is the new black. Its official.
Thanks to Wallpaper magazines frequent forays into
Switzerlands quiet luxe lifestyle, and Moschinos last
Swiss-styled collection, Switzerland is so square its finally
become hip. And Basel, in the northern, German-speaking part of
the country now rivals other traditional European city-break destinations.
I discovered Basel last year when I was posted to Switzerland as
a web copywriter. I was surprised how beautiful the city is
it straddles the Rhine and boasts a hotch-potch of Franco-German
architecture geographically, Basels location is pretty
exceptional as the surrounding region neighbours France and Germany,
which makes for an interesting mix of cross-cultural influences.
Basel is renowned for its pharmaceutical industry, and frankly,
not much else. It is hard to find much information on the city,
as it hasnt yet been repackaged as a hot Euro destination.
Apart from drugs, I didnt think the city would have much to
Luckily, I couldnt have been more wrong.
For urbanites needing
an injection of culture, and a relaxing but groovy break from the norm,
Basel is a great place to shake off the winter blues. The city is home
to a vibrant cultural scene and is a Mecca for jazz-heads and art-lovers
around the globe. Basels contemporary art fair is one of the biggest
in the world, and the annual jazz festival always has a show-stopping
line up of high-calibre musicians such as last years Abdullah
Ibrahim and B.B. King.
The German influence is hugely evident in the city. From the tempting
selection of organic and hand made goodies in the market square each
Saturday, to the laid back, eco-conscious way of life, the city has
that creative, alternative feel that Germany can be known for.
The city is divided by the Rhine into Klein Basel, (small Basel), and
Grosse Basel (big Basel). The south side of the river, Klein Basel,
is officially the red light district, but home to a lot of great bars
and alternative cinemas.
Grosse Basel is where youll find the shops and cinemas. Design
aficionados will note the eclectic mix of Italian, German and French
architecture prevalent in this area of the city. The magnificent gothic
Munster (cathedral) dominates the city and it is worth walking to the
Munsterplatz (cathedral square) to enjoy the panoramic view of Germanys
Black Forest and the Rhine wending its way to neighbouring France. For
shopping, wander along Frei Strasse for a great choice of stores, from
designer temples such as Trois Pommes (stocks DKNY, Gucci, Helmut Lang
and Prada and more) to usual Euro-suspects such as H&M, Kookai and
Take a detour behind the pedestrian zone area and stroll up to Heuberg,
a delightfully fairytale maze of streets, lined with impeccably preserved
14th Century gingerbread-style houses overflowing with window boxes
full of geraniums and an off-beat selection of boutiques, florists and
I arrived in the city in April, and cant imagine a better time
to take a break in this city.
The Basel Jazz festival kicks off in April. This world-renowned festival
attracts groovsters from around the world. I managed to catch the last
night and was treated to staggering performances from Herbie Hancock
and Dee Dee Bridgewater, no less. (Such headline acts are typical.)
Culture vultures who miss the jazz festival could visit the city in
June, the month of Basels contemporary art fair. This is really
worth checking out just for the people watching. Models, dealers, down-beats,
sheiks, painters, photographers, and art-world wannabes strut their
stuff between the makeshift gallery walls, so even if you have no intention
of clinching the deal on a rare Rothko, go for the atmosphere. If snapping
up an early Pollock or shipping home a Nan Goldin is out of the question,
theres always the alternative art fair, which runs at the same
time as the main fair. Last year this showcase of younger, lesser-known
artists was held in a fabulous converted brewery, Wartek on the banks
of the Rhine. Wartek also has a restaurant and is houses artists
ateliers, workshops and studios.
Later in the summer, Orange hosted a huge outdoor film festival, and
not the sort of muddy affair youd find in England. It was a covered,
comfy seated, obviously Swissengineered wide screen showing a
collection of independent and popular films. The free festival runs
every year in August.
Year-round, Basel boasts an astonishing collection of hip hangouts,
and enough culture to satisfy even the most ardent art-hound. Below
Ive listed a few of the best cafes, bars and restaurants.
* * *
HANGING: CAFES &
Fumare Non Fumare is a groovy, glass-fronted café for trendy
German designer types. Check in for your morning Latte fix. Situated
on the main pedestrian area, Gerbergasse.
Mitte (same building as Fumare Non Fumare) holds weekly events, such
as live music from classical performances mid-week to drum and bass
sessions on a Friday night. Also have great brunch on a Sunday and regular
dance performances, readings and philosophy discussion groups. Also
offers childrens events during half term and holidays.
RotEngel is a cosy student-filled café tucked away in AndreasPlatz,
a tiny fountain and geranium filled square. A great place to hang with
a bowl of coffee, backgammon and a dog-eared copy of Prousts Le
Hirschenecke This place is crazy. By day Hirschenecke is a gorgeous
café perfect for spreading out the papers, hanging with a coffee
and checking out the regular exhibitions on the pretty green paneled
walls. By night, the café opens its cavernous cellar and plays
host to Basels home-grown death-rock bands. Really.
This is situated at the end of Rheingasse, in Klein Basel (next to Hirscheneck
is a tiny communist café with printing facilities where you can
print and hand out leaflets for your latest manifesto Im
Grenzwert: Good late-night hangout its small but cool with
old-school table football, piano and great interior design. Open til
late, this is also on Rheingasse.
Kaserne: A sprawling factory / theatre/ alternative events venue for
concerts, dance and plays. Has a cool bar and a nice restaurant for
FlammenKüche (pizza) , often features open air films in the summer,
and European football championships. Very children friendly, great place
to hang out on a summer evening with a beer. Situated on Kasernestrasse,
also in Klein Basel.
Cargo: Riverside bar and café with eclectic, funky décor
and consistently cool vibes. From Thursday onwards Cargo has resident
DJs and music nights from jazz to techno. In the early evening its
a great place to go for a quiet drink on the waterfront. Situated on
Beyler Foundation: Incredible, minimalist art gallery 20 minutes outside
Basel. (Jump on tram number 12 and descend at Rhiendorf) The building
is constructed of glass and concrete, surrounded by water and set in
rolling pastures and designed by contemporary architect and Genoa born
Renzo Piano. Great collection of art - amazingly, many of the works
are privately owned by the Beylers. The Foundation features Giacommetti,
Monet, Van Gogh, Kandinsky, Turner, Picasso (theres a whole room
dedicated to Picasso which also showcases his ceramics.) The Foundation
regularly hosts exhibitions from now until the end of April is
a Mark Rothko retrospective.KunstHalle, Kunstmuseum, Gegenwartskunst
Basels three great art museums offer a very comprehensive selection
of contemporary and traditional art, so youll find everything
from Tilmans to Turner. The Kunsthall holds interesting regular exhibitions
but the Kunstmuseum has a better permanent collection. The Gegenwartskunst
Museum is a modern art museum with a refreshingly playful feel to both
the museum and the collections no warders and Dont
From the outside this cafe looks like a truckers diner. Inside
it is cosily decorated with wooden panelling and diner-style banquettes.
Beware! This is very hearty Swiss German food! The Rösti here is
the best in town. Recommendations include Rösti mit Zwebieln und
Speck (Rosti with bacon and onion) and a bottle of red wine to stave
off the winter chills. Only eat here if youre extremely hungry
as the portions and potato-based fare are pretty substantial.
I shouldnt really list the next two restaurants as they are so
cool that Baslers probably want to keep them secret. However, they are
so good that even if you visited just one during your break, it would
make the trip worthwhile. Just dont tell anyone else.
LImprimerie: Possibly the cheapest restaurant in the whole of
Europe. Three course meals from £4.00 (10CHF). Great minimalist-rustic
interior with rough plastered walls and big scrubbed oak tables. The
chef regularly whips up delicious wild mushroom risotto, salads and
traditional Kalbsläberli with wild rice. There is only one menu
per day to choose from. Call 061 262 3606 for further information.
Gundledingerhof: Reasonably priced dishes for a real gastronomic experience
this restaurant is unassuming from the outside, it just looks like a
traditional brasserie, but the regularly serves up top quality nosh.
Call 061 361 6909 for further information
Youth Hostel SJH, St. Alban-Kirchrain 10, 4052 Basel
Open all year. Situated in a former 19th century silk ribbon factory
at the Rhine river. Reputed to be one of the most beautiful Youth Hostels
Tel: 061 272 05 72
Fax: 061 272 08 33
Hotel Teufelhof *** Leonhardsgraben 47-49, 4051 Basel
Basels Culture and Guesthouse is an art hotel with
each room decorated by a different (seemingly avant-garde artist) Also
has a small theatre open from mid-September until the beginning of May.
Tel. 061/261 10 10
Fax 061/261 10 04
Basel Jazz Festival: Runs from now until May.
Basel Art Fair: Runs from 13th 16th June, held in the Messe,
ClaraPlatz.Useful phone numbers
Basel Tourist Board: 061 268 6868, open Mon 8.20 noon, Tues
Fri 8.30 am 6pm
Beyler Foundation: 061 645 9700, open every day from 10am 6pm,
Wed until 8pmUseful websites
© Romilly Golding