Vendor City Guide: Basel

Interview by Diana Frei

Danica Graf lives in Basel. She works as a vendor and city guide for Surprise. She previously trained to help people going through a crisis by telling them about her own experiences with mental health. When she was unable to find a job, she started selling Surprise.

What I find great about Basel

Basel is a melting pot of people from many different cultures, especially in Kleinbasel. I find that exciting because, as a city tour guide, I strike up conversations with different types of people. I get to know those in a variety of circumstances, such as those living in poverty or working as sex workers. I used to keep my distance from many of these people because that’s how I was brought up. However, now I’m keen to find out more about their lives. How did they fall into poverty? How do you end up becoming a sex worker? Why does someone go to jail? I am now experiencing the city as a huge collection of personal stories.

My favourite area of town

St. Alban is a great area of town, with the St. Alban-Tor, a former city gate, and the paper mill, which houses a small museum. I often make my way there through the neighbouring area of Birsfelden, walking along on the banks of the Rhine. It is a beautiful, tree-lined walk.

My favourite café

The Oetlinger Buvette on the Rhine, a converted shipping container open from April to October, and Café Flore in Kleinbasel are my two favourite cafés. Both are part of “Café Surprise,” meaning that people who don’t have much money are able to get a coffee for free there through a donation from someone else. The owners are great, socially minded people.

A free place in Basel

The neighbourhood flea markets are great. They take place from spring to autumn on Saturdays and Sundays. Private sellers put things from their own flats or basements on sale in the courtyards of their buildings. You can spend hours rummaging through the items and can also access courtyards you would never have seen otherwise.

Something only locals know

Andreasplatz is a small square right in the city centre and feels like a private courtyard. It has a café in the middle surrounded by Old Town apartment buildings. There is also another pretty little square with trees and benches next to the Musikmuseum, also right in the heart of the Old Town. Bollwerk, up the steps from Heuwaage, is another hidden gem. It is an outside bar selling drinks and ice cream with several alcoves in the city wall where people can sit and take in the views. There are also trees and wooden decking. It is very quiet there and is a great place to sit and watch people go by.

The best time to be in Basel

Spring is beautiful. That’s when everything is in full bloom and there are not as many tourists as in summer. You really get a feel of the city best in spring.

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