Basel : South and east of Barfüsserplatz
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From Barfüsserplatz, Steinenberg climbs east. On the corner is the Puppenhausmuseum (Doll’s House Museum; daily 11am–5pm, Thurs until 8pm; Fr.7; www.puppenhausmuseum.ch), with rather fun displays and audioguides telling the story of the teddy – including plenty of venerable old bears – as well as glass-case displays of some gigantic doll’s-houses. Further up, past the sputtering Tinguely fountain in the grounds of the theatre, is the Kunsthalle (Tues–Sun 11am–5pm, Wed until 8.30pm; Fr.9), its big white rooms staging a continual flow of cutting-edge contemporary art shows.

At the top of the hill, St Alban-Graben heads northeast to the river. The venerable Antikenmuseum is at no. 5 (Tues–Sun 10am–5pm; Fr.5, free on first Sun of month), with detailed English notes available at the desk. Chronological displays begin on the top floor and work downwards, with superb Greek and Etruscan pottery, decorated in beautiful detail, standing out on every floor. The upper-floor vestibule of House B has a set of fourth-century BC floor-standing funerary vases, from Apulia in southern Italy, one of which is painted with an entertaining scene of three men stealing honey and being chased by a swarm of bees. The basement of the museum holds temporary exhibitions, often of Egyptian or Middle Eastern antiquities.

The Kunstmuseum and around

Basel’s world-famous Kunstmuseum is at St Alban-Graben 16 (Tues–Sun 10am–5pm; Fr.7, also gives entry to Museum für Gegenwartskunst; free on first Sun of month; www.kunstmuseumbasel.ch). It’s a rather stern Neoclassical building – all marble floors, high ceilings and grand staircases – which tends to do its absorbing collection down a bit, but don’t let yourself be put off. Thorough renovations until 2001 mean that some areas may be closed for work. There’s a dazzling array of twentieth-century art, including Dali’s nightmarish Perspectives, roomfuls of paintings by Arp, Klee, Léger, Munch, Braque and the Impressionists, a fantastically attenuated cat by Giacometti, and fluid sculptures in wood by Kirchner and Scherer. Two of the Picassos – Arlequin assis and Les deux frères – were purchased in 1967 using Fr.6 million that had been voted for that purpose by the Basel electorate plus another Fr.2.4 million in donations: Picasso himself was so impressed by this popular enthusiasm that he personally donated four more works. However, the gallery’s modern art, and its large collection of nineteenth-century German, French and Swiss painting, is in fact overshadowed by its vast and absorbing medieval collection. Dozens of rooms are devoted to works by the prolific Holbein family, including the extraordinary two-metre long Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb (1521), a painting which obsessed Dostoievsky when he visited Basel on August 23, 1867. He climbed on a chair to get a better view of it, and then started to shout “Holbein was a great painter and a poet!” – his wife, who thought he was about to have a fit, had to usher him from the room. The painting resurfaces in Dostoievsky’s novel The Idiot, when a character’s recollections of it lead him to question the existence of God.

A five-minute walk away is the Museum für Gegenwartskunst, St Alban-Rheinweg 60 (Contemporary Art; Tues–Sun 11am–5pm; joint admission with Kunstmuseum), its installations by Frank Stella, Joseph Beuys and others sharing space with recent German painting.

Museum Jean Tinguely

On the north bank, in Solitude Park under the Wettsteinbrücke, is the glorious Museum Jean Tinguely (Wed–Sun 11am–7pm; Fr.7; www.tinguely.ch), beautifully designed by the celebrated Swiss architect Mario Botta and well worth a visit. Tinguely, who was born in Fribourg in 1925 and died in Bern in 1991, is perhaps Switzerland’s best-loved artist, a maverick postmodernist who broadened the confines of static sculpture to incorporate mechanical motion. Living for years on a farm in the Swiss countryside with his long-time partner and fellow artist Niki de St-Phalle, Tinguely used scrap metal, plastic and bits of everyday junk to create room-sized Monty-Pythonesque machines that – with the touch of a foot-button – judder into life, squeaking, clanking and scraping in entertaining parody of the slickness of our modern performance-driven world. Most are imbued with an irreverent sense of humour (Klamauk, or Din, is a moving tractor complete with banging bells and cymbals, smoke, smells and fireworks), but some, such as Mengele Dance of Death, are darkly apocalyptic. Elsewhere in the city, a Tinguely fountain spits and burbles outside the Kunsthalle.

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