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Sechseläuten: A living cultural heritage of Zurich with customs, tradition and enthusiasm

Updated on May 23, 2024

Every April, the Swiss city of Zurich celebrates the traditional Sechseläuten, a colourful and lively spring festival that focuses on the guilds, the city's historical professional associations. The festival symbolises the end of winter and the beginning of the warmer season.

Zurich's guilds have a long history, dating back to the Middle Ages. They arose out of the need to represent the interests of the various craftsmen and merchants in the city. Over time, the guilds became increasingly influential and played a significant role in the political and economic development of the city of Zurich.

The Sechseläuten is a festival where the guilds show off their traditions and culture. The festivities begin with a magnificent parade through the old town of Zurich,in which all the guilds participate. Members wear historical costumes and uniforms representing traditional trades, such as blacksmiths, bakers, carpenters or tailors. They are accompanied by music bands that create a cheerful atmosphere.

The highlight of the Sechseläuten is the burning of the Böögg, a giant snowman figure symbolic of winter. The Böögg is erected on a pyre near Bellevueplatz and set on fire. The Zurich guilds and the population watch eagerly to see how long it takes for the Böögg's head to explode, because the quicker this happens, the better the coming summer is supposed to be.

We are happy to introduce the guilds:

Wiedikon guild

Wiedikon was an "inner bailiwick" administered by two head bailiffs. It became an independent municipality in 1799 and became a quarter of the city of Zurich in 1893 in the course of the first round of incorporation.

City guild

The guilds in Zurich had an important role in elections and the distribution of political power in the city until 1866. There were members who were real craftsmen and political guild members who only had the right to vote. However, with the introduction of universal suffrage, the political importance of the guilds became obsolete. A new guild, the Stadtzunft, was founded in 1867 to serve the goals of the old guilds. The name and the coat of arms of the Stadtzunft derive from the Gasthof Schwanen, the guild's pub. Over time, the City Guild became part of the Association of Zurich Guilds and today plays a role in maintaining traditions and promoting crafts.

Schmiden guild

The blacksmiths' guild included blacksmiths, copper smiths, rapier smiths, knife smiths, gunsmiths, nail smiths, witness smiths, red and can founders, gloggers, pewterers, watchmakers, sporrers, tinsmiths, file cutters, grinders, shearers and bathers. The shearers and bathers soon separated and founded their own company called "zum schwarzen Garten" in 1543. The bathers were responsible for the public bathing and hygiene of the city, while the shearers developed into wound doctors and surgeons. The house "zum schwarzen Garten" was Zurich's first place of medical instruction.

Witikon guild

Witikon, once settled as the farm of the Alemanni Wito in the 7th century and mentioned in documents since 946, was sold to the city in 1358 and was subject to church and tithes. After the fall of Old Zurich, Witikon temporarily became an independent municipality. The Witikon guild was not founded until almost 50 years after the incorporation of 1934, when the former village had developed into a modern city district with a population of around 10,000.

Carpenters guild

The carpenters' guild initially included carpenters, bricklayers and coopers and later carpenters, stonemasons, stonemasons and coopers. Brun's guild constitution combined various professions into one guild. The guild of carpenters supported Zwingli's Reformation and thereby increased its political power.

Guild Hard

The Hard Guild was founded in 1922 by tradesmen in the Aussersihl district of Zurich and was admitted to the Association of Zurich Guilds in the same year. The original name "Zunft Aussersihl Hard" was changed and the guild coat of arms shows the Hardturm. As the first guild of the younger lineage, the Hard guild built its own guild house in 1974.

Schwamendingen guild

The founding of the Schwamendingen Guild took place after the separation as a separate municipal district in 1971. The efforts for the founding began in the Schwamendingen Trade Association and were completed in 1975 by the founding meeting of the guild. The name "Zunft von der Glatt" was first proposed, but in the end it was decided to use the old municipality name. In November 1975, the guild was accepted among the other guilds and participated in the Sechseläuten the following year.

Guild St. Niklaus

The founding of the St. Niklaus Guild took place in a turbulent time, when Hitler was just coming to power. But that did not prevent 88 founding fathers from coming together in December 1933 to establish the new neighborhood guild. The name of the guild refers to the St. Niklaus chapels located in Zurich North and mentioned in early history. In 1934, the guild was accepted by the ZZZ into the Association of Zurich Guilds and participated in the Sechseläuten for the first time. In 1971, Schwamendingen was separated as district 12 and formed its own neighborhood guild in 1975, which was supported by the St. Niklaus guild as the Göttizunft.

Fluntern guild

After the incorporation of 1893, ten people from Fluntern founded the "Zunftgesellschaft Fluntern" in 1895, which was admitted to the Association of Zurich Guilds as the "Zunft Fluntern" in 1897. In the same year, the guild took part in the Sechseläuten for the first time.

Guild to the Three Kings

With the city expansion of 1893, the community of Enge was also incorporated into the city of Zurich. The Engemer Guild was founded in February 1897 by 48 old-established citizens in the Hotel "Rigi" and was admitted by the Association of Zurich Guilds one month later. With 100 members, the guild already participated in the following Sechseläuten. The guild is named after the patron saints of the chapel that once stood on the site of today's Enge train station and was dedicated to the Three Kings.

Company to the Constaffel

The Constaffel was founded as a counterweight to the craftsmen's guilds and originally included the urban nobility, knights, noblemen, goldsmiths, wholesalers and salt merchants. In 1490, other groups of people were added to the Constaffel society, which led to the division of the society. In 1713, book printers, bookbinders, glaziers, pâtissiers, comestibles shopkeepers, dyers and persons not belonging to any craft or guild became part of the civic Constaffel.

Guild Höngg

The incorporation of Höngg into the city of Zurich in 1934 was the occasion for the founding of a separate guild in this quarter. Already one year before, first efforts for a guild Höngg had been shown, which finally led to the official foundation and organization on January 22, 1934. The guild was immediately recognized by the ZZZ and took part in the Sechseläuten the same year.

Kämbel guild

The members of the Kämbel were originally tradesmen and grocers, later joined by saltmen, "Wynzügel" and wine-carriers. The guild regulated the sale of goods by its members and established binding regulations. The Grempler met in the "Kürsiner-Huus" on the Münsterhof and received the name "zum Kemel" or "zum Kämbel" in 1489. Hans Waldmann, Zurich's mayor, was one of the most important Kämbel guild members.

Saffron guild

In 1445, the "Krämer- und Gürtlerzunft" was the first to be introduced by Rudolf Brun to promote trade in the city. Within the grocers' guild there were two societies, which led to conflicts until they were merged into a single guild house called "zur Saffran" in 1447. The guild house was expanded over time and in 1723 it received its final form. The professions within the merchants' guild included apothecaries, druggists, bandagists, silk ribbon weavers, hat decorators, feather decorators, brush makers, button makers and sugar basins.

Aries guild

The guild zum Widder included butchers and cattle dealers. The butchers already worked together before the Zurich guild constitution in the municipal butchery near the town hall. They allegedly defended Brun's guild constitution on the night of the murder in 1350 and were given the "Isengrind" as a gift in gratitude. The butchers acquired the house "zum Widder" in 1401 and from then on called themselves the "Zunft zum Widder".

United guilds to the Gerwe and to the shoemaker

The guilds for tanners (Gerwer), shoemakers, wysslaederern (Weisslederern) and permendtern (parchment makers) were independent during the Zurich guild constitution. The tanners included the Rotgerber (red tanners), Weissgerber (white tanners) and Pergamentherstellern (parchment makers), while the shoemakers were the only guild to which no other craftsmen were assigned. The tanners and shoemakers joined together in 1877 to form the United Guilds of Tanners and Shoemakers.

Guild Hottingen

The guild was formed after the union of 1893 and was founded in April 1897 with 130 members. It was admitted to the Association of Guilds of Zurich in the same year. Hottingen belonged to the inner bailiwick "vier Wachten" and was tributary to the canonry at the Grossmünster. It also belonged to the Stadelhof tithe.

Wollishofen guild

The Wollishofen Guild was founded seven years after the incorporation due to the Wollishofen people's vigorous protest against their incorporation into the city of Zurich. A federal court decision finally confirmed their affiliation with the city. Twenty Wollishofers decided to found the guild during an outing in October 1899, which took place in January 1900. In 1902, the Wollishofen guild took part in the Sechseläuten for the first time.

Waag guild

After the death of Mayor Brun, the two textile guilds, wool and linen weavers, had difficulties. The loss of the traditional clientele and the old Zurich War brought difficulties to the town's economy. The number of wool and linen weavers decreased sharply. In 1440, the wool weavers and hatters found shelter with the linen weavers, and since then they called themselves "zur Waag" after their drinking place at the Münsterhof. The guild had no significant political importance and concentrated on maintaining the principle of quality.

Tailors guild

The professions of Tuchschaerer, Schnyder and Kürschner were part of the clothing industry. Tuchschaerer prepared woven fabrics by washing, fulling, pressing and smoothing. During the Reformation, the guild regulated the amount of clothing worn by the population and tried to reduce ostentation and foreign influences. Tailors had to constantly come up with new ideas to meet customer demands. Between 1605 and 1907, the guild called itself "Zum Schaaff" after its guild house "zum Gälen Schaf".

Shipmen's guild

The Shipmen's Guild included professions such as Vischer (fisherman), Schiffluette, Karer, Seyler and Tregel. Fishing had the greatest importance and was the oldest. The fishermen and shipmen worked on the lake and on the Limmat. Karer and Tregel performed the tasks of the "Schifflüt im Underwasser" on land. The carrers and porters left the guild in 1489 and could join any guild. The ropemakers were never very numerous, there were between six and eight masters in the 18th century.

Guild Riesbach

The Riesbach Guild was founded in April 1887 as a "humorous society" in the then independent municipality of Riesbach. Its aim was to organize parades and games at Fasnacht, Sechseläuten and other events. After the incorporation of Riesbach in 1893, the guild established contacts with the old guilds of the city. Already in 1894 it was invited to participate in the official Sechseläuten. Its performance was so convincing that in 1896 it became the first "quarter guild" to be admitted to the association of Zurich's guilds.

Letzi guild

after the nearby Letzigrund Stadium, and the guild's coat of arms features a stylized stadium tower. Since its founding, the Zunft zur Letzi has been involved in social projects, such as supporting schools in the surrounding area. It also attaches great importance to traditional events such as the St. Nicholas celebration and the Letzigraben shooting.

Oberstrass guild

In 1925, seven citizens in Oberstrass formed the "Krattenturmgesellschaft" with the aim of founding their own guild. After many years of failure, the foundation was finally successfully completed. 96 members signed the foundation charter in the "Lindensaal" with the motto "Oberstrass zur Ehr, Zürich zur Wehr! The new guild's aim was to enhance the reputation of Oberstrass and at the same time to support the city of Zurich. Today, the Oberstrass guild is an important part of the guild association and is still committed to its community and the city of Zurich.

Weggen guild

The Weggen guild included the Pfister (baker) and miller trades. Although they were separate in craft matters, they were politically linked as a "split guild". The Pfisters provided twice as many council members and soldiers as the millers and divided themselves into "Fogenzer" and "Feiler". The guild always fought for a fair weight of bread and the members had to swear an oath to it. The name "zum Weggen" goes back to the house sign on the former guild house. Today, about thirty skilled bakers and millers still belong to the Weggen.

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