Basler Fasnacht/carnival 2019 – Impressions from the Laddärne-Uustellig/lantern exhibition: About censorship

This is a difficult topic: Avoiding words that may discriminate those that are different from us, be it cultures, groups of people or peoples. A politically correct language does not imply that discrimination disappears, but more and more we are told to no longer use words that may highlight it.

It took me long to write about the carnival theme “censorship”, as I find it difficult. I was raised with curiosity, with respect and love for what is different around me or elsewhere, with an eagerness to learn and even adopt what I like. Cultures and people are different and I love that. It is an enrichment. Think of food, philosophy, language, religion or history beyond Europe centricity. I take traveling as an opportunity for experiencing diversity and enrichment. Blogging is my way of understanding and learning. Diversity requires deep roots – mine are in central Europe. Sharing my roots with others is also important for me – such as I do with my blogs about Basel and around.

Now this year, the carnival of Basel took up the sensitive topic of the politically correct language and censorship. Whatever I take notice of – people, phenomena – I give a name to them. It is a sign of awareness, respect and it is practical. But many names have now got the label “discrimination”. Yes, I agree, some of the names are related with a bad flavour, but where is the limit? The boundaries are being extended and I start to feel uneasy about what I am still allowed to say and what has now become a no-go. One example: Can I still say, Rome was founded in 753 B.C. which stands for “Before Christ”? Yes, the Romans counted their years “ab urbe condita” which reflects their Roman centric view of history. Counting years starting from the year Christ was born – this is surely a European centric view that has been exported from here to the Americas and to much of the world. It reminds of the European hegemony (now fading?). But it is a practical reference point that I have never thought about. Where is the limit?

Let us stroll through the lantern exhibition at the Münsterplatz (cathedral square) to study some of the lanterns that talked about politically incorrect names and censorship at this year’s carnival.

While looking at the line of houses across the cathedral of Basel in the morning sun, let us think about how the topic “censorship” came up: In the nineteen fifties two groups of “Guggemuusig” (playing a kind of brass and drum music) were founded under the name of “Negro Rhygass” and “Mohrekopf”.  Perhaps they allude to the fact that Africans are known for being excellent musicians. Since then the groups have played each year and their names have not bothered anybody. But now, someone from a different city (that has their own procession with clichés about different peoples) attacked the two groups for discrimination or even racism. This triggered the topic “censorship”. Let me assure that at the Basel carnival, I have always discovered all sorts of coloured heads under the masks of the carnival groups. I think, the carnival is a great opportunity for integration, which is the contrary of discrimination and racism.

Let us check out the reflections about censorship that appear on some of the lanterns.


Reflection #1: Words and expressions forbidden by censorship

The Gundeli Gniesser are people that enjoy it – gniesse – from the Gundeli – an area in Basel. They list many words that will now be forbidden as they may nastily point at someone. Examples are:

  • “Wienerli” (sausage pointing at the city of Wien with the disrespectful diminutive “li”),
  • “Appenzellerkäs” (cheese from the canton of Appenzell with a rather strong smell),
  • “Peking Ente” (Peking duck) or “Chinakohl” (a sort of cabbage with “China” in its name),
  • “Älplermaggrone” (pasta made by the people in the Alps – called the “Älpler”),
  • “Mongoloid” (a name for the Down syndrome),
  • “Schwarzwäldertorte” (Blackforest cake, contains the word “black” and a region, the “Black Forest”),
  • “Russezopf” (Russian braided cake),
  • “Schwööbli” (small rolls named after the “Schwoobe” or the Swabians – with some fantasy the shape of the roll might remind you of one part of the body; with my own migration background I can easily smile about the “Schwööbli”),
  • “das isch türkt” (this fact has been twisted – why should the Turks twist things?),
  • “Idiotehügel” (idiot hill – small slope for beginners on ski – beginners are not necessarily “idiots”, they are just new to skiing),
  • “Googlehopf” (the cake called “Gugelhopf” – a delicacy in Basel and its surroundings – could be mistaken as pointing at Google)
  • etc etc.

Some of the verses on the lantern say:

  • “Mängg Wort wird zum Politikum, doch ab und zue wird’s äifach zdumm (Many words become a political issue, but sometimes it is simply too stupid)”;
  • “Nur ganz korrägt sötsch hütte schnuure, do blybbt nur s’Schimpfe hindeduure (Today you should only talk fully correctly, that is why you can only grumble covertly)”;
  • “Dr Moorekopf isch inne wyss und usse bruun – was soll das Gschyss? (the “Moorekopf” is brown outside and white inside, why such a fuss?”; the “Moorekopf” is a sweet brown chocolate half sphere with white foam in it; Moor=African; Kopf=head);
  • “Empöörsch Dy vyyl und mit Geduld, denn bisch au nie an öbbis tschuld (As you are often shocked and always point that out, you will never be blamed for anything” – this is very philosophical, I think).

The Rhygwäggi are the “stones – Gwäggi- from the river Rhine – Rhy”. Their Alti Garde (Oldies) list expressions that have now become a no-go… such as

  • “Alti Dante” (elderly aunt, a very common mask at the Basel carnival, could be interpreted to be disrespectful of elderly ladies like me),
  • “Schwarzbrot” (Black bread is our crunchy, delicious dark bread. But… it contains the word “black”),
  • “Schwarzwurzle”… (we call the comfrey “black root” and, yes, “black” is censored, but, after having peeled them, they are all white),
  • “Pariser” (used to protect lovers, but it reminds us of the city Paris),
  • “Maitlibai” or “Schänggeli” (both delicious sweets called “girls’ legs” and “small thighs (of girls)”),
  • “Zwätschgegompfi” (plum marmalade, but a plum or Zwätschge is also a “stupid lady” in Swiss German, “gomfi” stands for marmalade),
  • “Indianer” (Indian; well I remember, as a child we loved to play “Indianerlis” and we dreamt of a wonderful world, where you would smoke the peace pipe to solve conflicts. As teenagers, we watched the film “Winnetou” with that handsome actor we all were in love with – was that wrong? Now in one kindergarden, the teacher forbid the kids to disguise as Indians for their childrens’ carnival),
  • “Mannschaft” (oh yes – a team is called “manship” in German, why not “womanship”, what a discrimination! Hm, I am a lady, and I have never thought about that before, at work we talked about “teams” anyway…).

The Rhygwäggi conclude: “Värsli brünzle isch kai Schlägg, usser de losch d’Wörter wägg (Creating verses is no fun, except you leave out the words” – “kai Schlägg” for “no fun” alludes to the fact that there is nothing to lick (schlägge or schlecken) such as a delicious sweet ice cream, so there is just no fun).


Reflection #2: Shut up or remain silent to conform to censorship

The group Breo named their topic “Halt dini dumm Schnure” (literally: shut up your stupid mouth). On their lantern there is this face closed with a zipper.

The carnival group D’Gniesser had the same idea, a face with a zipper. They say: “Kai Sujet, kai Värs, so das wärs” (no theme, no verse, well that’s it) and “#kai Sujet, syg gescheit, sag nüt (#no theme, be clever, do not say anything)”. The name of the group “D’Gniesser” can be translated as “the ones who enjoy it”.

On this lantern, the pigs sit around a table with their mouths sealed up. “Sag lieber nütt – Stummtisch (Do not say anything – silent table)”. This is a play on words: stumm=silent, Stammtisch=regulars’ table; At the “Stamm-Tisch” the regular guests discuss politics and life over some glasses of beer, but due to censorship this table has become the “Stumm-Tisch” – by replacing the “a” by the “u“, “Stamm” turns into “Stumm” and “Stammtisch” into “Stummtisch” – with all regulars sitting silently around the table.

On the lantern of the Basler Dybli (Small Pigeons or Squabs of Basel), this Swiss boy hides his mouth behind his hands to avoid saying anything that might be forbidden. He stands in a maze, not knowing what is right or wrong and asks “Derfi oder derfi nid? (Am I allowed or am I not allowed?)”. In the wooden box you see the “Waggis”, a very common mask at the Basel carnival – but the Waggis with the long nose and wild hair can be taken as making fun of the farmers from neighbouring Alsace – and are we still allowed to make fun of them, is this not discrimination? And then there is the African man, the much disputed symbol of the group “Negro Rhygass”. Is it worse than the white sheep that kicks the black sheep out of Switzerland? I came across these sheep during the voting campaign about stopping immigration and this campaign was present all over in Switzerland. By the way, I believe the campaign with the sheep was invented in the town where attacking the Basel carnival came from… Everyone sits in a glass house. We all should reflect before throwing stones.

One of the verses on this lantern says: “Duesch aimol eppis lätzes saage, denn muesch grad e Muulkoorb draage. Jetzt miemmer unsri Sprooch uusmischte, sunscht lande mer no in dr Kischte. Dr politisch Drugg isch aifach zgross, drum heisst s jetzt Negro Freyi Strooss (If you say something wrong once, you have to take a muzzle. Now we have to clear up our language, otherwise we will end up in prison. The political pressure is simply too high, therefore we now say Negro Freyi Strooss”; meaning the carnival group is to be renamed from Rhygass to Freyi Strooss, as Freyi Strooss (Freie Strasse) is a much better address than Rhygass (Rheingasse) – hence the term “Rhygass” may be discriminating).


Reflection #3: Cleaning (Säu…bere) the Basel carnival (cleaning it from forbidden words, amongst other things)

Another carnival group is called “Seibi” which is the colloquial name for the Barfüsserplatz, where pigs (“Säu” or in the older Basel dialect “Sei”) were traded in medieval times. The German word “säubern” (“säubere” in Swiss German) means “to clean”. “Säubere” has been split into “säu…bere”, and “Säu” are pigs in Swiss German (in German: (“Säue”).  “Seibi” and “säu…bern” are perfect plays on words: The “Seibi” group has selected pigs to clean the Basel carnival: “Mir Säu…bere d’Fasnacht.” They allude to censorship, but also to other issues that might need cleaning.

One verse on the lantern says: “Bym Orwell hän scho d’Sey regiert. Dert gsehsch wo das denn aanefiert (In Orwell’s novel, the pigs governed already. There you can see, where this leads to)”.

The Spoorepeter show this specific “dirty” emoticon on their lantern and say: “S’Engagement krängglet. (Engagement is getting weak)”. This may be a consequence of censorhsip – people are afraid get it wrong. Consequently they hide and do no longer engage toy say or do anything.

Two verses on the lantern say:

  • “Engagement, dr Gerd hörsch lache, d’Hauptsach isch, ych muess nüt mache (Engagement – you year Gerd laugh, the main point is, I do not have to do anything)”
  • “Seesch, ass en uufgob uff dy zue will koo, machsch e Schritt uff d’Syte zum se duure loo (if you see a task approaching, you make a step aside and let it pass by)”.


Post Scriptum: The Basel carnival is an event with thousands of participants and thousands of visitors

After the lantern exhibition I slender through the narrow streets of Basel. From the terrace of the Old University (founded in 1460), I can see many, many people on the “Mittlere Brücke” (middle bridge) and along the Rhine. They are not only from Basel, but also from many other countries. They enjoy our carnival which plays the role of a jester.

I do hope that censorship will not make the carnival shut up. I do hope that the carnival will continue to play its role as a jester for the people at power and for all of us. It is an organized and discrete valve for the feelings and thoughts of the citizens of Basel. The carnival group “Basler Bebbi” coined the term “shitblizzard” on their lantern: “Das git kai shitstorm of dym Handy, sondern a shitblizzard, Randy (this produces not only a shitstorm on your smartphone, but a shitblizzard)” – I do hope, it was a short shitblizzard.

Post Scriptum of post srciptum: In 2019, the Basel carnival took place from Monday, March 11th, 4 am, until Thursday, March 14th, 4 am. I participated like a butterfly enjoying the parades or the Schnitzelbängg, flour soup and cheese cake in one of the cellars managed by a carnival group and the lantern exhibition on the cathedral square.


Basler Fasnacht/Carnival: Impressions from the Ladärne Uustellig/Exhibition of lanterns, starting with some local topics.

Basler Fasnacht (the Basel Carnival) takes place pretty late this year (2019). It started on Monday, March 11th, at 4 am (Morgestraich). Monday and Wednesday afternoon, there was the Cortège (parade), when the Clique (carnival groups) show their Sujets (topics) and the Waggis (seem to be farmers from the Alsace) distribute gifts and Räppli (confetti). The costumes, lanterns and other requisites illustrate the topics selected by the groups.

On Tuesday the lanterns are displayed on the Münsterplatz. I love to visit the lantern exhibition early in the morning, when there are still few people. This is the the 1000 year old cathedral (reconstructed in the 14th/15th century after the earthquake) with the lantern that discusses selling weapons.

It is great to study the lanterns in detail and I am always overwhelmed by the creativity of the artists. These were some of the main Sujets (topics) in 2019: Local events (above all, the end of the trade fair Muba), censorship/shutting up/not engaging, environmental pollution, China invading economy and the world of beetles, emancipation and politics – e.g. with clowns as rulers.

Let me start with the local topics. It is fun to read the verses on the lanterns – I will select some of them and try to translate them to English, which is not always easy.


Muba: Last spring Trade Fair show after 102 years

The Muba (Mustermesse Basel or Basel trade fair) opened their gates in spring 1917. When we needed a new refrigerator, a new piece of furniture or some wine, up to the late 80-ies we always did a research at the spring Muba fair and we benefited from the Muba discount. But since then the Muba has lost more and more visitors, perhaps also due to the internet. Now this year, in spring 2019, the last Muba took place and then closed its doors for ever. This was a major topic at this year’s carnival. The Blaggedde (carnival badge) shows the well-known clock of the Muba building alluding to the Muba closing down and the carnival lasting until closing down on Thursday at 4 am (“Ändstraich” or final stroke), when the road sweeper cleans the streets of Basel.

This is my Blaggedde – made out of silver and reflecting in the sun.

The lantern of the Breo and Glunggi, Alti Garde, shows our famous Muba clock that decorates building number 2.

The verses read: “S’isch d’Zyt abgloofe, s’ git nüt me z’hoffe” (“time has expired, there is no hope left”) and “kai Mäss me, alles blybt dehai, I by als Muba Uhr elai” (“no trade fair any more, everybody stays at home and me, the Muba clock, I stay alone”). The rat at the bottom asks: “Vo Basel lauft alles drvo. Jä, sölle mir jetzt au no goo?” (“Everybody runs away from Basel. Well, should we now also leave?”).

The Lälli Clique feels sad about the “Tempi Passati” (past times) and paint the melting Muba clock on one of the huge exhibition halls – like Dali’s soft watches. On the watch the verse says: “E grosse Bau, an dr Mäss kai Lüt – das Krüz trait au e Kirche hüt” (“A huge building, no people at the fair – this cross is also affecting the church”; “Mäss” means both trade fair and church mass and hence “Mäss” is reused for the mass in the church, where there are also less people now).

The Muggedätscher merge the words “Muba” and “bachab” (going down the river) to “mubachab”. One verse on their lantern says:”d’Muba macht dicht – e leidi Gschicht” (“the trade fair closes down – what a sad story”) and “Basel mit ihre Mässe, kasch en Globo vergässe” (“Basel with its trade fairs, you can forget that completely”) The lantern shows the federal council Doris Leuthard. She resigned this year and she shed some tears when giving her last speech in Bern.

The Ueli on the lantern of the Breo und Glunggi, alti Garde is also very sad – he is waving good-bye with his handkerchief. The Ueli symbolizes the medieval court jester and the jester is one of the traditional costumes at the Basler Fasnacht/carnival. One verse says: “Dr Ueli het Dräne uff dr Bagge…” (Ueli has got tears on his cheeks”).  The jester at the court could tell the truth to the king, and this is what the Basel carnival is about as well – show to our power holders, what the people feel and think.

The Rumpel-Clique discusses the wine fair that was also part of the Muba. I loved to compare wines from various Swiss producers and from all around the world by tasting the wine before ordering it. Well, you had to carefully select, what you wanted to taste… some people staggered through the Muba halls after their wine tastings.

Breo und Glunggi, alti Garde, sum up “Basel Mässe kasch glatt vergässe” (“Basel trade fairs – you can forget them totally”).

The signpost points to other trade fairs in Switzerland such as BEA or OLMA or to Internet trade markets such as Zalando.


Do all citizens (Bebbi) think about leaving Basel?

This is the lantern of the Alti Garde of the AGB (Alti Glaibasler) and Spezi Clique. They think that not only the rats of the Muba, but all Bebbi (citizens of Basel) think about leaving their home town, but where to?  “Dr Bebbi dänggt, he nundefaane. Y wott jo furt vo Basel, aber wo könnt y ächt aane?” (“The citizen of Basel thinks, hm oh dear. I want to go away from Basel, but where on earth could I go to?”; Nundefaane is a softened curse imported from the Alsace. “Faane”=”banner”; “Bebbi” is a gentle name for the citizens of Basel).

A nice detail is the fountain with the Balisisk. There are about 25 of these Basilisk fountains in Basel set up in the late 19th century. They provide drinking water for men and for dogs (separate bowl at the bottom). Some time ago, I blogged about the Basilisks in Basel and their fountains.


We want our Basilisks back at the Wettstein bridge – d’Basilisgge zrugg an d’Wettschtaibrugg!

Not everybody wants to leave Basel, the basilisks are faithful, and this is why the Höibärgler want to bring them back to the Wettstein bridge: “Mir hole d’Basilisgge zrugg and d’Wettschtaibrugg” (“We bring back the Basilisks to the Wettstein bridge”).

This is a very local topic. For the Wettsteinbrücke, an artist created four basilisks, now only one is left here, two are somewhere else in Basel and one is in Meggen near Lucerne. The Höibärgler want that the other three basilisks return to their original places at the Wettsteinbrücke. This is the one Basilisk that was allowed to stay at the entrance to the Wettsteinbrücke.

Well, I feel ashamed about the Wettstein bridge that has become an ungraceful bridge in the 1990-ies, after the city of Basel had rejected the proposal of Calatrava. Some more decoration for the bridge is not a bad idea, I believe. Yes, I agree with the Höibärgler: Bring back the Basilisks!


Picasso in Beyeler

In 1967 Picasso’s “Harlequin” and “two Brothers” remained in Basel, though the donator who had financial problems intended to sell them. I was a teenager then and I remember the enthusiasm and the legendary decision of the inhabitants of Basel to keep those two paintings. Again this year Picasso is venerated in Basel: The Beyeler museum shows his early paintings of the blue and rose period. The Gellerettli pipers group created a lantern with the topic “himmelblau und rooseroot” (azure and pink): “Z’Basel dräumt me himmelblau und roosarot. Jetzt git’s niemets, wo an d’Muba goot” (“in Basel people are dreaming in azure and pink. Now there is no one visiting the Muba (trade fair) any more”; presumably because they all prefer to see their Picassos in the Beyeler museum).

By the way, the name “Gelleretli” comes from the French “quelle heure est-il?” which means “what time is it?”.


TV series “Tatort” (“site of crime”) in Basel

Last summer, the TV criminal story series “Tatort” took place in Basel. The Spezi-Clique Stamm take this up with the lantern that shows the city center. In one of their verses, they play with words: In German you can understand “Tatort” as a “site of crime” or as a “site of action”: “Bim Roothuus froog ich mii, ka das iberhaupt e Tatort sy” (“about the townhall I ask myself, whether this can be a site of action at all” (translating “Tatort” primarily as “action” and not as “crime”, indicating that the town council may not be too active).

As related to the townhall: There are a lot of jokes about a baby participating in a townhall session with its mother. A baby is called a “Buschi” in Basel and the rhyme says: “The baby thinks that this is really not possible – me at the Grand Council. But it has to wait for another five years, until it can join kindergarden”.


Goma in the Basel Zoo, called Zolli here

I remember the year 1959… I was eight years old then and Goma was the first gorilla baby born in a zoo. We were very proud of our “Zolli”. After having given birth to more gorilla babies, the old lady died last year. The Jungi Spale-Clique takes up the topic with their lantern. One side shows this photo album of Goma.


Separate tracks and paths for bicycles.: A performance of the Alti Stainlemer

Already at the Morgestraich, after 4 am on Monday, I noticed the rolling wheel of the Alti Stainlemer moving forward in the dark. It is their “rolling stone”. This may be a punch, as the name of the Clique (carnival group) “Alti Stainlemer” contains the word “Stein” or “stone”.

In the Cortège (parade), one guy sat on top of this rolling stone and the whole group was on wheels. Some painted signs for “bicycles only” on to the pavement.

Hence, I conclude, the “rolling stone” is another bicycle, a huge bicycle. I do not know, whether I would like to stand up high on that rolling stone, as one member of the group did. In Basel there have been a series of votings about separate paths for bicycles that the Alti Stainlemer are alluding to.

The verses on the rolling stone lantern are: “Dr Baschi – sträng und ganz bestimmt: “Ass jo ekain my Tesla nimmt”  (“Baschi says severely and clearly: Nobody to steal my Tesla”; the head of the police department, called “Baschi”, acquired Tesla cars for the police of Basel). More verses: “Wär in dr Schwyz en Auti faart, ghört bald scho zuenere gschützten Art” (“those who still drive a car in Switzerland, will soon belong to a protected species”). And:

“Ein uff em Velo schreit “Du Schlampe”
und znacht faart är denn oony Lampe.
Am Schtopp halte macht er nyt.
Worschynts isch das sy letschte Ritt.”

“Someone on a bicycle shouts: “You sloven”
and at night he drives without light.
He does not stop at the stop sign.
Could well be that this is his last ride.”

Yes, macabre… But some cyclists are really brave and audacious, when moving in the city traffic.

With the rolling Alti Stainlemer I end the review of local topics at the Tuesday Ladärneuustellig or lantern exhibition on the Münsterplatz.



Again in Kraków, enjoying Polish humour and reading “the wedding”

Again, as every year, I spend a few days in Kraków in winter 2018/2019 meeting friends and sharing a Swiss cheese fondue with them. In my luggage I carry the cheese and this teddy. It is a Steiff teddy, to be more precise, and it is for the new born baby of one of my friends.

In Kraków, I enjoy some early spring days – sunny and warm. I discover some Polish humour and the Polish classic play „the wedding“ by Stanislaw Wyspiański.


Polish humour – slippery ice rinks and remedy against both hunger and pain

Watch out – uwaga ślisko 😉 – this ice rink is slippery. The word “ślisko” already sounds “slippery”. Well, this is what is to be expected from ice rinks (smiley).

Are you hungry or do you feel pain? To the left you can eat shrimps (krewetki) and, to the right you find remedy against pain (ból), evil (zło) or any other suffering (cierpienie).



Books for children with a touch of humour

I love the bookshop „De Revolutionibus“ in Bracka. It has a wonderful corner with books for children. For the children of my friends, I buy two books about Pan Brumm and his friends. One book tells about Brumm celebrating Christmas and the other about him travelling to Hawaii. My favourite picture: Brumm sits in front of a computer branded „pear“ (gruszka) that says hello to the world via a telephone modem. And look at the mouse caught in the trap…

Source: Daniel Napp: “Pan Brumm na Hula Hula”, Bona Wydawnictwo 2017, the original has been published German (Dr. Brumm).


Reading the Polish classic play„the wedding“ in Magia

Most of the time in Kraków I spend in my favorite coffee bar, the Magia, where the black-white cat sits on ITS own sofa between the guests.

I listen to the soft and sizzling Polish language, while reading the classic play “the wedding” or “Wesele” by Stanislaw Wyspiański. He completed writing “the wedding” in 1900, when he was just 31 years old. Let me summarize the book. “The wedding” is a classic piece of literature. All my Polish friends had read it at school analyzing it in detail.

Background: In 1900 Poland was still divided between Russia, Prussia and Austria. The country had disappeared from the world map in 1792, but the Polish spirit stayed alive materializing in several uprisings – unsuccessful though. Wyspianski’s „the wedding“ talks about the reconciliation of peasants and bourgeois intellectuals from town, shows the shame that the Poles felt, when being reminded of their once grand history and tells how another uprising initiated during that wedding failed. It is sad that Wyspiański died at the age of 38 and could not see Poland resurrect in 1918.

In the first act, the play starts as a „normal“ wedding. A bourgeois intellectual from Kraków, GROOM, marries a country girl, BRIDE. The ceremony and dinner have already taken place. The stage is the room with the dinner table in disorder and with some symbolic paintings on the wall. In the background the sound of musicians and the steps of dancers can be heard. Wedding guests meet in the dinner room. They talk about the wedding, about life in Poland and about politics. One well-known phrase is: “So – what’s new in politics, sir? Haven’t the Chinese answered yet?” GROOM  and BRIDE are in love and happy to have found one another.

A rose bush stands in the garden, wrapped up in straw to be protected against frost and winter – perhaps like these bushes on the Wawel castle hill.

At the end of the first act, GROOM and BRIDE invite the rose bush to come in and join the celebration.

At midnight, the second act starts. The rose bush, now called STRAWMAN, joins the ball, and so do various ghosts from the past. I understand their roles like this:

  • Some ghosts represent the former grandeur of Poland: STANCZYK, the jester, stands for the wise king Zygmunt (1506-1548) and the hero BLACK NIGHT stands for the brave Polish army of the past vanquishing the Teutonic Knights of the Cross in the Battle of Grunwald (1410).
  • Other ghosts represent the will to fight for Poland: JAKUB SZELA was the leader of the brave farmers that fought against manorial property in 1846. VERNYHORA is the legendary 18th century Galician bard that foresaw the destruction AND resurrection of Poland.
  • One ghost is a traitor: The nobleman KSAVERY BRANICKI led a conspiracy of nobles that cooperated with the Russian Zar. This was one of the factors that led to the destruction of Poland in 1792.
  • One ghost, just called GHOST, is the dead fiancé of one of the wedding guests.

The ghosts talk to the wedding guests, one after the other. The situation escalates at the time, when VERNYHORA issues the order to the father of BRIDE, called HOST, to launch another uprising to free Poland. The uprising is to start, when the cock crows in the morning. VERNYHORA gives a golden horn to HOST. HOST hands the golden horn over to JASIEK, the best man (he is a young farmer), and asks him to convoke the army. JASIEK obeys and rides off on horseback, with the golden horn.

In the third act, morning dawns. HOST sleeps. He wakes up slowly and at last remembers the order that VERNYHORA has given to him. Farmers have come with scythes and weapons – they had been convoked by JASIEK. They fall asleep. JASIEK returns. He has lost the golden horn. He is in despair. STRAWMAN (the rose bush) enters following JASIEK and scolds him for having lost the golden horn. STRAWMAN tells JASIEK to take the arms away from the people. Then STRAWMAN starts to play soft, melodious wedding music, and the farmers dance in pairs around JASIEK that has sunk to the ground. The cock crows and the dancers continue to dance. STRAWMAN says the last sentence of the drama to JASIEK: “You oaf! You had the golden horn….” Obviously, at this “wedding”, the Polish people missed another opportunity to make their country resurrect.

I am impressed. Wyspiański wrote all this at the age of 31 years! And he was not only a poet, but an all-round Art Nouveau artist. Always when in Kraków I have to see his window showing the Creation of the World in the Franciscan church.

VERNYHORA was right about the fact that Poland was to resurrect, though he did not foresee the time. It was in 1918 that Poland reappeared on the world map. It was wiped out once more during the Second World War, resurged again after the War and even more so in 1989, when it became the fastest growing country of Eastern Europe. Will Poland continue to move forward in that spirit? Will Poland be able to “marry” the people from the country with those from the towns once more? Will Poland keep the ease of their humour?


Saying good-bye to Kraków

Perhaps the Krakówian dragons symbolize the Polish fighting spirit? The city is full of them, particularly massing up near Bronislaw Chromy’s fire-spitting dragon in front of “its” Wawel cave.

I return to the Rynek with the cloth hall (Sukiennice) and listen to the brave trumpeter that warns the citizens of the attack from the Mongolians, exactly as he has done in the 13th century. Another example of the fighting spirit: The fierce Cracowians vanquished the Mongolians, warned by their trumpeter who was killed by a Mongolian arrow (this is the legend).

Good-bye Kraków, farewell!



Via Portbou in Catalonia to Valence, another ancient Roman city in France

In November 2018 we spent three weeks near Tarragona. Now I tell you about the last stage on our way north and home, starting from Cadaqués to Valence in France, with a commemoration stop in Portbou (Catalonia).


Portbo, the small city next to the border with France, reminds of the drama of Walter Benjamin

Portbou was the scene of the dramatic death of the German Jewish philosopher Walter Benjamin in autumn 1940. We stopped in Portbou to commerate him. Walter Benjamin succeeded in crossing the border from France to Franconian Spain. He and a group of Jews intended to travel on to Lissabon and then to the US. But Franconian Spain had just changed the law and would not let the group continue to Lissabon without a valid confirmation that they were allowed to leave France. Which, of course, they did not have. Benjamin committed suicide, and the rest of the group could then travel on to Lissabon. This monument called Passatges reminds us of that drama: Stairs lead into the sea.

At the bottom there is this thought of Benjamin: “Schwerer ist es, das Gedächtnis des Namenlosen zu ehren als das der Berühmten. Dem Gedächtnis der Namenlosen ist die historische Konstruktion geweiht.”  This has been taken from Benjamin’s thoughts about the term “history”. This is the translation: “It is more difficult to honor the memory of the anonymous persons than that of the famous. To the memory of the anonymous the historical construction has been dedicated.” For me, these thoughts are difficult to understand. Yes, the flow of history is told to us as the series of deeds by famous actors, but in addition it is the result of many more actors that remained anonymous. Is it that, what Benjamin had in mind?

What touched me was to be again confronted with the sadest part of German history. I hope that nothing like that will happen again. The monument was erected with support of Germany in 1994.


Growing wine on steep slopes above the Mediterranean Sea

We cross the border to France and drive through the steep vineyards of Banyuls. It must be tough to grow wine here. Along the road, we come across a small wine shop, where I buy a bottle of Mourvèdre from Collioure.


Valence – an ancient city with some charming corners

After a quiet night in the sober, but practical IBIS hotel of Valencia, we park our car under the Champs de Mars or Mars Field.

Emerging from under the ground we find this heart of Valence.

It carries the hashtag #moncoeurvalence. Sorry, we are not selfie addicts (the hashtag suggests to make selfies here). We enter the old city center, as seen through the heart.

We slender through streets and enjoy the busy market – everything looks tempting here. Then we walk over to the cathedral behind the market.

The Romansque cathedral St. Apollinaire collapsed in the 17th century, but has been reconstructed true to the original. Inside are three naves of almost the same height…

… and the colours of the windows are reflecting mysteriously on the wall.

It was here that in the 12th century, Barbarossa married Beatrix, the heir of Burgundy.

The only construction left from the cloister behind the cathedral is the so-called “Le Pendentif”, erected in renaissance style in 1548. It is the tomb of a capitular.

We stroll through the narrow streets.

The House of Heads or La Maison de Têtes has been built by a university professor in 1530, as a plate explains. Its style is characteristic for the transition from late gotic to renaissance.

French style squares or plazas are always inviting with their trees and restaurants. It is just a bit cold now.

Valence strives to be clean, but how did we say forty years ago at university: “French planning is more French than planning”. I really could not find, where I could take the sack, in case I had  a dog, be it small or tall… but I love the humor that guided the author of this plate.

Never have I seen this street sign before – surfboards are forbidden here, only that! Bicycles, rollerblades, everything else is allowed – or am I mistaken?

We leave Valence and head north following the vineyards of the Côte du Rhone. In the Saint Joseph area, I take a foto of the vineyard of one of my favourite wine growers, Chapoutier.

In Serrières, we park our car to eat a a sandwich. When we come back, some Gilets Jaunes with their motor cycles have filled up the parking. They tell us that they like the Swiss and show to me, how to get out of my parking lot amidst their motor cycles without damaging one of them. Some four hours later we are back in Monthey in Switzerland to share a night with our friends that allowed us once more to stay in their apartment in Catalonia. We look back at another wonderful trip.



  • Thomas Schröder: “Katalonien”, Michael Müller Verlag, Erlangen 2015
  • Thorsten Droste: “Romanische Kunst in Frankreich”, DuMont Kunstreiseführer, Köln 1992
  • Thorsten Droste: “Provence”, Dumont Kunst-Reiseführer, Köln 2011

Catalonia: White Cadaques and Sant Pere de Rodes on the rocks

In November 2018 we spent three weeks near Tarragona. Now I tell you about our way north, where we stop in Cadaqués and go for an excursion to the monastery Sant Pere de Rodes and to the nature reserve Cap de Creus. For a map see my former blog Catalonia: Besalú and Peralada.


Cadaques – the white resort in a secluded bay of the Costa Brava

Cadaqués is a small resort that shares one bay on the Mediterranean with Port Lligat. Only one curvy road crosses the mountains that separate this bay from the rest of Catalonia. The father of Salvador Dalí originated from Cadaqués and Salvador Dalí lived in Port Lligat. We stayed in the centrally located hotel La Residencia that is decorated with Dalí items – the owner suffers from horror vacui – hilarious. In summer the Plaça Frederic Rahola below the hotel may be busy, but in November everything is quiet. From our room, we enjoy the view of the bay and the sea in the morning.

In Port Lligat we eat at the restaurant Nord-Est. It serves Paella for one person – usually the minimum for paella is two persons. We have dinner with the view of the bay and Cadaqués at night.


The Benedectine monastery Sant Pere de Rodes located high above the bay amidst rocks

Crossing the mountains from Cadaqués to the north, we reach El Port de Selva. From here our car climbs uphill on a narrow road. At about 500m above sea level, the Benedictine monastery Sant Pere de Rodes appears behind one of the turns in front of the rocks.

The belfry has been built in the 12th century. It is shaped in Lombardian style, though that was no longer fashionable then. The second tower has been erected to defend the monastery.

The church has been inaugurated in 1022. The nave is covered with a barrel vault. This was unique – at that time, the churches had naves with wooden ceilings. Never before have I seen such solid pedestals as a base for the columns.  The nave is large, 37m long and 15m high. Incredible that they built this huge church high in the mountains a 1000 years ago.

There are two Romanesque cloisters, the newer from the 13th century is on top of the older from the 11th century. This is the more recent cloister.

It has been reconstructed to give an impression of what it might have looked like.

The remains of the monastery reflect in the window above the entrance hall.

The monastery flourished until the 14th century. It was left around 1800 and decayed after that. Restoration started in 1935.

Above the monastery, there is a fortification, the Castell de Verdera.

A small zigzagging footpath takes me about 300 meters up to the fortification. The view of the bay El Port de la Selva is getting more and more extensive…

… and the monastery below me is shining in the sun…

Now I am at the very top. To me this fortification seems to be unconquerable.

Walking back to the car we come by the small hermitage Ermitá de Santa Creu de Rodes.


The Cap de Creus – a windy nature reserve

We round up our tour today with a visit to the Cap de Creus.

It is a nature reserve with a barren landscape.

The sea gloes in the sun. A narrow hiking path winds along the coast line. It is very windy and chilly.

In the bar behind this terrace, we take a hot drink to warm up…

… and the return to our fancy hotel Residencia with its Dalí decoration in Cadaqués. Tomorrow we plan to continue our way along the coast to France.



  • Thomas Schneider: Katalonien”, Michael Müller Verlag 2015.
  • Fritz René Allemann and Xenia v. Bahder: “Katalonien und Andorra”, DuMont Kunstreiseführer Köln 1980.



Catalonia: Besalú and Peralada – treasures at the foot of the Pyrenees

After having spent three weeks near Tarragona, we slowly drive back home. Now I will tell you about our visit to Besalú, to the Dolmen de Cabana and to Peralada on the way to Cadaqués.

Source: España Noreste, Michelin Cartes et Plans 1:400’000


Besalú – an old earl city with an old bridge

Besalú was an early reconquest of the Christians from the Moors. In 812, it was named the capital of a Franconian county in the Spanish March. It was independent until the 12th century, when it became part of the county of Barcelona. Besalú has been classified as a historic national property of Spain, as it has kept its medieval appearance due to having lost importance in the 14th/15th century. Though counting only 2500 inhabitants now, Besalú has clearly the appearance of a city, preserved from medieval times.

The old bridge (Pont Vell)  crosses the Fluvià river. It uses rocks as the natural basis for the arches which is the reason for it bending across the river.

The small city crouches on a hill. To the left of the bridge, the remains of a Jewish site for ritual washing (Mikwah) have been found.

The medieval streets inside the city walls are narrow.

The Plaça Llibertat is bordered by arches.


Besalú: The church San Vicenç with its remarkable western side port

According to our “Dumont”, the style of the church San Vicenç is late Romanesque – beginning Gothic. The choir seems Lombardian to me.

The western side port is beautifully decorated.

Fierce animals and a spiraled arch as well as plants are the elements of the decoration.


Hospital de Sant Julià built to receive pilgrims

Besalú is a center on the pilgrimage route of Sant James and has therefore built the Hospital de Sant Julià. Constructed in the 12th century, it is now a museum. This gate is finely adorned.


Sant Pere de Besalú

The Plaça de Sant Pere was once the Benedictine Sant Pere Monastery that has been destroyed around 1800 in the French Wars. Only the church from the 12th century is left.

Below the gable on the western façade is this beautiful window with the two furious lions.

The vaulted nave is sparsely illuminated by small windows. I took this foto from the ambulatory with its decorated columns.


Refreshing ourselves  in the friendly Xocolateria

Before continuing our way, we have coffee in the friendly Xocolateria.

The kids corner has been installed with much care in this welcoming place – there is even rubber ice cream in the small kitchen.


The Dolmen amidst the vineyards of the Empordà

Our Müller guidebook talks about the Dolmen of Cabana. I love dolmens as a relict from prehistoric times, about 4000 years ago. I saw some dolmens in Bretagne (France), in Ireland (Newgrange) and there is even one near my home in Basel (Aesch). Ursula agrees to visit the Dolmen of Cabana in the Empordà at the foot of the Pyrenees. We follow the bumpy small road to the very end and we find the remains of the covered tomb…

… with a gorgeous view of the Canigou…

… and amidst the DOC wine region of Empordà. I acquired a bottle of cava “méthode champenoise” from here (more famous in Catalonia for the Penedès, but also elaborated here).


Peralada – another Romanesque gem – the cloister of the former monastery Sant Domènec

Peralada is a pretty small fortified town with narrow streets, located on a hill.

We visit the cloister of the ancient Augustinian monastery Sant Domènec from the 11th century. Only the cloister remains from the former monastery.

The capitals are decorated with wild animals…

… and with scenes from the bible such as Eva being born from the ribs of Adam…

…  and Adam and Eva in the paradise – well, they seem to have eaten the apple already.

We say good-bye to the small teckle barking at us from the balcony and we say good-bye to Peralada…

Now we continue our way through the hills to Cadaqués on the Mediterrenean Sea where we have booked two nights.


  • Fritz Allemann and Xeniua v. Bahder: “Katalonien und Andorra”, DuMont Kunstreiseführer, Köln 1980
  • Thomas Schröder: “Katalonien”, Michael Müller Verlag, Ebermannstadt 2015

Girona with its charming old city centre

In November 2018 we spent three weeks near Tarragona. Now we head north again, to the Costa Brava, Girona and Cadaqués.


The Costa Brava – wild rocks above the blue sea

From Torres del Mar we follow the coast line of the Costa Brava. On the map, the road looks very curvy… and yes, they ARE curvy. One bay after the next. Wild rocks. Some houses along the steep rocky slopes. And at the foot of the rocks, in the bay, a small sand beach with amenities for bathing in the Mediterranean Sea.

We enjoy the romantic views, as the sun plays with the clouds.


Sant Feliu de Guíxols – large holiday resort with a 10th century monastery

After having curved along the scarcely populated rocky bays, we reach the resort Sant Feliu de Guíxols with ist Benedictine monastery from the 10th century.

All Museums, everything is closed now, end of November. We walk through the narrow streets of the old town, find a nice restaurant open in the otherwise quiet Rambla and yes, there is even a shop for pets. I am sure, this place will be very busy in summer.


Welcoming Girona at night

A fast national road takes us to Girona (pronounced Jirona). We stay in the hotel Carlemany, and I learn, “Carlemany” is Catalan for “Charles the Great”, “Karl der Grosse” or “Charlemagne”. The people of Girona remember him. He conquered Girona from the muslims already at the end of the 8th century. It was then pingponged between Christians and Muslims until the 11th century. Then it remained with the Christians as part of Catalonia.

In the evening, we stroll through the narrow streets along the river Onyar with the view of the Cathedral Santa Maria…

… and we discover some Art Modern that is present all over in Catalonia.


A full day in Girona – we start with the river and the medieval bath 

The next morning we return  back to the river Onyar and the medieval city…

… and visit the “Els Banys Arabs”. They have been built around 1200, after the Arabs had left, perhaps by mudejar masters (Dumont, p. 123). This is the tower above the entrance hall. It gives access to the remains of the cold, the warm and the hot room.


Sant Pere de Calligants: The Romanesque Benedictine monastery is now a museum

Sant Pere de Calligants is the former monastery of the Benedictines from the 12th century. This is the entrance…

… an this is the charming belfry in Lombardian style reflecting in the pond of the garden.

Inside we find the harmonic barrel vault…

… with some treasures such as the Roman tomb that shows the elaboration of wine: The grapes are picked in the vineyard and then tramped in the trough.

I also like the baptismal font.

The Romanesque cloister has some nice capitals…

… such as this one where two fish seem to swallow a women.

In the museum we find a wonderful exihibition of Roman toys, amongst them bones. Interesting, in Mongolia we have played with such bones as well .


Sant Nicolau: Modern art in the 12th century chapel

Next to Sant Pere de Calligans, we enter the 12th century chapel of Sant Nicolau with its Romanesque vaults. It is now an art gallery. We find a transparent plastic plane with a brush (I believe) and white spots as well as a long chipboard with some bales of straw.

Interesting pieces of art and for me somewhat difficult to understand.


The Cathedral of Santa Maria with the old carpet of world creation 

It took a thousand years to complete the Cathedral of Santa Maria – the styles of several periods are mixed. Imposing reverence, the cathedral welcomes the visitors with the 18th century baroque facade above the long stariway completed in the 17th century – 3 times 30 steps.

The huge gothic nave covered with the ONE sequence of ribbed vaults is impressive. The nave is 34m high and 22.6m wide. This is the largest of all gothic vault constructions. The choir built in the 14th century has still been conceived with three naves. Later the idea came up to build the longhouse as one single nave. The risk was high. In 1417 the architect Guillem Bofill accepted the task and completed it (Dumont, p. 118).

Treasures inside include this tomb – the bishop lies on his comfortable cushion made out of stone and his feet are resting on his faithful dog.

The beautiful cloister from the 12th century covers primarily themes from the Old Testament. Below Noah’s ark is being loaded with his family and the animals in pairs.

In the marvellous museum attached to the Cathedral we find the carpet of world creation from around 1100. It is silk embroidery. The Pantocrator is surrounded by several episodes of the world creation such as Adam giving names to the animals and Eva being born from his ribs. The pictures are perhaps based on an early Christian mosaic from Roman times (Dumont, p. 122).


Wrap up: Walk on the wall, with a view of the city and the Pyrenees

To wrap up our day, we climb the city walls near the Cathedral and walk on them up to Plaça Catalunya.  The views of the old town with the Cathedral and the Pyrenees are gorgeous.

To the right is the Cathedral and to the left San Feliu church – they are dominating the landscape of roofs.

In the backogrund, THE mountain of the Catalans, the Canigou, has already been covered with snow.

The sun is setting and we return to our hotel Carlemany to enjoy dinner.

Good-bye Girona, it was a wonderful visit.

Source: Fritz René Allemann und Xenia v. Bahder: “Katalonien und Andorra”, Dumont Kunst-Reiseführer, Köln 1980.