Inviting Classical Christmas Lights – Basler Style………..
The Christmas Market in Basel

The start of the Advent season, for some, also means the start of the quest for that unique Christmas gift.  The pester power of a few children goes into overdrive and the gift wish lists are getting longer.  Lavish gifts can be selected from the Neiman Marcus Christmas catalogue best known for unusual and extravagant gifts not otherwise sold in its stores.  If the budget stretches to $1.7 million a trip to space i.e. 63 miles above the Earth via Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, can be chartered for six people.
More details can be seen on: -  http://money.cnn.com/2006/10/03/news/companies/neimanmarcus_christmas/index.htm

Coming back down to earth: those with a more restricted budget, visiting one of the many Christmas markets in Switzerland offers a wide variety of gift ideas.

The Coopzeitung dated 28 November showed that 51% of the Swiss population probably never go to a Christmas market.  It is said that market research surveys should be viewed with caution and I entirely agree in this context, as every time I have visited a Christmas market in Switzerland it has been crowded.  It must be a coincidence that I go to the markets at the same time as the 40% who actually go.  J  The remaining 9% go abroad.

Basel Christmas Market is the largest and most traditional one in Switzerland.  It is well worth a visit and only a one-hour train journey from the Zürich main station.  Train times can be seen on the following website: -
http://fahrplan.sbb.ch/bin/query.exe/en

Not all trains to Basel are direct i.e. it may be necessary to change at Olten, Baden etc..  Please check the timetables.

NB: Basel has two train stations: -

Basel SBB
and
Basel, Badischer Bahnhof

The Badischer Bahnhof is referred to as the German station  - Tram number: 2 will take you to Basel SBB.
On Saturday 25 November my partner and I travelled to Basel, the main reason to celebrate his birthday but also to visit the Christmas market.

The sunrise induced a fusion of red and a mauve blue colour in the winter sky.  Red in the morning is meant to bring a warning for the shepherds but thankfully the anticipated wind and rain did not materialise.  On the way to Basel the landscape pleasantly changed from numerous apartment blocks to woodland.  Fog patches merged with mist clung to the fields and treetops blocking out the weak rays of sunlight.  The mist also sat cradled in the hills over the small valleys.  It was all a welcome change.

We chose to stay overnight in the royal hotel, Schwarzwaldallee 179, which is located near the Badischer Bahnhof.  Approximately a 20-minute walk to the main market place or a number 6 tram takes 10 minutes.  The staff at the hotel were friendly and helpful.  The room was available as soon as we arrived approx 11a.m. and there was the flexibility to leave the room at approx 14:45 on Sunday 26 November i.e. a convenient place to leave our bags. It is also nice to have a place to freshen up before starting a journey.  More details on the website: -
www.royal-hotel.ch

Basel is nestled in the heart of Europe close to the borders of Germany and France.  The cosmopolitan Swiss city on the river Rhine is reported to be the art and architecture capital of Switzerland.  In proportion to its size there is a high density of museums. The tourist office uses the descriptive phrase, “Culture Unlimited.”  The team at the tourist office are helpful and can be contacted on: -
Basel Tourism
Aeschenvorstadt 36
CH-4010 Basel

Telephone number : +41 (0)61 268 68 68

Email:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

More information can be seen on:  www.baseltourismus.ch

The tourist guide who took The Tour of the old town on Saturday 25 November was most apologetic that her colleague was not able to attend and was most relieved when it was agreed that the tour could be conducted in High German only as a compromise.  We could not understand every single word but understood the main gist.

In the heart of the historic Old Town at Bafüsserplatz, you will find the attractive Christmas market with a very special charm of its own.  The meeting point for the start of the tour is in the tourist office at Bafüsserplatz.  It was tricky to stay part of the tour group as the market and the surrounding area was extremely busy.  The tour guide did not have one of those large colourful umbrellas that the group can focus on following whilst manoeuvring around the crowds.  J

The Basler Münster has colourful, unusually shaped roof tiles.  Inside, the afternoon sunshine filtered through the intricate mosaic design of the stain glass resulting in colourful shapes being projected on to the stonewalls.  One stain glass window depicted the Star of David.  To the back of the Münster there is a vantage point where visitors can overlook the river Rhine and some of the bridges.  It is also possible to see Novartis – one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world.

More details about the Basler Münster can be seen on: -
http://www.baslermuenster.ch/


     Basler Münster

The colourful window shutters, unusual roof tiles, small winding lanes and steep paths all contribute to making the old town an individualistic romantic area that appears to be lost in time.  Inner City developments are necessary at times but it is reassuring to see areas such as this being preserved and not substituted by fast food outlets.

Leaving the relative quiet behind; the group headed to a thriving, bustling Marktplatz in the direction of the Basler Rathaus.  This is a colourful building, artistically decorated, dominating Marktplatz.  The large Christmas tree in the inner courtyard is imaginatively decorated and compliments the palatial surroundings.

         
     Basler Rathaus                  Tree inside Rathaus

After the tour finished we made our way to the Johann Wanner Christmas House, which is a glittering Aladdin’s cave of Christmas ornaments and decorations. There is a vast range of products to choose from, in my opinion a larger selection than Harrods – please bear in mind it has been a long time since I have been in Harrods.  Images of a large Christmas tree in a sizable Victorian house came to mind.  What a wonderful time could be had choosing from magnificent trimmings and decorations.  It is reported that its customers include the royal family of Monaco and the White House – does not say which President of the U.S.A.


Decorations inside Johann Wanner

NB: Customers are not allowed to take in large handbags, rucksacks etc..  The polite doorperson will look after your bag and provide you with a ticket as a receipt. 

The address details are: -
Johann Wanner Christmas House
Spalenberg 14
4051 Basel

Telephone number :  +41 (0)61 261 48 26

As dusk fell the numerous lights around the City sparkled.

Bergli Books is in Basel and can be found at Rümelinsplatz 19 offering a wide variety of English books that focus on the many fascinating ways you can enjoy living and working in Switzerland.  To find out more details of the interesting Talk Parties, when Santa is due to visit and other information please select: -
www.bergli.ch

In the evening we witnessed the Basler Stadtlauf.  The distance for the elite male runners is 10km and 1km for the youngest runners.  Ornamental lights over the Mittlere Rheinbrücke brightened the route and their reflection in the river provided an extra dimension to the scene.
More details are on:  http://www.baslerstadtlauf.ch

On Sunday morning we spent some time looking around the Christmas market – approx. 150 stands and wooden huts, traders and practitioners of arts and crafts, from all over Switzerland offer their goods and give a demonstration of their skills.  There is a festive atmosphere and in my opinion it is a mystical old-fashioned market.  The presentation of the products for sale is of very high standard and wondered how long it takes the stallholders to create such imaginative displays.  There appeared to be decorated Christmas trees on every corner and found it refreshing that the consumers are not bombarded with burgers, chips, and sugary milkshakes.


Brightly decorated Wooden Hut

The smell of Glüwein and raclette add to the experience for your senses. 



Whilst absorbing the vibrant colours, skilfully made wooden characters, the traditional costumes of the workers at the Stollen (cake) stand and the small creative puppet display, please do not forget to take time to admire the decorations placed on top of the wooden huts.  Looking at the market from a higher vantage point it resembles a very large traditional Christmas fruitcake decorated with white icing and figurines.

The Museum der Kulturen Basel, Augustinergasse 2 is running an exhibition of the playful world of Mario Grasso entitled Konig, Katz & Bär  (King, Cat & Bear) It is a treat for museum visitors of all ages.

Details can be seen on:  www.mkb.ch

We had a nice Sunday lunch at the Stadthof Restaurant, Gerbergasse 84, just a short walk across the road from the Christmas market in Barfüsserplatz.  A restaurant with a flexible attitude – it was possible to put in a special order for rösti with vegetables only.  The rösti was very nice and the choice of meals ranged from pizzas to A la Carte, which might prove to be family friendly.  The website is: www.stadthof.ch

The Christmas market is open until 23 December 2006.

The indoor Christmas market at Zürich Hauptbahnhof is opened until 24 December.  An impressive Christmas tree adorned with Swarovski crystals stands sparkling over the wooden huts.

Details of all the Christmas markets in Switzerland are on: -
www.myswitzerland.com

If longer shopping hours within the usual retail stores will help in the countdown to Christmas, Letzipark (as one example) just outside the centre of Zürich is open additionally on Sunday 17 December (12:00-18:00) and until 22:00 on Friday 22 and Saturday 23 December. 
The website is: http://www.letzipark.ch/events.aspx

In an increasing secular age Christmas has the potential to spark controversy. In the pursuit of political correctness some authorities are allegedly working towards a ban of Christmas e.g.

Some media networks now use the phrase Happy Holidays instead of Happy Christmas.

A council office in South London made a decision to call Christmas lights  - Winter lights.  The renaming took place apparently for fear of offending other faiths.

A report in a U.K. newspaper in December 2005 states that more than two-thirds of companies have banned Christmas decorations from the office because of fears that they will offend people from minority faiths.

As a young naïve child – I thought the entire world celebrated Christmas and Christmas Eve was the longest night of the year.  My mother would ensure we had clean pyjamas for that night, which were warmed by wrapping them around a hot water bottle.  There was no central heating in the Victorian house we called home.

It is a controversial debate that continues and hope can be treated with tolerance and understanding from all involved.

Amongst those countries that do choose to celebrate Christmas – there are different traditions but a basic belief in the Christian festival forms the foundation.  Even those who do not acknowledge the Christian celebration often join in with the purchasing of gifts.  We are conditioned to be consumers.

Saint Nicholas Day, on 6 December, is a festival for children in much of Europe related to surviving legends of the saint, and particularly his reputation as a bringer of gifts. In Germany some children put a boot, called Nikolaus-Stiefel outside the front door on the night of 5 December. Legend has it that Saint Nicholas fills the boot with gifts and at the same time checks to see if the children have been good.  If they have been naughty charcoal is left in the boots instead.  Throughout time Swiss German children have heard tales about St.Nicholas (Samiklaus) accompanied by his “dark man” – Schmutzli. He would threaten to put naughty children in a sack and take them back to the Black Forest.  And experts are worried about the possible impact modern DVDs have on children J It is reported that the popular name of Santa Claus originates from a mispronunciation of the Dutch word Sinterklass (Saint Nicholas).


Details about events held on 5 December can be seen on: -
www.myswitzerland.com

In Küsnacht am Rigi (central Switzerland) what appears to be an impressive St. Nicholas parade commences at 20:15 when the streetlights are turned out.

Information is on: -
www.klausjagen.ch
www.kuessnacht-tourismus.ch

The British Royal family celebrate Christmas at Sandringham House in Norfolk.  Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and her family exchange gifts on Christmas Eve.  The present-opening ceremony takes place in the ballroom, where all the gifts are laid out on trestle tables covered with damask cloths.  These are divided with silk ribbon into separate spaces for the various family members.  Each space has a white card with the person’s name on it, starting with Her Majesty The Queen and working downwards.  Allegedly the gifts are not extravagant, as this would appear to be vulgar.  The late Duke of Windsor (the uncrowned Edward VIII who married Wallis Simpson) described his childhood memories of Christmas at Sandringham as ‘Dickens in a Cartier setting.’

One tradition, I clearly remember, in connection with the British Royal Family is that of Her Majesty The Queen’s speech broadcast on Christmas Day.  We would not dare miss it and ensured the Christmas dinner was over prior to 15:00(GMT) The first Christmas broadcast was delivered by His Majesty King George V in 1932.  The King spoke on the ‘wireless’ (radio) to the then British Empire from a small office at Sandringham.  Rudyard Kipling wrote the text of the first Christmas speech and began with the words: “I speak now from my home and from my heart to you all.”  The first televised message was broadcast live in 1957.  It is difficult to imagine any family placing an importance on a speech made by the British Royal Family in 2006 but surprisingly over 10 million viewers throughout the U.K. watched Her Majesty The Queen’s speech in 2004.  It has evolved into an important part of the Christmas Day celebrations for many around the world.

For many Christmas is more than decorating trees, excesses of food and drink but it is an opportunity to spend time with relatives and friends.  When these social get-togethers are organised in a healthy balanced way it can create some lovely memories to cherish.  Sadly, some use the holiday season to raise the ante in the field of Family Politics.  In 2003 my partner and I made the decision to spend Christmas and New Year in Mallorca.  When letting other ex-pats know of our plans during a pre-Christmas social event, it was surprising the amount of people that responded by saying, “Wish we could do that,” or “Why don’t we do that?”  The reason stopping them was not a financial restriction but a forced obligation by their relatives that they had to be with them.  Please may I ask the controversial question: What benefit is there in forcing relatives or anyone to share Christmas with you if they do not want to?  Is it because people are worried about what the neighbours are going to say?  It has been said when relatives introduce tension over Christmas why can’t they stop, take a deep breath, and be thankful that their relative is healthy and enjoying life?  If the invitation to a Christmas social event is sent with genuine intention without any threat of guilt ridden comments being banded about for the year ahead it will attract more positive replies.  If relatives choose to spend Christmas travelling, wish them well and look forward to seeing their photographs and hearing all about their trip when they return.

The media pressure at Christmas is immense and unfortunately there is a set ideal of what we should all be doing at Christmas otherwise we will never fit in.  The feelings of loneliness for those who are homeless or without relatives / close friends can intensify at times like this especially if the marketing “spin” being broadcast is that everyone is having a joyous time.

The financial pressure on some families is intolerable and the importance placed on materialistic gifts distorted.  Reports of families getting themselves deeper into debt just to compete with others are worrying. 

One of the most precious gifts anyone can offer is their time.

What ever you decide to do during the Christmas period of 2006, have a lovely peaceful time and treasure each moment with those you love.

Once the novelty of the new toys has worn off and the toddlers have finished playing with the cardboard boxes instead of the contents, preparations will start for Silvester (New Years Eve)

Wishing you a very
Merry Christmas
Happy Holidays
Frohe Weihnachten
Schöni Wiänachtä
Joyeaux Noël
Buona Natale

© Theresa Avery    December 2006  


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