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The fire of 1923: the "welcome" catastrophe

Published on 6/3/2016 by
Brand der Schweizer Mustermesse in Basel, 1923 (MCH Group)

A huge pall of smoke hung over Kleinbasel on the right-hand bank of the Rhine on 16 September 1923. In less than an hour, four of the five halls belonging to the Swiss Sample Fair had burned down. In retrospect, however, the fire proved to be a stroke of luck for the exhibition management.

When the fire had burned out at around midday on 16 September 1923, all that remained was ashes and rubble. Four of the five Basel exhibition halls, which were more like temporary structures than prestigious halls, had been completely destroyed. The fire brigade, arriving late on the scene, was only able to protect Hall V - the only hall not made of wood. Miraculously, no one was hurt.

"A major catastrophe" was the headline in the papers. But the fire actually suited the exhibition management very well. Those in charge were able to rapidly implement the plan for a "permanent building for the Swiss Sample Fair", as the magazine "Die Schweizerische Baukunst" reported. Even before the fire, an architecture competition had been launched in order to replace the provisional exhibition hall. Some people thus found this a rather strange coincidence, and the Sample Fair, with its then director Wilhelm Meile, were even suspected of arson.

After the fire, the management had two big concrete halls erected rapidly, between mid-November 1923 and May 1924, with a 90-metre-wide building positioned in front of them. Additional new buildings followed two years later. .

Brand der Schweizer Mustermesse in Basel, 1923 (MCH Group)

Brand der Schweizer Mustermesse in Basel, 1923 (MCH Group) Photos: Staatsarchiv Basel Stadt/Privatarchiv MCH Group

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