It’s already September and the children are back in school and the workers have returned from their summer vacations. Since the beginning of the month, yellow flyers have been hanging in the trams and buses with a painted face with one eye shut: "Knabenschiessen".
What is Knabenschiessen?
For many from outside of Switzerland, this appears to be a fairly odd event. And for those who have learned German (whether a little or a lot), the translation may pose a slight problem: "Boys' shooting".
What is happening here?
Are the people of Zurich celebrating the shooting of a group of boys, perhaps dating back to Wilhelm Tell and the shooting of an apple off his son’s head? Or is there a group of boys shooting around? And if it’s the latter, why just boys and not girls?
The answer is that it is boys doing the shooting. This event dates back to the 17th century, when competitions were held for the Schützenkönig (King of the Marksmen) in order to get young boys excited about shooting and their future military service. Today, the actual shooting takes place at the shooting range in Albisgüetli in south-west Zurich.
Knabenschiessen competitors must meet four criteria in order to qualify:
- Be between the ages of 13 and 17 years (born between 01.01.1994 and 31.12.1998)
- Live in the Canton of Zurich
- If not residing in the Canton of Zurich, at least go to school there
- Finally, if they are not residents because they go to school outside of Zurich, at least their parents have to live in the Canton of Zurich
Since 1991, girls fulfilling the same criteria have also been allowed to partake. For the entry fee of 12 Swiss Francs, competitors receive the right to participate, ammunition and - of course - a Bratwurst!
Participants shoot at a standard A-target with points up to 5. The highest achievable score is 35. Anyone shooting 28 or more points will get a prize medal. Each year, 35'000 rounds are shot during the Knabenschiessen!
Participants will receive 20 Francs from the Zürcher Kantonalbank (ZKB), and the Schützenkönig will receive a cash prize of 5000 Francs!
Although "Knabenschiessen Monday" is not an official holiday, it is recognized as a half-holiday with many businesses closing shop at 1 PM. Teachers and students however have the entire day off. The winner of the shooting competition is also announced on the same day.
For most people though, the target shooting competition is second to the "Chilbi" (fun fair), which takes place at the same time and is the largest in Switzerland. The fun fair usually attracts some 300'000 visitors and on Monday, there is a half hour "happy hour" where all the rides are free!
If you’re in Zurich this coming Monday afternoon, take it off and head down to the fairgrounds to enjoy a few rides, eat a Bratwurst or even a "Chnoblibrot" (garlic bread).
Knabenschiessen (like Sechseläuten) is a festival unique to Zürich, and the two half days off amount to an entire additional vacation day for anyone living or working there...
(Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia, Stephen P. Halbrook, picture-newsletter.com)