Archive for the ‘Festivals’ Category

Bern’s Onion Festival

November 29, 2013

Every 4th Monday of November, Bern hosts their annual “Zibelemärit” (Onion Festival) from around 4am to 4pm. There’s onion pie, garlic bread, onion and garlic garlands and wreaths, onion art, and more.

Onion Nurses!

Also, this appears to be a favorite holiday for obnoxious teenagers, as throughout the day, it’s not only allowed, but encouraged to throw confetti. It’s certainly a unique experience to witness the (otherwise) pristine Swiss streets drenched with confetti.  Tip: keep your mouth closed! And watch out for teens with plastic hammers! This one rather annoying teenager hit me repeatedly with his hammer until it broke on him.

Confetti Attack

I was in a friendly mood, so let them do this to me

Now it was a beautiful (yet cold!) day when I went to check out the festival. I went in the afternoon, catching the tail end of things. I’d say 2 hours is plenty of time to check out the festival. Then, I went to catch a train back to Zurich. What happened next is simply unheard of in Switzerland. The trains were completely stopped! Nothing was going because there was an electrical fire and power outage at the Bern station, due to a second-hand clothing fire on a train. I kid you not. So, my friends and I decided to head for dinner because it was estimated the delays would last for a couple of hours. Rightly enough, a couple hours later the trains were functioning again and we were able to hop a train (15 minutes past the departure time) home. All of these delays and cancellations are just unheard of in Switzerland! I was amazed at the trains not running for nearly 2 hours in rush hour traffic time on a festival day, no less!

Train board showing the ridiculous delay times – plus confetti everywhere

Cannons and Bonfires: Swiss National Day

August 2, 2013

So, I woke up yesterday bright and early at 7am (I know some of you who work earlier than that are snickering at me right now). The cause of why I woke so suddenly was what sounded like people setting off fireworks at very precise spacing apart from each other. I wrote it off as excitement because it was Swiss National Day (much like the predictable occurrence of hooligans setting off fireworks bright and early on the 4th of July to the extreme delight of their neighbors). It went on for, I want to say, a solid half hour, in unison with groans from Mr. Goat.

It wasn’t until later when I was looking up the festivities for the day that I realized exactly what it was. And it wasn’t fireworks. Please click here for pictures and a better explanation than I can provide (although you will need to translate this page with Google Translate or read in Chrome with translator on, as I couldn’t find it in English). I am so going to this next year! Cannons and a 38-shot gun salute? Count me in.

Leading up to the day, I didn’t know exactly how Zürich celebrated August 1st. All the blogs I was reading were telling me to spend the day swimming on the lake, at concerts, or at some party a bar was hosting. Thanks to the Canton of Zürich for posting an official program of the celebratory activities — in English! You can find the Bundesfeier 2013 program here.

So after learning that I missed the awesome wake-up call, I decided I wasn’t going to miss the rest of the day! I went down to see the procession near Bürkliplatz around 10:30 and then the following program at 11. Aaaaand now I know why fellow bloggers weren’t recommending the official program. It was a yawn fest. Note to self: don’t need to see all that next year.

Here are some photos of the day:

Procession through town to Bürkliplatz

And what day celebrated by the Swiss would be complete without the obligatory Alphorn performance?

As night drew nearer, we were looking for ways to celebrate, since much to Mr. Goat’s disappointment, we weren’t able to get fireworks to light off ourselves. At 8pm, sitting outside eating dinner, I began hearing more bells than I have ever heard before in our new home. These bells continued echoing on from all directions for at least 15 minutes. It was quite magical, really. Then, as night fell, we made our way out to Altstetten’s neighborhood bonfire. It’s pretty awesome that neighborhoods put on bonfires for National Day. Next year we are totally bringing s’mores supplies.

And then we came home to this. Poor Marius was cowering in the smallest area he could find in response to all the fireworks.

It Came, I Saw, They Conquered

July 14, 2013

They being the crowds, that is. And the fireworks committee. Lighting fireworks off of a helicopter and  streaming out of the back of an airplane?? Hello. How awesome is Zürich!?

What is all of this I am referring to? Why Züri Fäscht of course; the three-day-long party that happens only once every three years. And oh what a party it was.

Watching an air show by the lake in the sunset — can life get much better?

So much music and food and drinking. And the program wasn’t half bad: airplane shows, parachuters, high-divers, tightrope walking, classic-styled cars driving in the water (designed as car-boats), and oh, so much more. It was just amazing walking around the lake and checking out all the booths.

Really cool metal-crafting booth

I realize now why some friends did not choose to explore the festival all three days like crazy Mr. Goat and me. The massive amounts of people crammed together can get a little overwhelming. One of the most ridiculous moments of crowd chaos came when we were trying to cross the Münsterbrücke right as the tightrope walker was finishing his walk between the Grossmünster and the Fraumünster.

Tightrope walker starting at the Grossmünster

It took 30 minutes just to cross this bridge!! Largest crowd I’ve seen since Disneyland.

What I learned from Züri Fäscht:

There was a program they were selling at all major tram stops a week leading up to the festival as well as a detailed guide online (both in German only), but I think it’s unnecessary to really study these through and through. It’s fine to locate a few things you don’t want to miss out on (especially if you’re interested in attending a concert), but the majority of the program was repeated each day, sometimes multiple times (like the tightrope walker), and if you found yourself around Bellevueplatz or the Münsterbrücke, you would see it all easily. I learned to avoid exploring the festival at all costs on Saturday afternoon, as this was by far the peak time when everyone and their mom was out and you literally cannot move in the crowd. However, I learned that by the time Sunday rolls around, most people are done (or recovering) and you feel like you have the streets all to yourself! But then you have to put up with Zürich as you’ve never seen it before. Dirty!

Seriously, I didn’t think I was in Zürich anymore.

What a party! Can’t wait until the next one three years from now.

Snowmen are Meant to be Burned

April 16, 2013

Much to my delight, it appears that we timed our arrival in Zurich with a traditional holiday called Sechseläuten where they burn a Böögg to signify the ending of winter and coming of summer. So yesterday, Mr. Goat (having received half the day off) and I went to enjoy the festivities.

We first visited the Lindenhof where there were tents set up with vendors selling sausages, spaetzle, cheese, wine and beer. We got a sausage, a spaetzle dish with beef and applesauce, and a couple beers. The Schützengarten St. Galler Landbier was on special for 5.50 francs due to the canton St. Gallen hosting the event (every year, they switch cantons) so that’s what I chose. I must say, based on my first impression of Swiss beer last summer, I did not have high hopes for this beer, however was pleasantly surprised. A golden color, quite foamy, and not nearly as watery as I was expecting. Overall, very drinkable (though those at ratebeer.com would disagree with me it seems). The unfortunate news is that Mr. Goat says this beer will be nearly impossible to find in stores, like most good beer (or any, for that matter). 😦

Tents at Lindenhof

Tents at Lindenhof

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Mr. Goat and I at Lindenhof with the parade by the river behind us

Mr. Goat and I at Lindenhof with the parade by the river behind us

Something to note if you’re ever in Switzerland during a festival and you’re confused why the vendors are charging you 2 francs more than the beer price: no, they’re not just trying to take advantage of tourists but rather the extra 2 francs are a “deposit” on the cup they are pouring your beer in.  The Swiss, who are most certainly orderly recyclers, want to encourage people to hand the plastic cups back in to ensure they are properly recycled. That’s great and all, but you should have seen the look on Mr. Goat’s face when the woman handing him the beer was demanding more money. He ended up just laying a bunch of coins on the counter and she took what she needed – hah!

After we had our beer, we walked across the river to check out some of the parade. All the guilds of Zurich (only men, with a few “honorary” women) were parading and we saw some amazing outfits! Also, we walked past quite a few children frolicking around a fountain. No, this was not a film set or a strange Swiss utopian-type dimension, there were actually children dressed up in 14th century outfits – frolicking around – AND throwing flowers into – a fountain. Once you get over the strangeness of the scene (which actually come to think of it, is probably not so strange here in Switzerland), it was rather cute.

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Children frolicking around the fountain

parade chainmail

Mr. Goat was psyched to see soldiers with pikes in chain-mail in the parade

We made our way to Bellevueplatz where the Böögg was staged for burning. We got ourselves a cozy spot next to thousands of others just in time for the burning at 6pm (and not a minute later).

Böögg

“Burn me!”

Now, let me elaborate just a little more on this tradition (in case you’re not patient enough to read the wikipedia article). Back in medieval times when working hours were strictly regulated by the city, in the winter the workday lasted as long as there was daylight. However the Monday following the vernal equinox marked the beginning of the summer semester, where the law proclaimed that work must cease when the church bells tolled at six o’clock. Sechseläuten is a Swiss German word that literally translates into “The six o’clock ringing of the bells.” The holiday was later moved to the third Monday in April.

The burning of the Böögg (bogeyman) in the figure of a snowman was added to the holiday in 1902 and folklore has it that the length of time it takes for the Böögg’s head to explode (the entire figure is filled with fireworks) is indicative of how nice (or poor) the coming summer will be. The shortest time recorded was 5:07 minutes in 1974, the longest time was 26:23 in 2001, with an average time being around 12-15 minutes.

The conditions of the day appeared to be rather promising – it was a warm, dry 70 degrees. However, 15 minutes after the pyre under the Böögg was lit, it became clear that perhaps things would take longer than initially thought. No one knew just how much longer…

"I'm burning!"  Also, note the Swiss air-force flying above

“Why am I not burning yet?”
(also, note the Swiss planes flying above)

Turns out, maybe it was just a little *too* windy for the flames to really catch and make their way up the pyre. Instead, the pyre appeared to be burning down without a lick of flame reaching the poor ol’ snowman. As I said, after 15 minutes, the crowd got noticeably nervous and we noticed they started throwing flame accelerant on it! No fair – cheating! Once it passed 20 minutes, people got actively restless. And then once it passed 27 minutes, and we realized it had broken the old record, all hell broke loose.  Ok, so maybe not actually. We are talking about the Swiss, after all. And as upsetting as it is to realize that the snowman is predicting the worst summer in history, the crowd couldn’t seem to care less. Meanwhile, Mr. Goat and I were pretty upset.

The question on everyone’s mind was – just how much longer could this take?

Well, 9 minutes past the record it seemed. The flames finally reached the snowman close to the 30 minute mark and we started hearing (and seeing!) fireworks exploding as it slowly crept up to the head. Then, just when you were seriously considering saying “f it” and going home – at 35:11 – the head burst into flames with a giant explosion! It was indeed pretty spectacular to see.

So, I guess we’re stuck with a pretty crappy summer here in Zurich. I do hope those of you at home get a good dose of Schadenfreude from that.

Well, I guess Mr. Goat and I brought the Seattle weather curse here with us. Anyway, all in all, a fun festival and a great welcome to the city for us. If you ever find yourself in Zurich the third Monday in April, be sure to check this out!

I filmed the explosion of the Böögg for you to experience. 🙂  Please note that I had to cut this video down significantly as I was filming for about 6 solid minutes thinking the head could explode at any time. Enjoy!