When I read about Zürich’s Sechseläuten about a year ago, I was already excited about this unique City of Zürich holiday. Something about a parade of people in traditional dress and an exploding snowman just tickled my imagination.
Now that I’ve done a little reading into this Welcome Spring celebration, I like it even more. It starts with the Guilds – the Zünfte. In the 14th century, the various trades and crafts organized into groups, from blacksmiths and clockmakers to textile and spice merchants to butchers and goldsmiths. In 1336 a guy called Rudolph Brun deposed Zürich’s ruling nobility and replaced the city government with these guilds. I walk over the Rudolph Brun bridge several times a week.
In the 19th century, Zürich was growing, so various neighborhoods established their own guilds, including our neighborhood of Fluntern. By this time, most guilds were not tied to a specific trade, but served more as a societal function. The Kirche Fluntern has these flags up for the celebration. The one on the left is for the City of Zürich, the one on the right is for the Fluntern Guild. Each guild has a house, most of which are now restaurants and/or hotels. Most also have a grand hall for special events. Today people are still guild members, a good way to make business connections and to even have a close tie to government. Last Friday night as a run-up to Sechseläuten, the guilds had their balls and events, and we watched people in 18th century dress walk through town in groups of two or in large numbers, kind of like a prom night for adults. There are flags all up and down Bahnhofstrasse with the seal of the various 26 guilds. The trams are sporting tiny Swiss and Zürich flags. The Gesellschaft zu Fraumünsters, the society of the formal noble women of the Fraumünster Abbey (hearkening back to the imperial abbesses as early as the 9th century) was established in 1989, and for the past five years has been allowed to participate in the Sechseläuten parade as guests, though not as full members.
Tomorrow: The Parade