Zurich, Switzerland is a city better known for its bankers and its numbered bank accounts than it is as a party destination for backpackers. While that is generally true, occasionally Zurich let’s its hair down and parties. But, if you don’t read German you have probably never even heard of the 3 day party known as Züri Fäscht.
If the phrase “no one parties like the Swiss” does not roll easily off your tongue then you have probably never attended Züri Fäscht which is a party hosted by Zürich once every three years, including this year 2013. In 2007 my family and 3 of our closest friends attended along with 2 million of Zürich’s closest friends.
We were barely in Zürich for an hour before my task-oriented wife started behaving even more efficiently than usual. “I am finally at home. These are my people!” she declared. We managed to talk her out of the idea of immediately apartment hunting long enough to explore the city and the festival.
The city of Zürich was built astride the Limmat River where it flows into a large inland lake known as the Zürichsee. The festival takes over the area on both sides of the Limmat near the river’s mouth. The festival had 200 food booths and 120 beer tents. The math of how you dispose of 300,000 liters of beer in 300 portable toilets is certainly efficient… and more than a little frightening.
Zürich entertained us with a variety of acts from tight-rope performers to stunt planes. A local radio station sponsored a ski jump competition where contestant after contestant would jump off a large ski jump, strike a pose in midair than then crash loudly into the river. This activity seems to have been thought up by someone in the school of thought that “it’s only funny until someone gets hurt… then it’s hilarious”. Picture a large belly flop contest with skis.
Züri Fäscht boasted 60 stages for performers of all musical genres. Some of the music, like the Queen tribute show “We Will Rock You” were wildly popular. Some of the bands like Japanese Elvis impersonators dressed in pink seemed ill-considered in a country where presumably everyone has those little knives in their pockets. We were perhaps at times only one more rendition of “Blue Suede Shoes” away from the crowd rushing the stage brandishing their corkscrew attachments. Bands played from 10 am to 5 am but then the crowds continued to sing on until dawn.
In Switzerland, the land of melted cheese, we ate fondue of course but we also tried raclettes. A raclette is basically a large wheel of cheese melted with an open flame, scraped into molten piles of cheesy goodness on a plate and served with pearl onions, potatoes, and pickles. We also ordered a sort of “stake” sandwich which comes with a large stake (that could come in handy in the unlikely event of a vampire attack) impaling beef and a roll.
We stayed in the inexpensive City Backpacker’s Hostel (http://www.city-backpacker.ch/) which was right in the middle of the party. They tried to talk us out of staying there. They asked us repeatedly “you understand that one of the stages is just outside our door and the music will be playing until 5 am?” What we gave up in quiet we gained in efficiency.
When the sun went down the crowds gathered for the fireworks show. Projectors played across the twin towers of the Grossmünster Church built by Charlemagne. At times the church was a large Züri Fäscht billboard and then moments later was red with white crosses like two tremendously large swiss army knives (presumably with equally large corkscrews to protect the city from additional Elvis impersonators).
The fireworks show was a tremendous half-hour long pop music accompanied extravaganza held on both Friday and Saturday nights in the sky over the Zürichsee. We watched from the 2nd bridge from the lake where the previously well-behaved crowds finally lost their Swiss reserve and got a bit pushy. Our friends watched from the 1st bridge where it was every man for himself and the crowds got downright scary. 300,000 liters of beer and aerial explosions has that effect on people, even the Swiss.
After 19 hours of continuous partying, when the party finished at 5 am Zürich was trashed. There were broken bottles on the streets and every trash can was overflowing. The once orderly city looked anything but Swiss… which may explain why this party only happens once every 3 years. But, by the time the party started again at 10 am the city was cleaner than Paris on a good day. After all, no one parties like the Swiss. The next Züri Fäscht is July 7 – 9, 2023. If you go, tell my wife I miss her.