Monday, April 14, 2008


Well, we made it to the parade, but not to the burning of the Böögg itself.

Elsbeth and the kids came in the morning. Sonja and Lena played very nicely together, for the most part. At one point, they stopped going from Sonja's room to the living room and back again, and after a few minutes, I thought I should check what they were up to. Carefully sneaking to Sonja's room, I soon discovered what it was that engaged them: painting with watercolors, in particular, with the black color.

In the afternoon, we were going to go to the parade, and in the evening, to the burning of the snowman, known as böögg. This Zurich tradition goes back hundreds of years, and is organized by the guilds and trades. The members of the guilds and trades are the ones who walk, march, play musik, ride on horseback, or ride in a horse-drawn wagon in the parade. The parade ends at a square, where the böögg stands atop a huge pile of wood.

The Böögg is a snowman who has explosives in him. Apparently depending on how fast or slow the head of the Böögg explodes, that is how fast or slow summer will come. The important part here is "the head" - they put explosives elsewhere too, but it is the ones in the head (or neck) that count. The Böögg is put on top of a 12 meter or so stack of wood, and at 6pm, the stack is ignited. Fastest time to the head exploding was some 6 minutes, slowest in the last fifty years was some 40 minutes. A couple years ago the Böögg got kidnapped I think a couple days beforehand, I didn't ask Martin how it ended.

In the afternoon, we headed for the parade, which started at 3pm. We were on a bridge, where the first groups of the parade passed some half an hour after the start. No cars in this parade, just people marching, or horse drawn carriages or wagons or whatever. An hour later, after a cold rain, we headed back to our apartment, hoping to dry off and warm up before going to see the burning of the snowman. But the kids transpired a bit against us (Emily did not want to drink before we left, and then Elias decided he was hungry just as we started putting the clothes on kids), and with the trams out of service at Bellevue, Elsbeth wasn't sure we were going to make it on time, so we turned on the TV instead and watched the spectacle there.

As we watched on TV, at 6pm, as they were igniting the fire, the last of the parade were just finishing up. Good thing we left an hour and a half earlier (after watching for an hour), that was one long parade! The pyre, as seen on TV, was slow to get burning, probably because of the frequent heavy rain showers today. Riders on horses rode around the fire, as is the tradition. The people in charge were using a flame thrower to help it along and get it ignited from all sides.

Somewhere around 20 minutes, things started exploding, and the snowman burned. But, when the smoke cleared, there still appeared the wire frame on which the snowman was - it had not exploded. It was obvious to Elsbeth but not to me that the thing that counts has not exploded yet. Apparently, the TV commentators started saying they might have to use the video footage to decide which was the "main" explosion (i.e. biggest explosion that happened), but then, some four minutes later, another "kaboom" shook the microphone, and the commentator sighed happily "Gott sei dank!" (Thank God!) - the head (or what was left of it) had finally exploded. 26 minutes and 1 second had passed since the lighting of the fire (or may be more), as determined by the instant replay future so important to this spectacle as it is to football games. Apparently summer will be slow to come this year.

Pictures from the parade:

Unlike a car, a horse can show its displeasure. On the wagon are sacks of flour (presumably), since this is the baker's guild or similar.

A lot of flowers at this parade: if you burn a snowman to indicate the going of winter, might as well have something to symbolize spring, for which of course flowers are the ultimate symbol. People watching the parade brought a lot of flowers (as in a basketfull in many cases), and would give flowers to friends and family participating in the parade, as well as politicians and other public figures... This guy found his instrument pretty useful for the flowers:

A member of the bakers guild, on horseback, with a lot of flowers:

One member of the hairdresser's guild:

Not sure which guild these guys belong to:

One of the probably more than a hundred members of the smiths' guild. I really wonder whether these days it is just a form of an aristocracy to belong to the guilds, since, realistically, how many actual smiths are there going to be in the city of Zurich these days?

A small fraction of the rest of the smiths' guild:

Just like me, the Japanese are documenting the event, with one of the multiple marching bands (I could hear one five minutes ago too in the distance from our balcony - it is 11:30pm):

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