The Herbstmesse Autumn Fair
Every country has fairs, but what is the Herbstmesse Autumn Fair like in Basel?
Basel’s Autumn Fair has grown and grown and now takes in five different locations across the city, each with a different flavour and rhythm. Back in 2003 and 2004 we reviewed each of the locations for you to give you an idea of what to expect, and where.
Herbstmesse Locations and Reviews
Whichever location you visit, do take care. Beware of pickpockets, keep a close eye on your children, avoid the drunks, and take lots of photos. And do try some Magenbrot… its quite addictive!
Above all, have fun. Send us your photos and we’ll publish the best ones - we always respect your copyright.
There is no way you can miss the fair at Muensterplatz. Until you get there. You can see the enormous Ferris wheel from nearly everywhere in Basel - which means you can see nearly all of Basel from the top of the Ferris wheel!
The rest of the rides at the top of the hill are fairly ordinary. There’s dodgems, a few side shows, a sort of up and down version of a waltzer on a railway track, and something every little girls loves, a ride in a water borne swan roundabout!
The rides are mostly on the left of the square with the Munster on the right. The little grove of trees next to the Pfalz has the food stalls - one of which does excellent Quiche Lorraine - and the little rides.
Before that though, there’s quite a scary ride at the entrance to the square, well, for little kids it could be scary as it consists of tiny little seats on chains that fly around at speed, causing all the seats to fly outwards due to the lack of centripetal force (to all non-physicists out there lack of centripetal force = centrifugal force). It’s quite an impressive sight as bodies fly around at great speed!
Then there is the Taifun - a large, bumpy slide that the kids really do love. My oldest girl (7 at the time) didn’t want to go on anything else! My youngest? For her (5 at the time) it was definitely the Swan roundabout… strange, the things kids go for!
Coming to Muensterplatz must be for the Ferris Wheel, though. It’s Fr. 8.- per adult, Fr. 5.- per child, and a family card (2 adults, two kids) costs Fr. 20.-
For that you get nice, enclosed compartments, slow speed, great views. The compartments can seat six comfortably, and are enclosed except for the doorways which have a metal gate which you can still look over.
Make sure you go in daylight though! I went at dusk, and got some great views of the city at sunset. I had two rides but unfortunately ended up sitting in the same seat each time so the views were not that varied, but it was a great ride! Even my three year old loved it.
You can’t miss the messe in Barfi. Although it is probably the smallest of the many locations used for the fair, it shouts out to you “Fun! Fun! Fun!” as if you couldn’t tell from all the bright lights that it’s very definitely a fun fair…
The main ride is a pendulous cradle affair that looks quite innocuous to begin with as it slowly swings from side to side. With each pass, the pendulum rises higher, and higher, until it no longer goes to and fro, buttravels completely over the top! You can hear the screams from some distance away…
There is a selection of the more grown up of fairground attractions, and some small food stalls. No real mega rides though.
As for food, I would warn against the Kasechuechlis available from the food stall in front of the Cafe des Arts - they seem to have been frozen at some point in their history. They may be big, but the pastry is wimpish and they lack taste or flavour. Instead, order the Spaetzeli mixture - you certainly won’t be disappointed. Tasty, and lots of it!
There are basically two parts to this fair: the modern area in front of the Messeturm and by the tram stops, and the more traditional fair on the gravel covered square opposite. Oh, and there are also some indoor rides in the Messehalle this year, behind the many food stalls.
Mostly big rides - even the sideshows are on a grand scale here. There’s a sort of 3D waltzer affair, the now ubiquitous pendulum, and some more serious stuff too.
The large tower drop is something for the truly masochistic, for those for whom the big dipper is matter of fact. Thirty two people sit on thin seats with a split up the middle and are lifted up some 80m or so and then dropped vertically, first a little bit, then even more. Your feet have nothing under them apart from space!
Then there’s the Crazy Mouse. This is basically a little Big Dipper, but with waltzer cars instead of carts to sit in. This means that not only do you go up and down, you also float all over the place as the chair whirls at the corners unexpectedly. There’s even a nasty surprise at one of the corners - I won’t tell you which one or what it is as that would spoil the fun!
Close to the Ramada Hotel, actually very close, is the Space Roller. This ride is rather like a demented starfish, writhing in agony as it tries to throw out all these people bolted into its arms. It flails and flails, people are thrown left and right, up and down, and as they come hurtling downwards it looks like they, or their toes at the very least, will go straight into the glass of the Messeturm! That was quite popular…
Now this is rather more like the tradional travelling funfair from my youth. And yet again, it has some pretty good rides. Even Pony Rides on real live ponies! Unfortunately all they do is ride around in a small circle, but if you’re three, you don’t care - it’s a horse and YOU are riding it - alone and unassisted! That must feel like a real achievement at that age…
Of course there are dodgems again - more expensive at Fr. 3.- here instead of Fr. 2.50 most other places, but I didn’t time how long you got. There’s an old fashioned Merry Go Round with real fairground organ music (not sure about the organ though!). A Witches House. A Ghost Train. A House of Fun with whirling footways to make you stumble.
The biggest ride here is another pendulum inspired ride, called Chaos. Remember those crane operated prize collecting games you put money into and pick up whatever you want to win with it? Imagine being in a giant one of those, where all the prongs of the grabber are people, and the long crane arm is the pendulum. Now move it around violently and you have your ride, but perhaps not your food for very long… good job there’s some food stalls nearby to top up afterwards.
Indoor part of the Messe
Generally smaller rides in here. And it’s pretty warm. Nice on a cold day. For the delicate there is a tea cup roundabout, and for the rougher but still small members of your household there’s a drive your own car on a track roundabout. The kids don’t steer it, they just feel like they do, but I suspect that’s even more fun. It worked for me when I was 5!
For the slightly older kids there really is a self-drive ride with battery powered “quad bikes” racing round a small track. Then there’s a 3D waltzer affair and a “catch the duck” sideshow where the kids have to pick up a duck with a fishing pole and see what prize they have won. Remember those? The kids that won the biggest prizes always had the Dads who asked “How much does it cost to win?”
There’s also one of the best sideshows ever - a Mirror Maze. The combinations of mirrors, plain glass, and narrow walkways can be very confusing, as the egg shaped lump on my forehead when I was 9 testified!
If you’re hungry, you have a wonderful selection to choose from here. At the Deutsche Bahnhof end of the main square you have Wacker and Schwob with a huge range of tasty morsels. I had a portion of excellent quiche, plus a free spinach pie. Well, half a pie actually - I didn’t ask how it came to be so. Never look a gift horse in the mouth as the old saying goes. They also had some great sausages of many types that all looked pretty tasty - but I was pretty hungry by then!
In no particular order there was also a whole load more grill stands, a Raclette stall (served with bread? No way!) a Piadina outlet, Spaetzeli bar, Laeberli bar (liver in many varieties of tasty sauces), a fish and chip and chicken bar, a Creperie, a stall selling pre-cooked and re-heated Chaesschnitte (a little tough) and an Asian food stall where I got a very nice Nasi Goreng with chicken curry. Oh, and the owner tried to sell me some investments while I was eating - nothing risky or illegal, all I had to do was find someone to give him Fr. 100 million for a year and he’d give me 100% interest on the money. I bet he would - he’d be 100% interested, and I’d have no money! He’d never heard of being registered with the Federal Money Laundering authority in Bern either… Well, he did make a nice Nasi Goreng.
To finish off, I walked over the road to the chocolate covered fruit bar on the opposite side of the square. Well, after all that fast food I had to have some healthy fruit to finish with - so I had a very tasty chocolate and crispy bits covered banana. Delicious! Why can’t we get food like this in the UK?
After Messeplatz, the fair at Kasserne seems a lot smaller, particularly as at first all you see is side shows. But it’s got some great rides. Dodgems (again) but this time mini-dodgems as well for smaller, younger people. They have not just one, but two pendulums - one looking for all the world like a bus out of the 1950’s, or perhaps a Venezian water taxi, the other a more open to the environment, foot-dangling affair.
There’s a nice little mini-Ferris wheel for the littl’uns, caged in pumpkins that don’t get too high off the ground. Just right for small feet. For a little more adult fun, there’s a space shuttle simulator. I went in one of these at the British Formula 1 Grand Prix at Silverstone a few years back, and they really are very good!
At the bottom of the park there’s an interesting version of the Big Dipper - they call it the Black Hole because that’s what it is: a Big Dipper in the Dark! They have one of these at Europa park, and the darkness aspect of it apparently makes them really scary. Me? You’re right, I didn’t go on it - but then I did visit all four funfair sites in one night to get the reviews done. Phew - they believed it!
Next to the Black Hole was one of the most popular of rides I saw the whole evening. They call it “The Show” and all it really is is a circular dish with padded seats around the outside, and a rubberised floor. The idea is you get inside it and see how long you can stand up. Sounds easy? Then have a go! It twists, turns, and even vibrates… not very fast, but not always level either. That has to be one of the best rides in the whole Messe.
Petersplatz offers a vast range of smaller stands and booths dedicated to handicrafts, jewellery, toys, and lots of interesting little things you may never see again. Most things are hand made, and excellent quality.
There’s hand made candles, hats, woollen goods, silks, chinese handicrafts, farm cheese from Graubunden, wooden toys and puzzles, quality sculptures, semi-precious stones, crystals, knives, puppets and far more.
There is also something for the kids - a puppet theatre, dodgem cars, a very posh roundabout, and in the middle of Petersplatz, the most beautiful antique Merry-Go-Round with wooden horses, fantastic lights, and some wonderful music from old time funfairs. And the kids still love it, not to mention some grown ups too. The atmosphere is made by this ride, I hope it remains a feature for many years to come.
Food lovers are well catered for. There’s a great Raclette stand on the side nearest to the Kantonspital - just outside the Poliklinik dental hospital. This year they are serving on china plates with real cutlery! You can also get a glass of wine to wash it down, and although the food is excellent, you won’t get full on one portion. Good job - there are so many other food stalls to try out as well!
On the middle entrance from Petersgraben is the best place in Basel to buy your Magenbrot (stomach bread), an Autumn speciality that is like nothing I’ve ever had in my life before I came to Basel. A sort of bread/cake, it’s dipped thoroughly in a dark, spicy mixture and tastes really good.
Just opposite this same entrance is a great sausage stand - all the normal sausages are present, but a new one for this reviewer, a Joggeliwurst the inside of which looked very like an English sausage. I had my favourite Klopfer though, and it was really good. I’ll try the Joggeliwurst next time.
If you enter Petersplatz from the top end of Petersgraben (same end as the University, Rest. zum Harmonie, Lyss. Mandir Indian Rest. etc) you will walk past a few stalls on the street on the left of the road. Walk past the big sausage stand (it’s not as good as the one described above) and turn left into the square and you will soon see the stand that offers the very best Kasechuechli you can get in Basel at any time of the year. They may be small, but they are absolutely delicious, and at just Fr. 2.- each they are a real bargain!
Backtrack a little from here and take the diagonal path towards the middle of the square and the Creperie is on your right. They also have a little restaurant area for sitting down and having a drink, but for me the crepes are the thing to munch on as you walk around and look at the other stands.
Coming down the hill from Spalentor Jeffreys Steak sandwiches and some Malay/Chinese/indian food can be bought, sponsored by the Malaysia tourist board. They aren’t any cheaper, you just have a few posters of Malaysia everywhere you look. You have to hand it to the man - he’s very business oriented: he’s even supplied uniforms to the Swiss Army! Jeffreys steaks are famous - there was once a Jeffreys Indian Restaurant in Basel, but this closed in 2002.
There really are some beautiful things in Petersplatz. If you want something unusual, something carefully crafted by hand, or just some of the nicest food, make sure you don’t miss Petersplatz at Herbstmesse. It used to close on the dot of 8pm but this year they are allowig stallholders to stay open until 9pm if they want, but it isn’t compulsory.
Up Petersgraben with the Kantonspital on your right;
Down the hill from Lyss (number 3 tram) with Harmonie on your right;
From Spalentor, down the narrow lane past the Biological Gardens on your left.