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Fasnacht is to Baselland what butter is to bread. Every year, numerous cliques (carnival groups) uphold the time-honoured custom and wander the streets in striking costumes playing "Guggemusig" (brass band music). A tradition of a very different kind takes place in the small town of Liestal: the festival known as Chienbäse draws tens of thousands of Fasnacht fans from all over Switzerland and neighbouring countries with its impressive carnival fires and torchlight processions.
On the Sunday evening following Ash Wednesday, the Liestal Fasnacht Committee invites everyone to a very special fiery spectacle: during the Chienbäse procession, visitors can watch as heavy brooms woven from pieces of pine are carried burning through the old town of Liestal. The participants make the enormous brooms themselves and require around ninety stere of wood for them, which is provided by the local community. Around 20 fire carts loaded with several steres of blazing wood roll through town, which is a highlight of the procession. The flames can sometimes leap several metres high and send an excited shiver down the spine of many a spectator.
More than 200 years ago, on Funkensonntag (Bonfire Sunday), bonfires would be lit on the Burg and Weisse Fluh hills near Liestal. So the town already had a truly fiery history even decades before the Chienbäse procession began. After the First World War, Liestal baker Eugen Stutz founded a small procession with schoolchildren – the precursor to the modern-day Chienbäse. In 1924 it took place as a major event for the first time. Since then, the carnival procession has evolved into one of the most fascinating Fasnacht events in Switzerland. Visiting the Chienbäse is one of the most popular activities in Baselland.
Before the actual fire procession, 7.15 p.m. marks the start of the lantern procession, in which the drummer and piper cliques carry their own homemade lanterns along the Chienbäse route. Around 20 minutes later, the Chienbäse procession with its broom carriers and steel carts moves through the town. The Chienbäse route begins in the Burgstrasse and moves along Rathausgasse, Rebgasse and Gerbergasse until it reaches lower Gestadeckplatz.
If you're staying in the Basel region in February or March, make sure you don't miss Chienbäse. However, when attending the event it is advisable to wear old clothing that is not highly flammable: when the carts come to a stop in the narrow parts of the old town of Liestal in particular, it can get very hot very quickly, to the point that the audience has to duck away. Due to the huge numbers of people, though, this is not always possible.