Runs from 27th October to the 11th November 2018 – to the 13th November 2018 on the Petersplatz.
By Bill Harby
Imagine the mayor of Basel in 1471, Herr Hannsen von Berenfels, strolling his city’s first Herbstmesse (Autumn Fair). He had made the fair possible, and now here he is passing stalls and kiosks of foods, sweets, fabrics, ceramics and other tempting goods, stopping to watch jugglers, magicians and storytellers.
Now imagine him strolling this year’s fair currently taking place at six squares around the city on both sides of the Rhine. Some of the squares are filled with giant pneumatic carnival rides slinging teenagers screaming with ecstatic fear into the night sky, their faces quickly colored blue, pink, red and bloodless white by flashing lights to the throb of amped-up pop music.
Mayor von Berenfels might run in hellacious fright to another quieter square, Petersplatz, where, to this day, stalls and kiosks are selling foods, sweets, fabrics, ceramics and other tempting goods. Here he would be calmed, and – savvy tourism marketer that he was – he’d decide that his legacy was in good hands. Because the modern Basel Autumn Fair is clearly bringing commerce and lots of fun to this friendly, handsome old city.
That had been the mayor’s intention in 1471 when he received permission from the Habsburg German Emperor Frederick III to hold an annual autumn fair “in perpetuity”. That permission didn’t come cheap. The city had to pay 1759 guilders (in today’s money, about CHF 220,560), which was raised by the mayor, merchants and others. Not a bad deal when amortized over 545 years.
The Herbstmesse runs for 14 days, and traditionally begins the Sat. before Oct 30th. This year it’s Oct. 27th to Nov. 11th. (the 13th only at Petersplatz).
Any mayor would be overjoyed to play host to this exciting fair.
Rides: Large, high-G, organ-altering machines that may make you hope the person next to you isn’t about to vomit.
Games: Wack-a-mole, ring toss, softball throw and other impossible-to-win addictive games.
Kids: A Medieval playground (swords and shields provided) allows kids to take flights of fancy while their parents go gift-shopping. A children’s theatre run by the Anthroposophical Society provides messages with a meaning or something.
Food: Sausages of course, plus regional sweets including the “Baker’s kiss”, an airy egg-sized delight filled with creamy egg-white covered in chocolate and crumbled nuts. Also crepes, risotti, meats, cheeses and lots of beer and wine to wash it all down. And sausages.
Shopping: At Petersplatz, an exceptionally diverse array of ceramics, from traditional plates picturing old stories, to modern mugs with purple polkadots. Also fine handmade silk scarves from Ticino. And hand-crafted musical instruments. And wooden toys. Lots of other goodies, too.
When and Where: The Basel Autumn Fair goes every day until Nov. 11, (Nov. 13 at Petersplatz) from 12:00 until 22:00 or 23:00 on Fri. and Sat. Less crowded weekday afternoons.
There are six sites, some with different opening and closing times. For more information click here.