Basel museums turn “night into day”

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Basel MuseumsEach January, Basel-area museums and cultural institutions turn “night into day” with a program of exhibitions, short tours, readings, concerts, workshops, games, stories and more. Last Friday evening, under starry skies and a full moon, it was time for the free shuttle buses, trams and boats to load up with eager museum-goers for the 14th edition of Museumsnacht Basel.

Altogether, 42 museums and host organizations opened their doors from 6 pm Friday until 2 am on Saturday. Thanks to 1,200 staff in three countries, it was eight hours of non-stop culture–Tom and I made it to ten of the venues. It was an opportunity to visit places we’d never been, and to see the special offerings at some of our favorite museums. Take a look!

Museum Kleines Klingental

This museum occupies the former Klingental Dominican convent and features original medieval sculptures from Basel Cathedral, a 17th-century model of the city and the history of the convent itself. For Museums Night, the theme was “Tee with Hans Huber”, star of Basel’s music world in the late 19th century. We got there in time for a fine performance of Huber’s duets and arias for soprano and tenor, with piano accompaniment.

Basel Museums
These Wise Men were originally mounted on a facade of the Basel Cathedral at a height of 30 meters (100 feet) from the ground. Their elongated features were designed to be seen from below.

Pharmazie-Historisches Museum der Universität Basel

Basel University hosts a significant collection relating to the history of pharmacy. Museum highlights include apothecaries’ shops and equipment, a complete alchemist’s laboratory, and several centuries’ worth of pharmacy ceramics. Museums Night theme: “All things are poison”.

Basel Museums
The Pharmacy Museum screened excerpts from various movies featuring poison. Just after this cut from a German film, Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman came on screen in Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious (1946).
Basel Museums
A pharmacist brews up various concoctions for visitors to smell, taste and discuss.

HMB – Museum für Geschichte / Barfüsserkirche

The Historisches Museum Basel (HMB)’s permanent exhibition spotlights Basel’s identity at the crossroads between three cultures: Swiss, German and French. For Museums Night, the theme was “With cut and thrust”, in keeping with the current temporary exhibition about the long-ago world of knights and mountain-top castles. Visitors crowded onto the steps in the museum’s central hall for screenings of clips from such films as Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Basel Museums
The current exhibition at the Barfüsserkirche history museum features knights and castles.

Staatsarchiv Basel-Stadt

The Basel-Stadt State (Cantonal) Archive preserves the records of public administration in the canton, covering 1000 years of history, from the Middle Ages to the present day. The theme for Museums Night was “Animals and Us”, in collaboration with the Natural History Museum.

Basel Museums
The Museums Night exhibition included meat ration coupons from the Second World War, quality control measures for sausages produced in the city, and more. Here, an 18th century recipe book from the kitchen of a Basel silk ribbon factory owner shows how heavily meat-oriented the aristocratic table of the time really was.

Kunstmuseum Basel

The collections of Basel’s world-class Fine Arts Museum range from medieval works to 19th-to-21st century international art. Its 20th-century focal points are Cubism, German Expressionism and American art since 1950. For Museums Night, “Mondrian Boogie-Woogie” featured lively music, dance demonstrations, even a class to learn some moves!

Ausstellungsraum Klingental

This space in the former Klingental convent presents contemporary art originating in the Basel region. For Museums Night, several artists worked on-site in live performance: one collecting hair clippings from visitors for a sculpture, another typing poems to-order, still others hanging written works in a tent outside.

Basel Museums
Several museums–such as Ausstellungsraum Klingental–added outdoor tents as part of their Museums Night exhibition space.

S AM Schweizerisches Architekturmuseum

S AM – the Swiss Architecture Museum mounts international and thematic exhibitions that emphasize the socio-political aspects of architecture. For Museums Night, the theme was “Viewpoint”.

Basel Museums
S AM used wooden platforms, models of well-known viewing towers and photography to provide visitors with new perspectives.

Sammlung Friedhof Hörnli

This unique collection of funeral artifacts includes urns, hearses, coffins, cemetery regulations, grave crosses, even gardening implements. Museums Night was the first time we’d been to a museum in a graveyard (our way across the sprawling municipal cemetery lit by fires strategically set out along the path).

Basel Museums
Sammlung Friedhof Hörnli houses a number of horse-drawn carriages. This elegant hearse was used in Basel into the 1980s!

Basel Münster

Museums Night at the Münster offered music in three different venues, and we were able to catch two performances. We also viewed plaster casts made of sculptures on the building’s towers during recent restoration work. The acoustics in Basel’s former cathedral, along with a striking setting, made for beautiful music.

Basel Museums
For Museums Night, guests in the wine bar alongside the Münster’s cloister enjoyed music by a jazz ensemble.

Musicians from the Basel Symphony Orchestra played past midnight, bringing an evening of spirited classical music to a close. Here, cellos and violins take center stage, playing Violoncelles, vibrez by Giovanni Sollima.

Basel Museums
Musicians from the Basel Symphony Orchestra take a bow, after their Museums Night performance.

Museum der Kulturen Basel

Basel’s Museum of Culture is the largest ethnological museum in Switzerland, and has a significant collection on life in both European and non-European cultures. The theme for Museums Night: “Mirror, mirror, on the wall”, featuring tattoos, a makeup bar and a body painter at work.

Basel Museums
The bar in the courtyard of the Museum of Culture was still going strong at 1:30 am. Here, as at almost every stop, the aroma of grilling Bratwurst and Glühwein pulled us in.

Basel museums year-round

Basel Museums
On Museums Night, eager visitors crowd the bar and waiting area at the Kunsthalle.

Basel is a museum-goers heaven, but not everyone is a fan of long lines and packed shuttle buses. Some museums offer “happy hour” viewing through the year, and many have wonderful coffee shops and bistros.

To plan your own, more relaxed, visits to Basel’s many museums, take a look at exhibitions running now. Great value: the Museums Pass Musees, good for more than 280 museums in Switzerland, France and Germany.

We had a great time! Did you brave the Museums Night crowds?

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