A curiously Swiss New Year tradition

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Wine fountain, Basel

Switzerland’s fountains are justifiably praised for their abundance (they are everywhere) and purity (it is fine to quaff from almost all of them). Once a year, the fountain at the foot of the cathedral hill in Basel goes one better: in a curiously Swiss New Year tradition, it runs wine!

Never mind that this happens on New Year’s Day, after a full season of holiday feasting, and just hours after clocks have ticked over to the new year. Both times I’ve attended, there have been about 200 people gathered around the fountain to toast the incoming year one more time.

Basel’s guilds salute the city & a new year

Guild performs on New Year's Day
At precisely 11:00 a.m. on 1 January, New Year’s Drinking out of the Fountain kicks off with music by a band of caped members of one of the city’s ancient trade guilds.
Toasting the citizens of Basel
There’s a short speech, ending with a toast to the citizens of Basel, wishing everyone good luck in the coming year.
Queuing for wine
Then, the assembled crowd queues, cups in hand, to receive a glass of cooled mulled wine, piped through the fountain for the occasion.
Queuing for wine
After the first round of celebrants, the fine ceramic pitcher was substituted with a vessel more akin to Tupperware, in non-traditional yellow and green plastic. No one seemed to mind.

Local symbols take center stage

With Pierre Fϋrbringer, retired goldsmith
The fountain is decorated with painted signs by retired goldsmith Pierre Fϋrbringer, who enthusiastically gave me a lesson in Basel iconography.

Baselstab artTwo figures front the fountain: a dragon; and a black Baselstab, the city’s symbol fashioned in the form of a bishop’s miter. The staff is decorated on both sides with iconic images of Basel-Stadt.

On the front, greeting guests, are the old traditions: Neptune, current-pulled ferry boats and a drawing of the 13th century bridge across the river, representing the Rhine River; the Town Hall and Basel founder Lucius Munatius Plancus; the Munster (cathedral); and Lalle Koenig, a very old image that figures in local lore.

On the reverse, several “new” traditions associated with Basel are drawn: The “BIZ-Bank”; Helvetia and “Hammering Man” statues; Basel University (this new tradition is one of the oldest universities in Europe!); Tinguely’s Fasnacht Fountain; and the city’s beloved Zolli (zoo).

An all-Basel, curiously Swiss New Year

Basel’s many traditions through the calendar year are full of ingenuity, individuality and enthusiastic participation. This unexpected way to kick off the New Year proved to be all three. And to my surprise, mulled wine is every bit as good as the hot version, at least on a day that is more cloudy than cold.

Pewter wine cup
When it came time to queue, members of the various guilds pulled silk pouches from their coat pockets, and placed engraved pewter cups under the spout. This handsome one is for the sailors’ guild, Zunft zu Schiffleuten, established in 1354.
Mystery man at the wine fountain
I was not able to work out all the details of this morning’s very local Swiss New Year event. Can anyone tell me what this fellow, lifting his glass over the edge of the fountain, is about?

New Year’s Drinking out of the Fountain provided a most interesting start to the New Year here. Here’s to a rollicking 2013!

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4 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Anita, This is very interesting! I hadn’t heard of this tradition before. Will have to try and be in Basel on Jan. 1st to check it out one year. Many thanks, and Happy New Year!

    • Thank you Heddi…With your interest in all things food-and-Swiss, Basel has quite a bit to offer, and this is just one of them. 🙂 Best wishes for 2016!

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