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High-speed skate offers whirlwind city tour

Hundreds of people join the Monday Night Skate tour around Zurich (photo: www.mondaynightskate.ch)

(Hundreds of people join the Monday Night Skate tour around Zurich (photo: www.mondaynightskate.ch))

Anyone who wishes to see the city of Zurich the fast and furious way should get their in-line skates on.

On selected Monday evenings between May and October, hundreds of skaters are taking to the streets of the city for a two-hour tour, which begins and ends along the shore of Lake Zurich.

Though many of those who take part are under 30, it's far more than just the MTV generation who make the monthly pilgrimage to join the Monday Night Skate brigade.

"I come here to socialise as well as to keep fit," enthuses one sprightly eight-wheeled pensioner.

"You will see the fanatics who wear the latest outfits, but there are a lot of people who just wear a bike helmet and an old jacket, so you definitely don't have to be trendy to take part," says Patrick Wendt, one of the founding members of the Monday Night Skate.

Humble beginnings

Now a tourist attraction in its own right - people line the streets just to take photographs of the skaters as they whizz by - the city tour on eight wheels has humble origins.

"In the beginning we were just a few freaks," admits Wendt. "But then we realised a lot of people were interested in doing this in-line skating on a Monday night... and the next thing we knew we had 500 or 600 people."

The Monday Night Skate became a permanent fixture in Zurich's calendar three years ago and now a crowd of at least 2,000 regularly congregates on Zurich's Bürkliplatz just before 8pm on skate nights.

A police escort leads the group through the city, while two more police officers on motorbikes bring up any stragglers at the rear.

A small army of volunteers - dressed in designer T-shirts and brandishing walkie-talkies - is also on hand to hold up traffic and ensure the 2km-long line of skaters does not decide to head the wrong way down a one-way street.

"One guy is called 'the Master' and he is in front of everyone, and then we have about 100 supporters who help us and ensure there are no accidents or complaints," Wendt explains.

The only audible grumble of discontent comes in the form of car horns which are occasionally sounded by four-wheeled motorists who have to wait at busy junctions to let the skaters pass by.

Jumping red lights courtesy of a police escort, organisers are keen to point out, is one of the advantages of skating your way as a group through the city.

Fast-paced sightseeing

The route is varied regularly to ensure participants do not have to skate past the same buildings on every tour.

Wendt puts the popularity of the event down to the unique way in which it combines healthy exercise, social interaction and tourism.

"If you are sightseeing on a bus, you don't have the fresh air and can't feel what's going on in the city," he says.

"It's a completely different atmosphere on skates, you can take your time and we think it's the best way of seeing Zurich and all its attractions."

Most of the city's sights lie between the main railway station and the lake, and a typical tour might weave through the Old Town with its cluster of churches, stopping briefly outside the Fraumünster for a glimpse of its towering spire before gliding past the elegant shops which line Zurich's Bahnhofstrasse.

"It's a great way to get to know the city because mostly I drive by car through Zurich and I can't see all these beautiful buildings," says one Monday Night Skate regular.

"This is a street parade on eight wheels," says another participant, as he punches messages feverishly into his mobile phone during a short break in the tour, "and I like this urban life."

Choice of venues

Similar in-line skating tours are also offered around Switzerland's federal capital, Bern, as well as in the city of Winterthur. Organisers hope it will not be long before visitors to cities such as Basel and Lucerne will also be able to don a pair of skates and join an evening tour.

Back in Zurich, Monday Night Skate founder, Beat Keller, says he expects the crowd of skaters to grow even more as news of the event spreads across Switzerland and beyond.

"There are similar skates in Berlin and Paris with crowds of 30,000," Keller says.

"We can't compete with that, but we don't want to, because Zurich still has its own style and is a smaller city. At the moment we're heading towards 5,000 people and I think that's a good number for us."

There is no joining fee at any of the venues and participation is free of charge. Newcomers are welcome, but participants must know how to brake without falling over.

by Ramsey Zarifeh

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