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Militants take symbolic snowman prisoner

Heinz Wahrenberger preparing the Böögg for its big performance Keystone Archive

A group of leftwing militants have stolen a giant cotton snowman, the Böögg, only days before its long-awaited annual appearance in Zurich's spring parade.

In the early hours of Wednesday morning, the thieves smashed a window of the garage where it was stored, leaving a chocolate Easter bunny and a hammer and sickle emblem in its place.

The extremist group, calling itself the “1. Mai – Strasse Frei” (loosely translated as Retaking the Streets on May Day), sent a letter to the Swiss media claiming responsibility for the theft, saying the 3.5-metre tall snowman “had had enough of putting its head on the line for capitalists”.

The figure, whose head is stuffed with explosives, is set alight at the culmination of “Sechseläuten” (six o’clock bells), Zurich’s spring festival run by the city’s guilds, which will take place next Monday. It is a sign of a good summer to come if the head is blown off quickly.

Zurich cantonal police said the thieves did not manage to cart away the neck of the 100kg Böögg or the main charge.

Heinz Wahrenberger, the man who makes the snowman, said a stand-in kept in case of emergency would take the Böögg’s place on the pyre. Wahrenberger added that it was the first time in his 41 years doing the job that the effigy had been stolen.


Plans were afoot to nab the snowman during student unrest in the 1980s, but police were able to avert the theft at the last minute thanks to a tip off.

According to the organising committee, the only time the Böögg got hot under the collar before its six o’clock appointment with the guild fire chief was more than 80 years ago, when “communist fanatics instigated a boy” to set it on fire.

It would be the last time that the event went up in smoke.

Ancient law

Sechseläuten in its current form began shortly after 1866, the year the guilds lost the last remnants of their political power in Zurich.

It got its name from an ancient law regulating the working hours of the city’s craftsmen. They were required to work an hour longer when the days lengthened in spring, and had to rely on the ringing of the six o’clock bells to know when to put down their tools.

Sechseläuten is a public holiday in Zurich.

swissinfo with agencies

Sechseläuten is run by Zurich’s guilds.
The city’s guilds are run as private social clubs with a total membership of around 3,500.
The earliest guilds were founded in 1336 and played a key role in Zurich life for more than 500 years.
They began to lose their economic influence in the 1830s.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR