Updated: Jan 12
Canon salutes, drums, a griffin and a lion dancing around while a 'wild man' swings a full sized tree into a crowd of people. No, someone has not spiked your morning coffee, you are just witnessing the annual Basel tradition of the Vogel Gryff in all its glory. Learn all about this celebration (happening this year on Friday, January 13, 2023) and join in the fun!
What Is It?
The Vogel Gryff is an annual Basel parade that celebrates the three 'honourable societies' of Kleinbasel: the Gesellschaft zum Rebhaus represented by the Leu (lion), the Gesellschaft zur Hären, represented by the Wild Maa (wild man) and the Gesellschaft zum Greifen, represented by the Vogel Gryff (griffin). The parade can be dated back to 1304 and has its origins in the annual weapon inspections held in the Middle Ages by the societies responsible for guarding the city walls. These inspections each ended with a march through Kleinbasel and a meal. Each society used to do its own inspections on separate days in January (Gesellschaft zum Rebhaus on January 13th, Gesellschaft zur Hären on January 20th and Gesellschaft zum Greifen on January 27th), but the three societies have held the event together since 1839, with the date of the parade rotating between these three dates.
Each honourable society currently has around 150 members (male only). In order to be admitted, applicants have to reside in Kleinbasel or own a significant amount of property there. They have to be 18 years of age, citizens of Basel and of good reputation.
What To Expect
The festival starts at 10:30 am with the Wild Maa's trip down the Rhein. The exact time he starts depends on the water level of the Rhein at that time. He dances on the raft as it makes its journey down to Mittlere Brücke accompanied by drums and canon salutes. During this journey he only faces Kleinbasel. Some say that this is to insult Grossbasel (playing on the rivalry between the two sides of the city), but others claim it is merely to honour Kleinbasel. He then arrives at Mittlere Brücke where he is met by the Vogel Gryff and the Leu, as well as drummers, standard-bearers and the Ueli who collects money for the needy. The parade continues up to Messeplatz where the celebration peaks with an extensive meal (Gryffemähli ) for the members of the three societies with speeches and musical performances. The parade continues well into the evening as the three mascots dance in front of several restaurants and businesses in Kleinbasel. The exact parade route can be found here.
The whole thing is quite a spectacle and I urge you to come experience it for yourself. It is usually quite busy so arriving at Mittlere Brücke around 10:30 am will allow you to get the best spot. If you are able to get yourself to one of the balconies of Academia Language School, Les Trois Rois or any other Rhine adjacent property near Mittlere Brücke you will have the best view. Keep in mind that all transit over Mittlere Brücke will be suspended for about two hours at this time.