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An Ode to Basel

For expats, the notion of home can be complex and controversial. But once away from Basel they might experience, like TBJ author Ella Revitt, that absence from this city makes the heart grow fonder.

Minster, Rhine, Ferris wheel during “Herbstmesse “- those who leave Basel might miss them soon (picture: Martin Pütter).

By Ella Revitt

Basel’s airport has recently undergone a transformation for me. I used to despise it.  Returning from holiday or a family visit and walking through the empty, grey corridors would leave me dejected, all the excitement of travel had dissolved. I was back to normality, back to Basel.  Yet now, just a few months of living away from Switzerland, the EuroAirport is a welcome sight: I am home again.

When Basel is missed so much that even the EuroAirport goes from despised to welcome (Picture: Kayhan Ertugrul)

After living here for six years, Basel resembles my home more than any other physical location.  Strangely, I have become emotionally connected to the majestic Mittlere Brücke, the green and the yellow trams, and even my local shops.  Moving away from this has been difficult, but also extremely eye-opening.  I am lucky, in that while I may be studying elsewhere, my permanent residence remains in Basel.  On my last return visit, I was increasingly aware of all that I love and miss about this city.

One of Basel’s (many) landmarks the author loves: the “Mittlere Brücke” (Picture: Basler24)

Our daily lives, and where we spend them, are often distorted by stress or routine, making it easy to forget the fortunate position we are in.  According to the Business Insider, Switzerland is the third best country to reside in, yet how many of us regularly acknowledge that?  Spending time away has really made me appreciate Basel’s beauty and efficiency.

Efficiency and punctuality of Basel’s trams are certainly appreciated once you experience public transport elsewhere (Picture: Alf van Beem)

Whatever the season, the Basel region has something to offer.  We recently enjoyed the Weihnachtsmarkt delights, complete with glistening lights, Christmas trees and fondue-infused stalls (I even developed a fondness for the cheese aromas this winter!).  Looking forward, the joys of Fasnacht, complete with confetti storms and Waggis parades, are fast approaching.  Felicity Chipperfield, who in 2015 returned to her hometown in Cheshire after nine years in Basel, misses “everything to do with it, from Morgenstraich to the Cliques, to the Fasnachtküchli” – so much so that she will return to participate in it again this year!

Both expats and Unesco have recognised the importance of Basel’s “Fasnacht” – the latter having added it to the list of “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity”.

I am also excited to visit in summer, with Rhine swimming, the open-air cinema and an abundance of woodland barbecue areas.  After that, it is not long before the Ferris Wheel and fairground rides are constructed in preparation for the Herbstmesse.  These are just a few highlights from the Basel calendar. There is also Art Basel, Spring flower picking, 1 August fireworks – I could go on.  Residents may find these mundane or repetitive, but they are something to appreciate, as they provide personality and intrigue to the city.

A highlight in Basel’s calendar – the fireworks on the Rhine the evening before Swiss National Day (Picture: Patrick Tschudin)

On another note, Basel can certainly boast about its efficiency.  It happens so infrequently, that when a bus or tram is a few minutes late, there is outrage.  The endless building construction, while frequently cause for complaint, ensures the roads, pavements and public spaces remain in excellent condition.  Potholes and unfinished curbs in Basel are shocking, elsewhere, they are the norm.  Miles Sankey, who also recently moved to university away from Basel, finds safety and security to be another aspect of Swiss life that is taken for granted.  “I did not realise the freedom that Basel gives young people in particular until I left,” he noted.

Whenever guests visit, they are surprised that the entire city closes on a weekly basis.  Although this may be inconvenient for those who have accidently run out of milk, there is a charm to the Sunday quiet. While other countries have done away with this tradition, Switzerland still gives their workers time to rest and recuperate before a new week begins.  This time to relax, bond with family and calm down is greatly beneficial to Swiss society as a whole.

It is not just the city centre – Marktplatz, Spalenberg, the Münster – that I have missed, but also the surrounding countryside.  Be it along the river Birs, in the Therwil forest, or atop the hills overlooking Arlesheim; residents of Basel have easy access to stunning natural beauty.  The sign-posted trails make hiking in these areas possible for anyone.  Similarly, the entire city is connected with bike lanes. Felicity loved Grün 80 park in particular, with its large, green, child-friendly spaces, as she has found no easily accessible alternative in the UK.

Even Dino at Grün 80 is missed by expats and Baslers alike once they have left the city (Picture: Martin Pütter)

The Basel weather, diverse as it may be, is something to appreciate in itself. We are treated to snow during winter months, yet the authorities are prepared to ensure this does not bring the area to a standstill.  In contrast, the hot summer days allow people to lounge by the outdoor pools. To experience such a range of temperature in one place is rare, but it enables us to get the very best from each season.

It should go without saying, but what I miss most about Basel is the people.  Not just my family and fellow expats, but local friends as well. The Swiss may not have the reputation for being the friendliest bunch, but on my return, I was welcomed with many a cheerful “Guete Morge.”  Miles also believes Basel’s “familiar atmosphere” is not as easily experienced elsewhere. The kindness of Basler people is subtle and underrated, but nevertheless a prominent part of life here.  I have probably grown too attached to this composed, harmonious city; however, there truly is nowhere else quite as wonderful as this quaint, river-side city.

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