Burning the Snowman – Zurich’s Sechselauten

Posted on April 23, 2010


Boom goes the snowman’s head. Everyone cheers, and a woman says ‘mmm…14 minutes…That’s not a good sign.’ Swiss politicians in tights prance by and the streets are fragrant with the spring smell of…horse poo. Where am I? Where else but at Zurich’s annual Sechselauten, a spring festival held on the third Monday of April to celebrate the end of winter. It’s the first time I’ve bothered to attend a Swiss event and part of my 10-month-late New Year resolution to get to know more about the city I’m living in. Added to that, I just couldn’t resist the promise of a snowman model stuffed packed full with fireworks, set fire to, made to explode, and then left to burn into oblivion.
Am I jumping the gun? Maybe a little bit.
So here is how the festival works. For three hours between 3 and 6 pm, Bahnhofstrasse fills with a jolly ( I thought I’d never find myself using this word anymore in the 21st century, but it’s the perfect word to describe it, really) parade of people dressed in traditional costumes, some of them on horses or horse-pulled carriages, a lot of them Swiss politicians. From here, the parade walks down to the beginning of the lake and turns back to complete a loop. Unfortunately, during this time, the 500-something number of horses relieve themselves on the streets, creating a rather peculiar, shall we say, breeze when mixed with the smoke wafting from the many bratwurst stands. 


Then at 6 o’clock, everyone clusters around Bellevue Square, where a giant Boog (snowman) on top of a pile of logs  is set alight (logs first), and the crowd watches and awaits the moment when the fireworks inside it ignite and blast the snowman into bits and pieces and then cause him to burn in a very violent looking ball of fire. The shorter it takes for the flames to reach it and make it explode, the better the summer will be.

Boom goes the snowman’s head and the spectacle is over. Having survived an hour or so of sardine-like existence amongst the sea of people, I feel like I have done my duty as a would-be Swiss and succumb to the urge of eating a bratwurst by the lake. The day is glorious and one of the few sunny ones in months. Unfortunately, it is not clear enough to see the snow-covered peaks of the Alps in the distance.
As the crowds move away as orderly as possible, I make my way to the train station along the less busy streets, only to discover once more how little I know about this city. An impromptu meander leads me to more unique shops, little courtyards with pretty fountains I had never noticed and a spot high above the river from where I can  see the churches and buildings, and a trail of smoke left behind from the still-burning boog. I ogle the view for a long time, watching as the softened light of the setting sun tinges the stone with which old Zurich is built with a warm, slightly caramel hue. I find it unnervingly beautiful. Could it be happening? I might finally be falling in love with Zurich.




Unfortunately, I was too far from the Boog and there were too many higher heads than mine in front of me, so I wasn’t able to take a picture of the burning snowman. Here is, however, an idea of what it looked like from a much smaller model I came across in a shop window in Zurich. The news later that day proclaimed that the boog had exploded after 12 minutes, which according to the experts, is a very auspicious time.


– Text and Photography by Denise Pulis @ www.travelwithdenden.wordpress.com

Posted in: Zurich