Zurich: the street parade without the ravers

Strollers take advantage of Zurich's lakeside promenade before Saturday's parade. Switzerland Tourism

The organisers of Saturday's street parade say it'll be a demonstration of love, peace, freedom, generosity and tolerance. Dale Bechtel got a preview of the route to see how Switzerland's financial centre is going to hold up under the onslaught.

This content was published on August 10, 2000

The riggings of sailboats clang in the breeze. Sunny skies have returned to Switzerland but there are few boats out on Lake Zurich. The boats are moored along the Mythen Quai because it's a weekday and their owners are probably at work. The street parade will begin right here - between the boats on the one side and the headquarters of Swiss insurance companies on the other.

The insurance companies will be closed on the day of the parade but a small kiosk at the edge of the harbour will be open for business. The owner sells sweets, sandwiches and drinks and says he hopes to double or triple his normal sales - provided the weather, he adds.

There's a lakeside park just beyond the kiosk, populated by ancient trees, which provide welcome shade and block out some of the traffic noise. On Saturday, their branches will strain under the weight of people vying for a better vantage point.

From here the hundreds of thousands of ravers will turn the corner on to General Guisan Quai and head towards the old town. They'll pass Zurich's Congress Centre and the Baur au Lac grand hotel - one of the most obvious symbols of Zurich's wealth.

The Baur au Lac's garden restaurant looking out on the lake is a safer, albeit more expensive alternative for parade gazers.

I go in to the hotel to meet manager, Manuela Boeckmann. She stresses that the Baur au Lac is a conservative establishment. She is also very careful about what she tells a prying journalist, and leaves me waiting while she gets permission from the hotel director to answer my questions.

"The street parade is a very special event for us, for the hotel," she tells me on her return. "It brings life and colour into our daily life. There are no special events - we do have a big party in our garden, but otherwise its business as usual with perhaps a bit more security at the entrance."

The Baur au Lac doesn't need the parade to increase business. It's been fully booked for most of the year, even though rooms go for SFr450 ($260) for a single to more than SFr2,000 for the biggest suite.

While few can afford those prices, most visitors to Zurich can and do go for a boat ride on the lake. Unfortunately, the main boat landing at Bürkliplatz is found along the street parade route. A sweltering mass of bodies will form an impenetrable wall between the attractions in the old town and the ticket counter.

One American woman queuing for tickets tells me that a passenger on her flight to Switzerland had warned her about Saturday's madness.

"She said she lost her niece last year for eight hours at the parade. We have a 10-year-old and a nine-year-old with us so we don't to take a chance."

It's a short stroll over the Quai bridge, where I admire the splendid view of the old town, which is divided by the Limmat river.

Once over the bridge the parade's "love mobiles" will follow the eastern shore of the lake, passing Bellevue Platz and Sechseläuten Platz.

The latter is a large open field surrounded by busy roads. It's used for various outdoor events and is best known as the setting for a traditional spring festival run by the city's once powerful guilds.

At the moment a converted freight container stands alone in the field. It houses the "Radio Street Parade Studio" which, besides the posters, is the only indication - and a modest one at that - of what's coming on Saturday.

If past editions of the parade are anything to go by, the route will resemble one large rubbish tip after the ravers are through. The Zurich authorities are hoping that the hundreds of thousands of ravers, dancing till they drop, will pay heed to the warnings on bright yellow posters they've strung up between the trees on Uto Quai.

"Welcome to the lake. Put rubbish in bins. Use toilets. Keep dogs on leads. No dog dirt. No music at night. No fires. Your city, Zurich, thanks you."

A street cleaning vehicle fitted with mechanised clippers trims the hedgerow where Uto Quai and Bellerive Strasse meet. The parade reaches the home stretch at this point and one of the last landmarks along the route is the Museum Bellerive.

It currently houses an exhibition of objects called, Positions of Beauty, which shows grotesque figures alongside fancy table lamps, smooth unadorned vases, simple chairs and rough textiles. The melange of styles and expressions seem to work.

The museum director, Roger Fayet, tells me that he would like the ravers to come by. He says they would be impressed since they prefer, in his words, a certain kind of beauty.

by Dale Bechtel

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