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  • Writer's pictureTim Morch

The Alternative Side of Basel: Holzpark Klybeck

There is more to Basel then meets the eye. Sure it is a postcard-perfect Swiss city, and, yes, it is steeped in history and tradition. But modern Basel is witnessing a thriving alternative scene.

Traditionally, the city is synonymous with watches, art, museums and history: think “Basel World”, the world's preeminent watch, clock and jewellery show; “Art Basel” with over 4,000 artists from around the world; or “Kunstmuseum”, the first collection of publicly accessible art in Europe, and you develop an image.

Basel straddles the Rhine River at the confluence of the Swiss, French and German borders. There is a convenient railway hub for each of the three countries and the EuroAirport is close by. Major European highways intersect here and Switzerland's only cargo shipping port make it a prime logistical choice for business. A diverse economic base includes the Swiss specialty chemical industry and pharmaceutical giants like Novartis and Roche, as well as UBS AG Bank and the Bank for International Settlements, all headquartered here.

Historically, Basel was divided by the Rhine into Grosbasel and Kleinbasel. The former being home to upper class families, the latter a working class neighbourhood. Today, Kleinbasel maintains its original feel, complimented by a vibrant immigrant population. You can grab Indian food on a street corner, shop at a Turkish supermarket or Italian deli and eat at a variety of ethnic restaurants.

A funky way to cross from Grosbasel to Kleinbasel is to take one of the reaction ferries. This “old school” method harnesses the river's energy. Ferry boats are attached to a traveller that rolls along an overhead cable spanning the river. The captain points the boat 45° into the current and the water force pushes it across.

Walk along the banks of the Rhine to the Klybeck District for a true taste of the alternative side of Basel. Set against the industrial backdrop of the former Migrol and ExEsso fuel depots, Holzpark Klybeck and I_Land have grown from renegade installations to a major scene. The first occupants of the industrial wasteland were the “Roma” Traveller caravan community. Soon, however, pop-up bars and restaurants built from shipping containers and wood pallets started to appear and a new scene emerged. In many cities, the authorities would shut it down, but Basel embraced the concept, fostering an innovative new program that caters to a growing community of artists, family gardens, performance venues, restaurants, bars and more.

Three new event modules made of wooden pallets feature a unique solar energy laboratory on their roofs. The innovative system is the first of its kind in Basel. The goal is to provide an autonomous, independent power supply for the intermediate-use projects. The covered buildings are part of the creative space at the cultural and events pavilions. There is space for trade fairs, grocery events and festivals.

The multi-use area also includes “Frame” arts and culture mobile museum and “Portland” skateboard park. The Generationengarten ensures that old and new knowledge from nature are shared and vegetables, flowers, spices and fruits are grown on the property. Locals and tourists alike flock to this avant-garde area to enjoy the multifaceted outdoor setting in the heart of the city.

You can even take a sauna and swim in the Rhine after a frothy game of ping-pong.

When the ancient churches, numerous museums and lengthy history of Grosbasel get tiring, cross to the alternative side of Basel for a breath of fresh air.

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