PIONEERS OF BASEL
What is the business spirit and global significance of Basel?
Basel is home to Switzerlands oldest university (1460): It is home to the world's leading art fair Art Basel; It is also home to the Bank of International Settlements, and has been the home to prominent artists, scientists from Friedrich Nietzsche to Paracelsus.
With headquarters to Roche, Novartis, and a range of multinationals from Lonza to Bayer, Basel's life sciences research maintains a fruitful global oriented perspective.
A warm climate for the growth of startups. (1)
Yet Basel understands creativity in a far deeper sense.
There is the inspiring story of how in 1967 Basel citizens voted to acquire three Picasso paintings in response to financial difficulties of the museum.
Picasso was so touched he donated 3 further paintings to the museum.
Herzog and Demeuron
A first case in point are world famous architects Herzog and Demeuron, whose latest building can be seen behind the central SBB station.
Looking back at the station on walking toward or from Aeschenplatz one may glimpse the southern sky through the buildings central rectangular open vault.
On travelling into Basel from Zürich, we may see the Herzog and Demeuron's SBB Signal Box in a rust orange colour on the left.
The buildings' shapes, materials and conception enter into dialogue with the surrounding urban and industrial environment.
In 2001 Herzog and Demeuron won the Pritzger Prize for architecture.
J Carter Brown from the jury spoke of their imagination and virtuosity, while in 2006 The New York Times called them "one of the most admired architecture firms in the world." (1)
Their work can be seen on the global stage, from 2012 London Serpentine Pavillion and the Tate Modern, to the 2008 Beijing National Stadium:
"All of their work maintains throughout the stable qualities that have always been associated with the best Swiss architecture: conceptual precision, formal clarity, economy of means and positive detailing and craftsmanship."
Again architecture features prominently in the relationship between commerce and art, with the round Mario Botta building of the Bank of International Settlements on Aeschenplatz.
Perhaps most visible of recent Herzog and Demeurons' achievements is the Messe Basel, for trade fairs throughout the year.
(1) EVA – the Basel life sciences start-up agency
(2) Jackie Carmen. "Master Architects" About.com
The Basler Fasnacht
From the Basel Munster we look out at the curve of the river Rhine. Basel for many centuries was the only stable bridge crossing from Lake Constance to the sea. Tourists walk the lanes of the old city and cross the bridge to Little Basel.
The high point of the Basel year is the Basler Fasnacht. As can be seen below, also here Basel maintains its old tradition of the conversation between politics, art and culture.
Paracelsus (born Theophrastus von Hohenheim)
Paracelsus was born 1493/4 and was pioneer in the development of medical science.
In 1527, Paracelsus was practising in Basel, yet he would challenge the authorities and accepted wisdom of his time.
Paracelsus held his lectures at Basel university in German, not Latin.
He wanted his lectures to be available to everyone rather than the physicians and apothecaries, publishing treaties against them.
This fire of the spirit and the willingness to challenge authority and accepted practice led him to this characteristic statement:
"If disease put us to the test, all our splendour, title, ring, and name will be as much help as a horse's tail." (3)
(3) Waite, Arthur Edward (1894). The Hermetic and Alchemical Writings of Paracelsus. London: James Elliott and Co.
A strange choice to follow Paracelsus, but a kindred spirit nonetheless; Willing to trust in aesthetic and spiritual judgement, Ernst Beyeler founded Art Basel in 1971.
The Beyeler Foundation in Riehen hosts significance collection for the global art market.
The Beyeler Foundation hosts exhibitions of contemporary and modernist artists from the twentieth century.
On his death in 2010, the LA Times quoted art critic William Rubin:
"Beyeler “had the guts and commitment to ‘bet large’ on the greatness of 20th-century modernism some years before it was ‘consecrated’ by the art market.”
Perhaps the spirit of Basel can be best felt at 4 in the morning on a cold wet day in February as you await the start of Basler Fastnacht.
Looking out from the lanes down from the cathedral, with the hills of the Black Forest resting in a cloudy blue.
Over the Rhine, you see the streams of coloured costumes and hear the sound of pipe and drum.
With an ancient feeling of connection to the land and the many peoples of Basel and the surrounding towns, there is a precision, craftsmanship and orderliness of Basel Fasnacht that distinguishes it from other carnivals.
There is also a subtleness of political comment. Lost to many in the intricacies of the local dialect, nevertheless anyone attending the 'Schnizzelbäng' recitations will feel the power of speech, and when you understand the text, you see the Basler is someone keenly aware of the movement of political, cultural and economic ideas in the world around them.
Able to bring spiritual ideas into concrete and fructifying experience, whether in arts, commerce or science, Basel is a place where the pioneer spirit lives on, rumbling under your feet as you tread the quiet lanes.
Basel breeds a pride in its citizens that art is not to be seperated from life, and that history favours the thinker who is free in spirit, and able to bring that spirit to life.