The Gasthof zum Goldenen Sternen (1412) is considered to be the oldest tavern in Basel. Its story is interesting and unique for two reasons: on the one hand, the Sternen was not always located where it is today; on the other one, it has always been called Sternen, but for quite some time not Goldener Sternen or Golden Stars.
For centuries, the Sternen stood in the Aeschenvorstadt, the youngest of Basel's five suburbs, which was laid out around the middle of the 14th century. The suburb ze Eschemars Thor, the Aeschentor or Aeschen Gate, quickly expanded in the original garden grounds. For Basel, the Aeschentor became the gateway to and from the Jura region.
The Goldener Sternen was built long before Basel joined the Swiss Confederation in 1501. However, this was not the name of the tavern when the envoys of the ten cantons are thought to have met here for their first welcome drink. At that time, the tavern was a Herrenwirtschaft exclusively catering to men and called zem swartzen Sternen. The property was first documented in 1349. The Sternen was one of the 13 Herrenwirtschaften that had tavern rights. With this privilege, guests could be offered three kinds of wine and a meal. Originally, it consisted of two properties, the front building looking on the street and the rear building looking on an alley, the Sternengässlein.
That is why 19th-century sources still speak of the vordern und hintern schwarzen Sternen, the front and rear buildings, that is. This name was retained until 1873, when it was given its “golden” nickname.
In the form in which the tavern was known until it was relocated, it may only have existed from the 15th or even 16th centuries, for during the conflagration of 1417, most of the city from Streitgasse to the gates of St. Alban and Aeschen fell prey to the fire.
The building was a monument of unadulterated Gothic architecture with its characteristic, broad façade, pretty arrangement of the windows and well-proportioned gate, which barely allowed two-wheeled carts pulled by a single horse to enter, and with its beautiful beams in the passageway. The interior also had some quite remarkable features: the warm wooden panelling of the halls, the oak doors decorated with brass fittings and, above all, the delicate Renaissance column in the hall on the first floor.
A nice story tells us about the time in 1697, when Johann Eglinger of the Hirzen and Friedrich Lüdi of the Schwarzer Sternen fought over an ordinary rubbish pit along the wall dividing the two properties and the two brought their fight all the way to the Court of Five responsible for building issues.
In 1964, when the municipal authorities decided to broaden the main street, the fate of the tavern on Aeschenvorstadt 44 seemed to be sealed. But cautious as people were, the decision had already been made several years before to carry out any necessary demolition work in an extremely careful manner; after all, the historical value of the building was well known. It was only during these works that, behind the late Gothic façade, surprising, older and valuable wall and ceiling paintings on plaster, baroque painted wooden beam ceilings and a coffered ceiling inlaid with stars came to light, which are unparalleled in Basel in terms of quality and condition.
Thereupon, all parts of the building worth preserving were carefully dismantled, preserved, and numbered by the Basel Preservation-of-Monuments Department. In 1973/74, the Sternen was re-erected in the so-called Dalbeloch, on the site of the Letzistube restaurant formerly there from 1859 till 1967. Just a few steps away is Letziplatz, a square adorned by a piece of the old Basel city wall. Next to it is the old paper mill that, today, is used as a museum. In 1993, the Sternen was renovated and, after a five-month renovation period, the tavern met the latest gastronomic standards. In addition, historically false elements such as the pseudo-baroque ceiling in the foyer of the first floor were removed.
Historycally Interesting Parts
Coffered ceiling with inlaid stars from the 17th century,
from the second floor of the old tavern.
Mural paintings with pigeons and curtain motifs from the 18th century,
from the hall on the first floor of the old tavern.
Letzistube – Letzi Hall
Baroque painted wooden beam ceiling from the 17th century;
original wall cladding on the second floor of the old tavern.
Arabesques mounted on glass, original paintings from the 16th century;
from the first floor of the old tavern.
Foyer on the 1st Floor
Lintel stones of the E.E. Zunft zu Gartnern, the house of the gardeners’ guild on Gerberstrasse 38, probably originally placed above the entrance to the guild hall, before 1460; same type of arabesques as in Letzistube.
Baroque ceiling painted with animals, fruit medallions, and vines;
end of the 17th century; from various upper-floor rooms of the old tavern.
Tripartite Gothic stepped windows.
Fragments of Gothic murals from the old tavern.
Zunft zu Gartnern – the Gardener's Guild
Baroque door lintel from the former guild house, carving of 1710.
Oil painting showing guild master and mayor Franz Robert Brunschwyler, founder of the Franziska-Mähly (a banquet) of 1690.