I noticed this young guy, probably in his mid-twenties riding his bike slowly, wearing brown shorts with several holes in them, white sneakers without socks, a black basketball t-shirt with a size way too big for him, holding a small loudspeaker in his right hand. Then in the middle of a busy intersection in Basel, directly across from the city’s central railway station, he abruptly stops with a relaxed expression on his face. He then turns to face the loudspeaker while making the motion with his left hand that suggests he is pressing a bottom. I imagined he might play some music. But then, out of nowhere, this Meghan Trainor hit song from a few years ago started playing loudly—because you know I’m all about the bass, ‘Bout that bass, no treble—I burst out laughing because I just did not see it coming, the whole scene just looked hilarious to me. Minutes later as I was waiting for my train, I was like, wait, I got it. This whole scene was like a revelation, I immediately knew the name of this blog post, although these days have not been all about that bass, but has been all about that city…Basel
Basel – The City
Basel is not the size of Berlin but she can really “move it” like a big city is supposed to do; with around 190,000 inhabitants, it’s the third largest city in Switzerland and is widely recognized as the country’s cultural epicenter, thanks to its many museums. Basel is more about urban life than most of the country’s other cities. Many of these cities are surrounded by the stunning Alps, for example. If you only have a short time in Basel, I wouldn’t necessarily pack ski gear in winter or plan a hike around the city. But don’t worry, there is plenty to do, from concerts, streets festivals to theaters, art galleries, all sorts of parties and exhibitions throughout the year, and certainly great places to eat, from “easy” to “fancy”, just be careful, it can be painful to your wallet! Either way, Basel has got you covered!
I am spending a season living on the border between Germany and Switzerland, and I am enjoying it. France also shares this border. On any given day, you’ll hear German in all its dialects and accents, as well as Italian, French, English, Spanish, Arabic, Turkish, Albanian, Russian and many more. As an economic powerhouse with many high-tech companies, research institutions, chemical and international pharmaceutical industries, Basel also attracts highly educated people from all over the world, not just from its close neighbours.
Cities with many people from different backgrounds are often divided into many districts, often different from each other, making them look like a big colourful jigsaw puzzle at times, but Basel is essentially divided into two main parts, Kleinbasel (Klein means little in German) and Grossbasel (Gross means big in German). The powerful Rhine River naturally separates the two parts. The Klein, as the name suggests, is a small neighborhood mostly made up of residential buildings and modest shops. Most of the activity take place in Grossbasel, which is said to be the “cool” place to live, and where you will also find the historically rich Old Town. But don’t worry “Kleinbasel,” you‘ve got ArtBasel, the world’s largest art fair, which takes place every year in the summer. I spent two days exploring the fair this year. It was a high-quality art fair, I enjoyed seeing not only the wacky pieces by Jean-Michel Basquiat they had, but also the performing and musical arts. A real learning experience. It is also a fantastic forum for connecting minds and, in the end, it becomes more than just an art fair. It is no secret that art can inspire creativity, it can be used as a tool to bring people together to create positive change or address problems in their cities, for example. Art has contributed to the cultural development of Basel.
Rhine River – The Experience
I love cities by the river, by the sea, perhaps because I grew up in one like this. The Rhine River is inextricably linked to Basel society at all levels. Taking a dip in the Rhine is kind of a religious thing to do over the summer. Thousands come to hang out on the banks of the river on the “Klein” side, which is where most people enter the Rhine for a refreshing swim. It’s such a local thing. They even have their own bag to swim in the river. Tilo Ahmels, a German living in Basel, created this bag called Wickelfisch many years ago. It’s a waterproof swim bag that keeps clothes and valuables dry. The local custom is to wear a swimsuit, stuff the bag (Wickelfisch) with your belongings and then jump into the river holding the bag. You can use the bag as a float and float down the river with the current (which can be quite strong) until you reach the shore, at which point you can either swim and leave or continue to let yourself go until you are finished, and then perhaps repeat.
A friendly local I met there lent me one to try out. I went for a swim; it was a lovely summer day, but the water was a little chilly for my taste; my legs cramped up; and later I scraped my left knee on a rock, drawing a little blood but otherwise avoiding serious injury. So, I stopped. The local who lent me the bag probably thought I was going to sink, but I was far from it. I’ve read online that many swimmers have died swimming in the Rhine, mostly inexperienced swimmers, so if you go, you have to be careful and better ask the locals if it’s advisable to swim or not. The strong current of the river is to be respected. But if the water temperature in the early twenties is good for you, and you’re a good swimmer, then you may do as the locals do, it’s awesome. One day I might give it another go.
Despite the rain we’ve been having lately, summer hasn’t quite ended yet. In the meantime, and as long as my job allows, I will continue getting to know Basel more but also start exploring a bit more of the south of Germany, especially the black forest, and the Alsace region of France (one of my favorites). I might come with another story later in the fall.
Until then, take care!