Chilly Zurich rings in the spring

The Böögg explodes Keystone

One could be forgiven for thinking spring was still some months away, what with the snow, rain and chilly temperatures, but the change of season is officially here - just ask the "Böögg".

This content was published on April 23, 2001 - 21:48

The city of Zurich has just celebrated its annual "Six o'clock bells" (Sechseläuten), the city's traditional spring festival, which culminates in the burning of an over-sized snowman, called the Böögg.

And despite another overcast day, thousands turned out to watch the centuries-old festival, as hundreds of traditionally dressed guild members paraded through the city's streets on horseback.

Bakers hurled pastry treats into the crowd, butchers lobbed sausages and fishermen threw fish; while blacksmiths kept their weighty hammers slung safely over their shoulders.

Favoured guild members found themselves festooned with flowers as women and girls darted out from the roadside armed with spring garlands.

Nowadays, members are no longer active in the trades represented by the guilds - which once held great power - but the tradition, which dates back to the Middle Ages, still persists.

"Six o'clock bells" or "Sechseläuten" takes its name from an ancient law regulating the working hours of the guild members. Dependent on daylight, craftsmen worked from dawn to dusk in winter, but when the days lengthened in spring, they had to rely on the six o'clock bells to know when to put down their tools.

As today's tradesmen reached the large field named after the festival, they took off on their horses, galloping around the Böögg, who sits on top of a stack of firewood, his head filled with crackers and fireworks. At precisely six o'clock, as the bells of St Peter rang out, the fire was lit by the justice minister, Ruth Metzler.

According to local saying, the faster the head explodes, the better the summer will be. Unfortunately, this year's Böögg was a slow burner, clocking up 26 minutes and 43 seconds before detonating.

swissinfo with agencies

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