How to digest the Sechseläuten weekend I feel as though my feet have only just touched the ground. From walking through the streets of Zurich wearing a cloak and top hat in front of a marching band at 1:00 o’clock in the morning to climbing up the bell tower of the largest clock face in Europe and drinking white wine all before 10:00 AM, how does one even begin to comprehend a wild weekend celebrating Sechseläuten and the burning of the Boogg. I’m grateful to live in this age of documentation as I feel without proof of the above statements; nobody would believe the weekend we have encountered. I can wholeheartedly confirm that the Swiss know how to party. How lucky I feel to have been not only invited, but to be so involved in the events of the weekend. We were welcomed so warmly by everyone, not once did we encounter a complaint or even frown, the positive energy was ripe throughout the celebrations.
The weekend celebrations began on the Saturday when myself, my father Simon Wilkinson and Nigel and Maggie Macdonald flew in from London and were picked up at the airport by Renato Compostella and Rene Kalt, as they drove us to our hotel, we even received a free tour! It seemed every building we passed, had a wonderful and rich history. Rene very kindly organised a traditional Swiss dress for me known as ‘Traacht,’ which I would be required to wear for the young liverymen’s ball known as the Jungzünfterball, and during the parade on the Monday. The evening commenced with aperitive drinks outside the fishmonger’s hall. A band played while wine flowed, and young liverymen and guests arrived dressed in a splendour of 18th century costumes from their Guild houses. A great photo opportunity to be had. Then the crowds dispersed to their selected guild houses where they would be dining that evening. After enjoying a delicious three course meal and copious amounts of wine, I was then informed that a disco would be held on the floor below, which I found quite hard to believe given the age of the building and the restrictive costumes many young liverymen were wearing, however I was, as I continued to be for the rest of the weekend, impressed by the enthusiasm of the Swiss conquering all interferences. The dance floor and bar were filled with chatting young liveryman and guests, roars of laughter could be heard all around the guild house and just as I started to settle in and get my dancing shoes on; I was informed that we were heading to another Guild house to continue the evenings frivolities. It was at this point when I asked, ‘Are we doing a guild house crawl, much like that of a pub crawl in England?’ to which I was met with an enthusiastic ‘Yes!’. We ended up going to two other Guild houses before I had to throw in the towel and save myself for the rest of the weekend, as I returned to my hotel at 4:00 AM I realised I’d been awake for 24 hours.
On Sunday rain fell on what I presumed to be a hungover Zurich, yet again I was surprised to find that everyone was up early and ready for the children’s parade. Feeling rather fragile after drinking my weight in wine and dancing till the early hours of the morning, I went to meet my father and the rest of the British guests at the Waag, accompanied by Rene and Renato, but was caught out by the parade. After spending what felt like an eternity parallel to the unbreakable meander of the parade; I decided there’s no way I would be able to cross, and get where I need to go, so decided to give in and phone my father to alert him of my lateness and ask for directions, when he asked what I was near; I looked over my right shoulder to see two live camels being pulled through the parade and uttered ‘you wouldn’t believe me if I told you’. The parade was filled with smiling children waving at the crowds, all dressed in a rainbow of costumes from all over the world. Once met with the other British guests, I enjoyed a well earnt bratwurst sausage. We proceeded to a beautifully decorated bar, while beers were passed round, I clung very firmly to my cup of tea, best to avoid alcohol for at least today I thought. The atmosphere was filled with hearty conversation amongst the Swiss and British. Comparisons of previous Sechseläuten’s were discussed by seasoned goers, such as David Bentata and Linda Smith, who were very familiar with the weekend’s events and the complex history of the city. It was wonderful to indulge in conversation with the newlyweds, there wasn’t a question about the guilds they couldn’t answer. As the rest of the guests enjoyed a hearty dinner, I headed back to the hotel for an early night.
Monday morning broke with a nutty muesli and strong coffee. Whilst digesting; we walked into the city centre where we were met with an impressively energetic Rene, as we were catching up on the prior evening’s antics, he informed me that he had only four hours sleep, yet another resilient Swiss attitude, but just the first that we would encounter that day. After climbing the 187 steps up the St Peter clock tower, we were met with panoramic views of the city. It is easy to imagine hundreds of years ago how vital this viewpoint would have been for alerting the city of fires and other disasters. As we made our way down, we were greeted by the band who we would encounter several times during the day, we then walked back to the Waag where all the young liverymen were enjoying their first (or third) wine of the day. Here I was introduced to guild master Philip, who I would later carry flowers for during the parade. It was a great honour to be invited and to be first female guest amongst the young liverymen or known as the ‘Ehrendame’ in Swiss German. Dominik and Robert Kalt, sons of Rene, had asked me to film their speech at the Butcher’s guild house and although all in a language I couldn’t understand, what was translatable was the laughter and enthusiasm from the audience. In response, the butcher guild master gave a short speech back to the boys and rewarded us all with Veal sausages printed with the guilds emblem and wrapped in gold, a carnivorous trophy! Lunch was well needed at this point, as the food arrived wine and conversation flowed amongst the members, not a single person in the room spoke less than 2 languages, I was amazed at how articulate and well informed they were of the English language, that of which could rival native English speakers. With lunch ended and espresso’s drunk- it was parade time!
Handed with a large empty basket and introduced to the other flower girls, we set off to join the parade, at this point there had been several delays which unfortunately meant that we would miss the lighting of the Boogg. Flowing through the streets of Zurich we were greeted with cheers, photos, smiles, waves and most importantly flowers! The guild master received a huge number! Happy to just be a part of the celebration, I was even included, as one of the lovely young ladies I danced with on Saturday emerged from the crowds to give me my own rose. The smell of bonfire grew stronger, and the crowds thickened as we reached the Boogg. Laughter and chatter all surrounded the fire while livery men galloped on horseback around the flames. The anticipation was palpable in the air as to when the head of the snowman would explode; tradition states, the longer the head of the Boogg takes to explode; the worse the summer will be. Finally, the head exploded; the crowd cheered, the horses unphased and the tummy’s rumbled- Time for dinner! We made our way back to the Waag for another meal. Once digested it was time to light the lanterns, put on the top hats and cloak up- off to listen to the speeches. We were very kindly provided with ear sets and a translator so we could understand what was being said. The first speech was held just across the river in the guild house, the next downstream where Rene, Domink and Robert performed a well-rehearsed comical speech.
Later it was time to take the bus; that’s right, we all piled onto a bus, cloaks and all, and were whisked away into the night to the next guild house for another speech. Once finished we travelled back to the Waag for a final snack. This is when the young livery men’s night would begin, plans of dancing and drinking lay ahead, but alas, I was simply too tired to participate. In the taxi ride on the way back to the hotel I made a promise to myself that as a representative of Britain; it shall be my duty to compete with the Swiss’s partying at the next Sechseläuten. So to all young liverymen of Zurich I make a pledge to you now; next year I will come back stronger and with more British troops to give you all a run for your Swiss Francs!
After a couple of hours sleep we were rudely awakened by the alarm, an unwelcomed signal to head back to reality. We left with a feeling of sadness that the weekend was over, but this was short lived as the excitement for Sechseläuten 2023 began! What a wonderful weekend, the traditions surrounding the celebrations were fascinating, the costumes fabulous and the company outstanding. Thank you all for hosting and we will be seeing you all very soon!
A note to any British liverymen planning on attending the Sechseläuten celebrations in the future: Wear comfortable shoes, as you will be doing a lot of walking. Try and get lots of rest in between the days as they are jam packed. The food was delicious the whole weekend and we were fed like kings, so there is no need to bring any food or snacks with you. We were met with quite a lot of rain over the weekend so bringing an anorak would be sensible, lastly, I would suggest bringing a good camera with you, as there are plenty of photo opportunities!