Sechseläuten: The Arrival of Spring in Zürich

The ‘Sechseläuten’ or locally ‘Sächsilüüte’ was born and has been held at this time of year in Zürich, usually the third Monday of April, at the namesake Sechseläutenplatz. Its origin could be traced back to the society of the time.

In the past, work could only be done as long as there was light, so the working day of winter ended at 5:00 pm when sun light faded into the horizon. But, in summer, the sun continued to shine until 6:00 pm and work could be prolonged by an hour. Therefore, the city council, which comprised members of the Zürich guilds of craftsmen, decided that the summer working day should be extended by an hour around this time of year. Thus, the church bell of the Grossmünster would be rung at six o’clock — um sechs Uhr läuten in German — in the evening to mark the new end of working day. Coincidentally, at around the same time of year, the youths of Kratz Quarter, an area around the Fraumünster, often paraded through the streets with effigies of the bogeyman or ‘Böög’ tied to their wagons. These were later burnt in places around the Quarter. The two traditions would later combine and give birth to the modern spring festival.

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Guild members making their way to the Sechseläutenplatz

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Burning of the Böörg at Sechseläutenplatz

Before the day of the Sechseläuten, the children paraded with the Böög on Sunday afternoon clad in traditional costumes. Today everyone gathered at Sechseläutenplatz to observe the spectacle of the event: the burning of the Böög on a pyre towards its explosive finale. Horsemen consisting of the men of the guilds circled the pyre as the old hunting march continued to play in the background towards the explosion of the head.

Tradition has it that the burning time foretells the weather of the year. The quicker the head of the Böög explodes, the better the summer of that year it should be. You can see the general correlation between the combustion duration and the weather below. This year, in particular, has just set a record of the longest burning time of 43 minutes and 34 seconds. Whether the Böög would foreshadow the eternal winter remains to be seen. I, for one, hope that modern meteorology would prove him wrong!

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Afterwards, guild members left to celebrate the day at the various ‘Zunfthaus’ — guild houses. And, the real fun started as the crowd approached the remaining ember to grill their wursts!

Of course, the town was full of colours, and here are some of the sights I have managed to capture today:

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Wir kutschieren Sie ans Sechseläuten — We chauffeur you around the Sechseläuten

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One of the many fountains in the old town brimming with flowers to welcome the guild members

Sources: nzz.ch, zuerich.com

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