the fair is free—and can be something of a free-for-all. The lines were not as long as I’ve seen them, and there weren’t as many kids racing to climb aboard the ferris wheel in the center of town. Gradually, though, the cabins of the big wheel filled. Attendants gave a helpful wipe-down to the seats as they helped riders in.

Onlookers wait for the official wave of a glove to open the fair
This year, the audience huddled under umbrellas, but the tradition was kept.
Queuing for the ferris wheel
Queuing for the ferris wheel at Munsterplatz
Flyer in front of the Munster
For at least the opening ride, eager flyers settled into their swing seat for a hoist and a zoom around the canopy in front of the Munster, Basel’s cathedral.

Drizzle was beginning to mix with some sloppy flakes as the ride took off, but loud yodeling over a loudspeaker got a few cheers. Later in the day, the weather took a turn for the worse, ie it just got colder and wetter. At least on Munsterplatz, the crowd was pretty much limited to the soggy tourists who won’t have another chance to see the show.

Over the coming days, I will be out and about, sampling Herbstmesse foods and checking out the other venues (the fair is spread out all over town, each place with a distinct atmosphere and tradition).

In the meantime,  the show goes on!

Related post: Herbstmesse—Basel’s Autumn Fair


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