On July 11, 1471, the Emperor Friedrich III granted the Mayor of Basel, Hannsen von Berenfels, the right to hold an Autumn Fair in Basel “in perpetuity”. For the last two weeks, we have been celebrating the 546th Autumn Fair in Basel, an event that brings about a million visitors every year depending on the weather.
546th! What was going on in the US when Mayor von Berenfels organized his first fair? Well the Native Americans were going about their lives and had yet to see a white man. By the time Columbus landed, Basel was already celebrating their 21st Fair which would have had some of the same components it does today.
The main objective of European fairs has always been trade and commerce and it is still the case. Where you used to be able to buy material and goats and silk and spices, today you can buy candles and handmade pottery and jam and scarves and fondue pots. There is still a contest to attract customers, those with the loudest voices or free handouts win.
There is also fun. In the Middle Ages the entertainment probably consisted of juggling and dancing little people. Today, there is a ferris wheel where you can see all of Basel and merry-go-rounds and bumper cars.
And what’s a fair without food? Charlie and I made the rookie move on our first day to the Fair and decided to try everything at once, after 5 items, we saw the error of our ways but we did have fun. There was Chinese food served in a pop-up pagoda and raclette and stewed plums with whip cream on top and chocolate covered fruit and mangenbrot (stomach bread) which is a specialty of the fair. It’s supposed to be good for digestion but it is chocolate covered ginger bread…..
Trying to choose our favorite item was tough. It was a toss-up between the Alpen macaroni which is macaroni noodles with bacon in a cream sauce with melted cheese on top and apple sauce and the fondue cheese in a hot dog bun. That was definitely the best experience. They start with a closed hot dog bun with a hole in the middle and pour in piping hot fondue cheese. You get a napkin and that is it. Then you just start making your way into the bun and cheese. It is an amazing thing but between the two of us, we could not finish one. I think it must be a big hit with the late night crowd.
The fair closes tomorrow. We have been 3 or 4 times to eat, buy some yummy things and just take in the atmosphere. In 2 weeks, the Christmas markets will start in Basel which feature more things to buy and more yummy things to eat. I guess I will eat my way through the dark days of winter.