Never heard of Sechseläuten? No worries: Here are the ten most important facts about Zurich’s traditional spring festival.
1. What it is all about
Zurich’s Sechseläuten (six o’clock ringing) festival celebrates a council decision of the 16th century when the city’s guilds resolved that the working day should end one hour later – at six o’clock – in the summer months. The end of the workday was always marked by the bell of the Grossmünster Cathedral. So when this started ringing at six on the first Monday after the spring equinox, summer was clearly on the way.
2. How it is celebrated
The festivities begin on a Sunday with the children’s parade. But it’s Sechseläuten Monday that brings the main event, when some 3,500 guildsfolk proceed through the streets in their historical costumes. They’re accompanied by some 350 horseriders, 50 floats and 30 marching bands. At the end of the procession, on 24 April at 6 p.m. precisely, the bells of the Grossmünster start to ring and the fire to burn the “Böögg” is lit.
3. The “Böögg”
The “Böögg” is the baddie. “Butzemann”, “Bullebeiss”, “Buhmann”, “Boesman”: He goes by many names. Zurich’s “Böögg” looks like a snowman. And he’s burnt to symbolise the end of the winter season. Latterday legend has it that the faster the “Böögg’s” head (which is conveniently stuffed with fireworks) explodes, the finer the coming summer will be.
4. The record
Last year it took 43 minutes and 34 seconds to blow the “Böögg’s” head off. That’s the longest it’s taken since records are kept! In 1956, by contrast, the “Böögg” lost his head after just 4 minutes.
5. The “Böögg’s” origins
The boys in the city’s Kratz district used to burn a “Böögg” around the spring equinox – the same time the city guilds were holding their Sechseläuten festivities. These old “Böögg” figures were paraded around the streets before they met their fiery end. That somewhat rowdy tradition has been transformed into today’s children’s parade, which is held on the Sunday before Sechseläuten Monday.
6. A public holiday
Sechseläuten Monday is generally a halfday public holiday in the city of Zurich. So together with “Knabenschiessen” Monday in September, which is also generally a halfday off, it gives the citizens a full day’s holiday each year.
7. A watery end
In 1944, during the Second World War, Sechseläuten was held at the marina in the Enge district, because the usual site had been planted with vegetables. And the “Böögg” fell intothe lake! In 1950, 1960, 1993 and 1994 the“Böögg” fell off his bonfire before his head hadexploded.
8. A fishy custom
The junior members of the Zunft zur Schiffleuten (the watermen’s guild) used to throw dead fish into the crowds (and even through any open Bahnhofstrasse windows) during their procession. That was abolished last year: They now throw chocolate fish instead.
9. Fine dining, too
The city’s guildhouses that line the River Limmat aren’t just architecturally attractive. Many of them are home to fine restaurants as well. Like the Zunfthaus zur Zimmerleuten, which serves such Swiss classics as Zürcher Geschnetzeltes and cheese fondue.
10. The “Böögg” BBQ
Once the official celebrations are over, Switzerland’s biggest impromptu barbecue is held on Sechseläutenplatz around the remains of the “Böögg” fire. People of all ages gather to grill the sausages they have brought with them over the glowing embers. Even the “Böögg” has his good side, it seems …
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