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Local News Summary of December, 29th

  • Rhine swimming in winter: the best way to avoid catching a cold
  • Basel scientists discover bacteria that steal DNA from other bacteria
  • Fasnacht badges – from drawings to the finished product

Rhine swimming in winter: the best way to avoid catching a cold

Once the temperatures drop, there are no more Rhine swimmers. Or are there? Barfi.ch accompanied Adrian Burkardt – who jumps into the river even when the thermometer is below zero.

Passers-by in their thick coats by the Rhine promenade are flabbergasted: A young man stands at a footbridge in swimming trunks and then jumps into the river. Adrian Burkardt is one of the few people who go for a swim in the Rhine during winter. Yes, even when it is raining or snowing, or when it is as grey and cold as now. 

The 20-year-old Rhine lover has been swimming three times a week for the past two years – in summer, almost every day. But what must be an impossible scenario for those who swim only when the conditions are suitable is part of the deal for Adrian Burkardt: “The body can sustain far more than we believe,” he says. “You have to reach your limits sometimes. And if it is healthy, then all the better.” He has not been ill ever since he started swimming in the Rhine during winter. “Another advantage is the fact that I generally feel less cold.”

The only person in the Rhine

Mr Burkardt hardly needs to prepare himself for his dip in the river. Well, almost. “If the Rhine is freezing cold during temperatures below zero, it is still hard for me sometimes,” he said, laughing. Nonetheless, he will swim in the river in any condition. It is important, however, not to enter the water straight away. “If you are swimming in the river from summer to autumn and even in winter, you will get used to low water temperatures without any problem,” he said. It does not matter whether the water temperature is at 10 or 5 degrees Celsius. But for a beginner, jumping into the cold water can be an uncomfortable experience. “There might be a feeling of panic,” he said. Yet for him, it is the most beautiful time. Adrian Burkardt in fact prefers swimming in winter. “The currents are less strong, and there are also far fewer other swimmers.” This moment – having the Rhine to himself – is priceless.

People applaud or warn him

“Sometimes, people applaud when I enter the river,” the all-weather swimmer said. But this is certainly not the reason why he goes for a swim in winter, he adds. “One time, someone even told me: ‘No, don’t do it! Don’t go in!’” But of course, the young Rhine swimmer got into the water anyway. 

The Rhine is part of Adrian Burkardt’s life. In the evenings, he works at the “Rhybadhüsli” (Rhine bath house) in Breite. In the winter, he is responsible for the local sauna – with the river used to cool down in between sessions. And in October, he became the youngest ferryman in Basel. After telling us this, he then jumps into the Rhine. After about 300 metres, he returns to the shore. “This is the best moment,” he said. We believe him and start thinking about whether this might be a good New Year’s resolution for 2018.

Basel scientists discover bacteria that steal DNA from other bacteria

Bacteria do not necessarily need to grow resistant to antibiotics on their own. They can also steal such resistance from other bacteria by poisoning them, researchers at the bio centre of the University of Basel reveal in a new study.

In its study published in the “Cell Reports” magazine, the research team, led by Professor Marek Basler, demonstrates how bacteria inject poison into their fellow bacteria, causing them to burst so that the resistant DNA can then be absorbed. This lets bacteria collect resistances, the university announced on Wednesday.

The goal of this brutal DNA exchange is that victorious bacteria can grow without any interference. This mechanism becomes problematic, especially in hospitals: Patients carry various germs, and as a result resistances against the antibiotics in use become more likely.

Multi-resistant bacteria can become lethal for patients who do not respond to any antibiotics. The university team said that the “frequent and often careless use of antibiotics” adds to an increase in resistance.

As an example, the university mentions an almost untreatable wound infection bacterium, which was named the “Iraq germ” because of its appearance during the Iraq war. The Basel research team analysed a close relative of this bacterium – named “Acinetobacter baylyi” – as a model germ for the DNA transfer.

In detail, some bacteria employ poison proteins which they inject into other bacteria. The principle of such “effectors” is the same as in cases of pneumonia or cholera. However, some bacteria have developed antidotes, while others have entire toxin arsenals at their disposal.

There have been antibiotics and resistances for millions of years. Bacteria can defend themselves and conquer ecological niches with these methods. It wasn’t until the use of antibiotics in medicine that the natural ability to build up a resistance became a problem.

Fasnacht badges – from drawings to the finished product

It is released every year in versions of bronze, silver, gold, “Bijou” (a combination of gold and silver) – as well as in the form of a pendant for 2018. The Basel “Fasnachtsplakette” carnival badge was first sold to finance the Fasnacht in 1911 and has become a fixed tradition since then.

The René F. Müller AG in Basel has been producing the badges since 1939. About ten different steps are involved in the production – sometimes more, sometimes less depending on the badge motif.

First, an engraver copies the drawing onto a gypsum model in minute detail, of which a plastic mould is made. This mould in turn is then miniaturised via pantograph and milled into a steel mint afterwards.

With the mint, copper blanks are pressed into form – every piece needs to be inserted into the machine by hand. This embossing machine imprints the badges with the right appearance.

Then, a fixing needle is attached to the back of each badge. The silver and gold badges receive their plating by an external galvaniser. In a final step, all badges are patinated and polished by the René F. Müller AG.

First Fasnacht badges were created in 1911

The first “Blaggedde” appeared in 1911 as a pin and medallion with an “Ueli” (a traditional Basel Fasnacht figure) motif. Fasnacht was still written as “Fastnacht” (with a German “t”) by the Riehen-German engraver Wilhelm Dollinger back then – a variation that was soon abandoned.

One year later, Basel’s government decided that half of the earnings made by selling badges should be handed over to the “Basler Heilstätte für Lungenkranke” (a hospital for lung diseases) in Davos, the Fasnacht committee website reveals. Only as of 1922 and following a complaint by the committee, all the earnings have been used to finance the Fasnacht itself.

Because there was no official Fasnacht during the First World War, there were also no badges between 1915 and 1919. Likewise, the Fasnacht did not take place in the streets during the Second World War. There were badges, but they were produced in only very limited amounts – which is why these Fasnacht emblems are collector’s items nowadays.

Sometimes, there were also two medallions with different motifs in early years. The first appearance of a silver badge can be dated back to 1921. The “Bijou” gold-and-silver badge exists since 2005 – and for 2018, it is now also sold as a pendant for the first time.

Annual competition

The motif for the badges is determined annually with an anonymous competition launched by the Fasnacht committee. The winner is elected in the summer by the committee so that the production of badges can begin in time for Fasnacht.

The choosing of the badge motif usually takes about three hours and is conducted in a democratic manner, Adrian Kunz (committee badge manager) told the sda news agency. Imagery is the most important criteria. The committee always chooses a motif that “sells well”.

The badge motif also needs to be transportable and recognisable by a wide audience. Every year’s badge is therefore a product of its time. Some show motifs related to the wars, others address women’s suffrage, or – like the current badge – the countrywide discussions about the Swiss postal service.

A female contender won this year’s competition – for the third time only in its history. The other two female winners had been elected for the Fasnacht of 1934 and 1993. According to Mr Kunz, the reasons for this are unclear. The fact that only about 10 per cent of approximately 100 submissions each year are by women certainly plays a role, he added.

Runner-up and Internet slip-up

Next to the winner, the committee also elects a runner-up each year, Mr Kunz said – in case the winning badge needs to be withdrawn during production for any reason.

This measure was taken in reaction to the Fasnacht of 2002. The committee decided to produce another motif rather than the winning motif at short notice. The reason for the committee’s reconsideration was the terror attacks of 11th September 2001 in the United States. The original motif for 2002 showed the Basel exhibition tower, which was still under construction back then.

The badge remains a well-kept secret until the revealing of the motif between Christmas and New Year. However, in 2013, there was an Internet slip-up, causing the new badge to appear three days earlier than planned on the official Fasnacht website. The committee has since taken new precautions as a consequence.

It is also a secret how many badges are produced each year. The Fasnacht cliques receive 30 per cent of the profits of each badge sold by them, and the committee divides the net sale revenue among all cliques for their efforts. In order to avoid jealousy and disputes, the committee keeps the exact number of badges to be sold under lock and key.