Numismatics and the Basel Carnival

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March 17, 2011 – What did the average citizen of the beginning 21st century think about money? This maybe one of the questions, future generations of historians will discuss. They will find lots of sources, among them only few, which are so amusing and so ephemeral as the many carnival floats and ballads, which are playing an important role during Basel carnival.

Within the parade the carnival cliques present their themes. They choose a topical subject and comment on it in a variety of ways, audaciously, disrespectfully and sometimes revealingly. Every theme is composed of the masquerade habit, the lamp – a three-dimensional illuminated poster – and a long ballad written in the Basel dialect, which is distributed among the visitors.

The Greek Zeus runs out of breath. Photo: UK.

Greece and its economic crisis was one of the favorite subjects. Here we see the members of a clique dressed antique-like in the national colors of Greece. They all stick out their tongues, because they are running out of breath. The drum major demonstrates, why. His dress is decorated with Euros, all over his body.

Trendy, even when you are broke Photo: UK.

This clique made another clear statement: We see the Greek ass. Even being broke, he feels trendy and dreams of national splendor.

State soaks citizens: dog tax. Photo: UK.

In Basel there is a very elaborated dog tax. You will pay 150 Swiss Francs for every dog and double per dog, if there live more than one dog within your household.

State soaks citizens: dog tax + fee for the tax. Photo: UK

For charging the tax an arrangement fee of 20 Swiss Francs is levied. This clique means that it is incredible that you have to pay a fee in order to be allowed to pay your tax.

Swiss mercenaries: Part I. Photo: UK.

The Basel carnival challenges the various ways the Swiss state is earning its money. This clique has put the security companies in its crosshairs. Security companies place mercenaries in conflict areas and earn a lot of money with it. The Swiss state accepts their taxes with pleasure. The political discussion to restrict the activities of these companies makes very slow progresses; in the eyes of this clique too slow.

Movement for a Switzerland without the poor. Photo: UK.

The clique “Alti Stainlemer” caricatured the Swiss way of privileging rich inhabitants concerning their taxes. They took the name of the well-known GSOA (movement for a Switzerland without an army) and transformed it to GSoA (movement for a Switzerland without the poor – the German word for poor “Arme” sounds like army “Armee”). Stylish dressed young man acted like anarchists, waving huge banners featuring the Swiss coin of 5 Francs. The herder, which is normally shown on that coin, was dressed like a privileged anarchist.

“Sepp Blatter” enthroned on a carnival float decorated with wads of cash. Photo: UK.

This carnival float of the clique “Basler Clochards” was dedicated to the reputation of FIFA as being corrupt. It was decorated all over with wads of cash, and some members of the clique disguised as Sepp Blatter were distributing gifts to the spectators.

Money as national emblem: Women ruling countries. Photo: UK.

The “Abverheyten” are using banknotes for another statement. They are expressing the male fear that women might control the world one day (don’t be afraid only eleven of the 193 nations of UNO have a female head of State right now). This lamp shows Angela Merkel on a German, Micheline Calmy-Rey on a Swiss and Hillary Clinton on an American banknote.

Dealer in Kleinbasel. Photo: UK.

The next clique is politically incorrect, which is typical for the Basel carnival. They are addressing local politics and the fact that most inhabitants of Basel are angry that the district of Kleinbasel is not safe. Black drug dealers, their coat pockets full of money represent the issue that integration of immigrants has not always been successful and that politicians in Basel ignore everyday reality.

The Basel casino robbery. Photo: UK.

Finally, the Märtplatz-Clique contributed a hilarious theme – at least for the inhabitants of Basel. On March 28, 2010 10 armed men took the Grand Casino by storm and captured some 100.000 Francs and Euros. They escaped with two limousines, crossing the neighboring French border. Since then, they have not been seen again.

If you ever have the chance to visit Basel in springtime, make sure to attend the Basel carnival.

Ursula Kampmann