21 April 2009
Ringing Six Bells, Guild Spotting, and Too Many Cute Kids
Sechseläuten ("The six o'clock ringing of the bells") has got it all: fun for kids, brass bands, parades, street wurst, costumes from medieval to modern, guilds, horses and other assorted domestic animals (including a couple of camels), fire and explosions. It's noisy, it's crowded, it lasts for three days and culminates with the burning of winter in effigy (the Böögg).
This actually wasn't our first Sechseläuten, as Tony stumbled upon it during a business trip last April, a serendipity that appears to be not uncommon for foreign visitors lucky enough to be here in April. Guilds, strange costumes, brass. Huh?
This year we were a little better prepared. We researched the schedule, grabbed a spot on Bürkliplatz for the Children's Parade on Sunday, and on Monday staked out a spot on Bellevue with a view of Böögg on the Sechseläutenplatz. (So that's what the big field of gravel across from Globus am Bellvue is called.) We realized too late that we were missing the key piece of equipment for the amateur Sechseläuten photographer—the step ladder. Next year we'll be ready.
The festival is really about two things: guilds and kids. Kids are everywhere, all weekend—it's a family event—and they get a whole parade to themselves. The costumes are elaborate; the marching bands are pretty good; but the highlight for kids on parade is handing candy to onlookers. Actually the older kids heave it as hard as possible at the crowd. Come on—how fun is that?
I can't resist. Some cute kid photos from Sunday.
Waiting for the parade to start.
Sunburned and seriously overloaded with cute, we went in search of shade and drink after the parade. Happily, we stumbled on the guild hall for the Linen and Wool Weavers (Zunfthaus zur Waag) just as the band was playing for the guild dignitaries and guests. These were brass musicians and drummers with some serious chops.
The festival itself goes back to a medieval tradition that marked the first day of summer work hours (which ended at 6 bells). The 14 original guilds (Zünfte) date back to the 14th century and are linked to the Zürcher Revolution, which placed guilds in 13 of the 26 city council seats and weakened the the hold of the church on the city. Additional district-based guilds were formed in the 19th century. (More.) If no longer the core of society, the guilds today are fully active voluntary associations, backed by some serious establishment money. (For more see guild links.)
I wanted to see more guilds in action and knew we did not have the fortitude to spend another day baking on the parade route. On Monday we managed to find a launching spot behind the Opera House for the Zunft zur Weggen (Bakers and Millers Guild), as well as Zunft Hottigen and more.
But the big event is the burning of the Böögg, an event which requires immersion in a massive crowd, not really my favorite activity. By 6:00 p.m., there were bodies as far the eye could see up and down the Seefeldstrasse and around the platz.
The big event only took about 12 minutes--that's the time from when the pyre is lit until the Böögg's head explodes. Apparently this means a middle-of -the-road summer, neither too rainy nor too hot. Farewell, Winter.