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Zurich tradition A psychic exploding snowman? Welcome to Sechseläuten

Feuersbrunst mit Schneemann

Every year, at 6pm on a Monday in April, a snowman is set on fire on Zurich’s Sechseläutenplatz. Not just any snowman, mind you. This is the Böögg. Depending on how long his head takes to explode predicts how long and warm summer will be, so the tradition goes. 

Sechseläutenexternal link has various roots. On the one hand it’s based on fire customs linked to the spring equinox, during which boys burnt self-made straw effigies around the city. On the other, members of guilds used to regulate working hours by ringing bells. In winter, craftsmen and traders would work until 5pm and in summer until 6pm. 

In 1892 both traditions were merged. Burning a snowman stuffed with fireworks became a fixed part of the Sechseläuten custom. 

At exactly 6pm the Böögg, perched on a ten-metre throne, is lit. Some 3,500 members of guilds, in traditional dress, take part in the procession. Horse-riders circle the burning snowman until the explosive finale. 

An expert is required to ensure that every year it goes with a bang. Lukas Meier, a set designer by trade and himself a member of a guild, is in charge of building the Böögg and, with helpers, getting everything ready.

Drohnenbild:  der Böögbauer in seinem Atelier

Lukas Meier building the 2019 Böögg. He was an apprentice for seven years before making his first exploding snowman four years ago.

(Keystone / Ennio Leanza)
Lukas Meier steckt den Kopf auf den Körper

(Keystone/Ennio Leanza)
Kopf des Schneemannes

The head has a circumference of 1.80 metres and, like the rest of the body, is stuffed with fireworks.

(Keystone / Ennio Leanza)
Fliege des Schneemannes

The snowman's bow tie serves as a guest pass. Every year a guest city is invited to take part; this year it's Strasbourg in France, the first time a foreign city has been chosen.

(Keystone / Ennio Leanza)

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