How wild and frivolous Basel celebrated New Year's Eve in the old days
Last night, Baslers said farewell to the old year at parties - mostly in a polite, happy, and decent way. In the old days, however, this night was wild: Shootings, begging, and spectacular defilés were part of the celebrations.
Imagine you celebrate New Year's Eve with friends at home and in the middle of the night someone knocks on your door and bangs on your windows. When you look outside you see a crowd of people with blackened or masked faces, wearing old clothes. They demand sausages or money, and if you refuse to give them something, they insult you.
«Bochseln» – an unknown custom today
Uncomfortable, isn't it? About 600 years ago, this was common practice in Basel. It even had a name: «Bochseln». The Middle High German word means «knock, hammer, produce loud and hollow noises». New Year's Eve was wild, and rough jokes and exuberance were part of it. People wore masks or blackened their faces, put on old clothing and roamed the streets. Protected by their masquerades, these groups were prone to making frivolous jokes, provoking people, and folly. They went from house to house, banged on doors and demanded presents. They only targeted the houses of good citizens. After banging on windows and doors, they croaked their demands with the following rhyme:
heaven has opened
a blissful new year shall come for you!
They demanded money and sausages and those who refused to give something were insulted. Presents were eaten and drunk immediately, as it was written in an old text: «They started new year with feasting and drinking.» The government attempted many times to ban this custom, but without success. At the end of 15th century, there were public regulations which banned public defilés under the threat of a fine.
Shootings during New Year's Eve
Around two hundred years later, another stumbling block was the so-called «Umschiessen» («shooting around»). The identity of the shooter was mostly a mystery. «Most shootings happened on Kornmarkt (today: Marktplatz). Mr Schneider, the fur dealer even had a grenade on his bell-rope!», according to a report from 1765. Messengers were tasked with informing the public two days before an official ban on New Year's Eve shootings was introduced in the city.
But the ban didn't work and was ignored. In 1821, the ban was brought in again together with a threat of a fine or imprisonment. «All shooting is banned all year round and also at New Year's Eve with a fine of twelve francs, and as the case may be, by 24 hours of imprisonment.» But a letter to the editor from 1879 shows that the ban didn't work: «Despite the political warnings, last New Year's Eve there were even more shootings and fireworks than ever. Especially in front of the Spalentor there was a massive spectacle. On Rheinsprung the crowd attending the New Year's Eve ringing was attacked by “frogs” which caused undesired situations.»
Man and good Samaritan injured by group
A 68-year-old and a 31-year-old man were injured in an assault in Klybeckstrasse yesterday morning. Two people have been arrested.
According to early investigations by the criminal police of the prosecution, a 31-year-old man was assaulted by a group of between 8-10 people on Klybeckstrasse between Offenburgerstrasse and Bläsiring at 6.30am. He was knocked down and kicked in the body and head. A 68-year-old passer-by tried to help the victim and was also injured. Both men had to be rushed to the emergency unit of the hospital by an ambulance.
The perpetrators ran off through Offenburgerstrasse towards the Rhine. A short time later, two young men were arrested. The two 22-year-old Swiss citizens are accused of taking part in the attack. The search for the other alleged perpetrators, who were wearing dark clothes and are described as southern types, has so far been unsuccessful. There is no further description about the men available.
The process of events and the reason for the assault are not clear yet and subject to investigations by the criminal police. Anyone who can give relevant information are asked to contact the criminal police of the prosecution Basel-Stadt (phone number 061 267 71 11) or by going to the next police station.