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Local News Summary of December, 21st

  • Has the government found a solution for Basel’s museum strategy?
  • Basel physicists break record for coldest temperature - with a chip
  • Baking Christmas cookies with the KULT baker


Has the government found a solution for Basel’s museum strategy?

A strategy for the museums became the touchstone of Basel’s government president Elisabeth Ackermann. Yesterday, she and Sonja Kuhn presented a slim agreement in relation to the future of the museums. Does this mean that all is peaceful again between the government and the museums? The general mood rather indicates an amicable split-up.

Basel’s government president Elisabeth Ackermann was in an unenviable position over the past few months: On the one hand, people wanted to see an agreement on culture in Basel that her predecessors had promised. On the other hand, however, the museums’ situation proved to be so tricky that some voices suggested holding back from making such an agreement until analyses had yielded results. “Trying to do right by everyone is an art mastered by nobody,” Mrs Ackermann said. At the end of the summer, not one but two commissions put pressure on the government. Their credo was: Get it over and done with, or there will be no further decisions. As if the situation were not complicated enough. 

The ominous museum strategy, first seen in 2009 and denied by the Grand Council in a first version in 2016, has become the touchstone for the government president. In a similar manner, the two culture office managers, Katrin Grögel and Sonja Kuhn, have also experienced the harsh conditions of the debate. By now, Mrs Kuhn has shown that she has a different strategy in mind than the reluctant city president. She did not remain quiet about the criticism pointed at her. Regarding Mrs Grögel, little more than her name has appeared in public. 

The long path to an agreement 

Elisabeth Ackermann looked visibly relieved in the anteroom of the Grand Council hall yesterday morning. She had to fight for a long time to reach solid ground. She had also tried to keep the pressing questions at bay for as long as possible – this was met with criticism. While she regretted that the process took so long, she said: “I did it in 11 months! As for the 7 years before that, I was not there.” The inherited burdens of the museum strategy were taken over by her when she became government president. Many were not happy about this development: Has the government nothing better to do than keeping a close eye on the museums? But looking at the financial problems of the Kunstmuseum and the Historical Museum, it soon became clear: Mrs Ackermann had to take care of these issues. The five museums in question harbour potentially huge financial risks for the canton. Things need to be taken care of at once – and the new museum strategy needs to be standing by the end of the year. 

And here it is, the new strategy. It is slim, as was to be expected: The most important item in the agreement is that the museums’ finances are to be regulated with global budgets in the future. Museums should “receive as much autonomy and freedom as possible”. With this measure, they can make accruals and gain security in planning. The old and complicated bonus-malus system no longer applies. Current business analyses still continue, however. 

More freedom for the museums 

Only minutes before the presentation of the new strategy, a visibly pensive Joseph Helfenstein hurried out of the town hall. It appears that the talks had continued until the very last minute. He will be happy now since he will have more freedom to manage the Kunstmuseum. But why keep the museums on a long line now – and not on a short leash, looking at the financial problems of the past? “It is essential for the museums’ success that they can act independently,” Mrs Ackermann explained.  

The museum directors have won. But not only them – the government president is getting out of a tight spot as well. After the financial fiascos of the past, the city government obviously does not want to take responsibility for the mistakes of the past and individual museums. More freedom also means more personal responsibility. Once the analyses and global budgets have been accepted, the museums have full freedom for four years. Mrs Ackermann plans to discuss the budgets together with the analyses – she also seems to have run out of patience. “I cannot wait for three years.” Therefore, the main strategy appears to be getting rid of the inherited problems of Basel’s museums and then each go their own separate way more often in the future. Mrs Kuhn is to discuss matters with the institutions three times a year.

A balancing act 

The tricky part of the balancing act is now to agree on the budgets while analyses and plans for new buildings are still running. The analyses are conducted in tiers – the Kunstmuseum and Historical Museum (the two museums with the most problems) are first in line, followed by the Museum of Cultures, and then the Museum of Antiquities. Whether this process will work remains unclear. These two museums could be worth investigating in detail, especially because they received very little attention so far: For example, how can it be known that they won’t be facing problems regarding management and finances? Their budgets are not as high as that of the Kunstmuseum but can still reach high numbers very quickly. Because of still unresolved insecurities regarding a planned new building for the Museum of Natural History, there will be no analysis of this museum. The new building project is expected to go before the Grand Council by summer 2018 at the latest. 

The current version of the new museum strategy also includes a partial revision of the museum law. These changes will be presented to the Grand Council over the course of next year. Mrs Ackermann must now hope that she won’t be facing the same problem as her predecessor Guy Morin: His proposed new museum strategy was denied in 2016. If this were to happen to Mrs Ackermann as well, she would have to go back to square one. 

Basel physicists break record for coldest temperature - with a chip

Researchers at the University of Basel have come closer to reaching the absolute zero of cold temperatures than anyone before them: The physicists managed to cool down a chip to less than 3 millikelvins. 

The scientists at the department of physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute set this record together with colleagues from Germany and Finland, the University of Basel announced in a statement on Wednesday. With high-tech freezers, various work groups across the globe aim to reach temperatures as close to the absolute zero. 

On the path to 1 millikelvin 

The absolute zero of cold temperatures is at 0 Kelvin or minus 273.15 degrees Celsius. The group of Basel physics, led by professor Dominik Zumbühl, has now managed to cool down a nano-electric chip to less than 2.8 millikelvin. They broke the existing record by linking two cooling systems. 

According to a statement, professor Zumbühl is confident that the magical threshold of 1 millikelvin can be reached with this method. The scientific journal “Applied Physics Letters” reported about his group’s success. 

This worldwide race of researchers to reach the absolute zero has a deeper purpose. Such supercold temperatures would offer the ideal conditions for quantum experiments and allow the analysis of entirely new physical experiments, it was stated. 

The Basel researchers managed to uphold the extremely cold temperatures for seven hours with magnetic cooling of all electric conductors of the chip as well as with the chip itself. This gave them enough time to do various experiments, which should help to gain an understanding of the physics close to the absolute zero. 

Baking Christmas cookies with the KULT baker 

Christmas cookies are traditional and yet can still be completely different. Here is an extraordinary recipe and a small portrait of its creator. 

Last year, barfi.ch baked delicious pink gingerbread biscuits for Christmas. Our choice this year is an extraordinary variation of the popular – but let’s be honest, rather boring – Sablés. We visited Lea Gessler in the new baking room of the KULT bakery at Elsässerstrasse and helped her to bake a special alternative of the classic cookie – with saffron! 

Not even two months have passed since the KULT bakery opened a new branch in St. Johann at Elsässerstrasse 43 – the “big sister”, as KULT founders Lea Gessler and Leon Heinz call the new bakery. Since then, the small team has grown to 30 to 35 employees in the matter of a few weeks – most of them working part-time. And business is booming, barfi.ch learned. No matter whether young or old, everyone is there. Mothers with children like to visit because there is enough space for prams. The bakery evokes a happy and light-hearted mood. 

A few minutes before the planned meeting, Lea Gessler sends us a text message stating that she will be a little late because she still has to get the right dough hook. However, she then manages to arrive on time after all – with three appliances tied to her bicycle handlebars. For one of her birthdays, she received a professional Kenwood food processor from her mother, which she moved to the bakery after a year. “I use it more often here,” she explains before we start baking. 

Of course, she is happy about the success, and many of her ideas have not been realised yet. The planned brunch offer, for example. Most likely, it won’t be part of KULT until February or March. Another long-held dream of the avid bread baker will still have to wait for some time, too. She wants to cycle from country to country to learn the best bread recipes on site. Right now, it is too early to say for her whether she will write a book about this journey or not. 

Recipe for saffron Sablés by Lea Gessler

300 grammes of butter

200 grammes of sugar 

2 teaspoons of saffron

2 eggs

500 grammes of flour 

½ teaspoon of baking powder

1 pinch of salt 

400 grams of white chocolate for dipping 

Saffron blossoms for decorating (available at Turkish shops, for example) 

Weight per cookie: ca. 14 grammes 

Number of cookies: ca. 80


Beat the butter, the sugar, and the saffron with a hand mixer (Kenwood K attachment) in a food processor until creamy. Add the eggs and beat until it is a homogenous mass. This may take 3 to 5 minutes. 

Mix the flour, the baking powder, and the salt in a separate bowl. Stir the mixture in with the dough until the mass has become very orange. 

Put the dough on a saran wrap, press it flat (so that it can cool quicker) and put it all in the fridge for about 1 hour.

Form the dough into rolls of about 2,5 centimetres in diameter and put the rolls back into the fridge for another 30 minutes. 

Cut the hardened rolls into equally thick Sablés with a sharp knife and put them on a baking tray (about 3 centimetres from each other). 

Depending on how thick they are, the Sablés need to be baked for 10 to 14 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius. They should remain very yellow and only turn brown a bit at the edges.

Let the Sablés cool, decorate them – and enjoy. 

Find the pictures here