Vogel Gryff of Basel

Basel sure has a lot to offer in terms of activities and events, which makes a semi-newbie like myself relish in all its distractions.

The Vogel Gryff of Basel normally rotates between 3 dates : January 13, 20 & 27. A crew of men dressed up as drummers, flag bearers, cannoneers and a wild man carrying an uprooted pine tree float down the Rhine on a raft. Sounds weird yet? Yeah, I didn't quite see how this fit together either. But alas, folktale isn't about making sense isn't it? It's all meant to thrill and entertain. Which they did. As the raft sailed slowly down the river, the wild man was doing some manic dance moves, all the while, other men were blasting cannons to the delight and glee of the crowd lined along the Rhine to witness the show. Dogs, I must say, did not enjoy the show as much. Poor little guys.


As the raft drifts down the Rhine, it symbolically always faces Kleinbasel (which is the city on the right bank of the Rhine).

The entire proceeding which started up at Birkskopfle will end at the Mittlere Brücke (the middle bridge) where all the men disembark and walks around Kleinbasel to the beat of their drums. It is also at this stage that the Wilder Mann (the wild man) will be reunited with 2 other traditional symbols of Kleinbasel who are the "Leu" (the Lion) and the "Vogel Gryff" (the griffin).

A special performance at noon is reserved on the Mittlere Brücke where each of them will perform a dance accompanied by the sound of the drums. It's important to note that they very carefully try to avoid facing or looking towards Grossbasel (which is to the left of the Rhine) during their performance. There is some sort of bad blood between the Kleinbaselites and the Grossbaselites it seems. 

What I thought was really enjoyable was actually the crowd who had gathered to see the long winding spectacle. From young toddlers to very dapper older men in their long wool jackets and wool hats smoking their cigar and pipes, there was a very broad group of individuals who seemed to take in the activities with different levels of enthusiasm. While on the Mittlere Brücke, I stood behind an older lady who was watching the raft come towards her. When she briefly turned around, I saw her wipe her eyes and look somewhat forlorn. That's when I suddenly felt her sadness. She was standing on bridge watching something that probably brought a sad memory from her past. Next to her was a young couple with an excited toddler squealing after each cannon launch. Behind me was a older gentleman dressed in a beautiful wool jacket and a thick wool rimmed hat.

The party goes on quite late in fact, but this gal was already tired from walking around the entire morning, so unfortunately no pictures of their later activities. In any case, I hope you enjoy this little tidbit from a small corner of Switzerland!

TravelLucy ShihBasel