Category Archives: Zurich Living

Knabenschiessen: What’s Going On Here?

From the second Saturday to the Monday of every Septembder, a seemingly odd event for many Expats takes place in Zurich: Knabenschiessen. Now for many who have learned German (whether a little or a lot) the translation may pose a slight problem: “boys-shooting”. What’s 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? And if it’s the later, why just boys and not girls?

It is in fact a group of boys shooting. This event dates back to the 17th century, where in order to get jung boys excited about shooting and their future military service, competitions were held for the Schützenkönig (King of the Marksmen). Today the actual shooting takes place at Albisgüetli in south-west Zurich, but up until the 1800s it used to be done at Sihlhölzli. The competitors must reside or go to school in Canton Zurich and be between the ages of 13 and 17. Since 1991, girls fulfilling the same criteria have also been allowed to partake. For the entry price of twelve Swiss francs competitors receive the right to participate, ammunition and of course a Bratwurst.

Today the shooting is done with the standard Swiss military rifle SIG SG 550. The SG stands for Sturmgewehr (assult rifle). Participants shoot at a standard A-target with points to 5. The highest achievable score is 35. Anyone shooting 28 or more points will get a prize medal. Each year 35000 rounds are shot during the Knabenschiessen.

Though the Monday, Knabenschiessem-Montag is not an official holiday, it is recognized as a half-holiday with many businesses closing shop at 1pm. Teachers and students however have the entire day off. The winner of the shooting competition is also announced on the Monday. The shooting has for most people taken a backseat to the Chilbi (fun fair) that takes place at the same time and is yearly the largest in Switzerland. The fun fair gets some 300 000 visitors and on the Monday there is a half hour “happy hour” where all the rides are free.

Take Monday afternoon off and head down to the festivity grounds and enjoy a few rides, eat a Bratwurst or Chnoblibrot (garlic bread). Knabenschiessen – uniquely Zürcherisch like Sechseläuten.

(Written by Christian Langenegger, co-founder of Marathon Sprachen in Winterthur

Compare The Cost Of Living In Zurich With Other Cities

We were told about a new website that offers a new twist on the common requirement of comparing the cost of living in one city with that in another. Expatistan offers a simple way of making this comparison, and its community-driven updates should ensure that it remains relevant and up to date. Just enter the two cities into the form on the home page

This query gave us the following:

Drilling down on the Food data:

The green figures basically mean that these items are cheaper in London than they are in Zurich, which is no surprise. However, it is odd that the high cost of transport in London skews the figures so dramatically. The result is that it gives the cost of living in London as being 5% higher in London despite almost every other category being markedly higher in Zurich. Users can submit the cost of certain items in a city to keep things up to date. These are quite specific, such as a liter of milk or a bus journey in the central zone. If you are thinking of moving to Zurich, or would like to keep an eye on the cost of things elsewhere, Expatistan is a useful tool.

Book Review – Swiss Watching

Are you new to Switzerland or have you been living here for quite sometime, but still can’t figure out the Swiss? Pick up the recently published book Swiss Watching: Inside Europe’s Landlocked Islandby British Expat Diccon Bewes. Armed with his experience as a travel writer, keen curiosity and a GA, Mr. Bewes sought to uncover the real Switzerland, what makes it tick and what keeps this country of contradictions together.Of all the English books I’ve read on Switzerland this one has been one of the most enjoyable. Be it from a brief and concise history of the country – with which the reader will be armed for many discussions with native Swiss people – to a discussion of the Swiss red shoe fetish, Mr. Bewes’ writing style is informative, attentive and witty. These features make the book a pleasure to read and will help many to better understand the Swiss mindset and their, at times, odd behaviour. The book is marked by a degree of British irony and sarcasm, which should bring a smile to most readers’ faces. Page 243 might have you swallow hard or laugh out loud. I did the latter.rather enjoyed the amount of actual experienced research that Mr. Bewes details his book with. Together with his taking on less traditional topics of discussion makes Swiss Watching: Inside Europe’s Landlocked Island stick out from the pile of books written by foreigners about Switzerland. When it comes to taboo topics, Mr. Bewes tackles them in an informed way providing historical and cultural context and allows the reader to make his own opinion. On the whole he writes in a very neutral manner.My one concern in the book is the language information offered. Where a great deal is painted with a brush of “Swissisms”, they are actually general German issues. By this I mean the same thing applies to German spoken in Germany and Austria. The word “Handy” for instance is actually the German word for mobile telephone and does come from the never actually established English term “handie talkie” which was also a synonym for “walkie-talkie”. In Switzerland mobiles are generally called Natels, which comes from the establishment of Switzerland’s national wireless network in 1975 (Nationales AutoTELefon).The book is well worth a read for anyone interested in understanding Switzerland and it’s people. Having taught at a Kantonsschule, I would go so far as to suggest that this book be used in either a history class or advanced English class, as reading it would help the Swiss to better understand themselves. For new comers to Zurich, I would also recommend Zürich for Newcomers by Barbara Milne. (ISBN: 978-3-280-05161-0) Swiss Watching Inside Europe’s Landlocked Island by Diccon Bewes. (ISBN: 978-1-85788-548-4) Looking for a good English Bookshop in Zurich? I’ve recently discovered Pile of Books – Great selection, friendly service and the best prices. (Written by Christian Langenegger, co-founder of Marathon Sprachen in Winterthur

Traveling With The SBB

In December 2009 the SBB and Trenitalia decided to end the Cisalpino train service, a joint venture between the two national railways. Naturally when such things happen allegations flew. The SBB claimed that the consistent late trains coming from Milan was one of the main reasons. Trenitalia also made claims, but anyone who has travelled to Italy or even wanted to come back from Ticino has experienced that more often than not it is the trains coming from Italy that are running late and causing delays elsewhere in Switzerland.Traveling back from Lucerne the other day, I was witness to something that would have played out much differently in Italy. Many might find the following incident tragic others as quite funny. For the sake of the protagonist, I hope that he will look back in five years and laugh.I was on a class trip with students all around 15 years of age. Having boarded the train we patiently waited for the train to depart. Outside the train was a man with two monsters for suitcases with a little twitch in his hand and a bead of sweat rolling down his face. Then the rail attendant made the last call to board the train. In a panic the man tossed his two suitcases onto the train and followed rescuing his foot from a closing door in true Indiana Jones style. Seconds later the train rolled into motion and a look of fear struck the man’s face. Quickly he ran to the window where I was sitting and frantically tried to open the locked window. The other teacher and I looked at each other and wondered what was going on.The rail attendant seeing the panic-stricken man running around the train tried to explain that she had given the final call and announced that the man had to either be on the train or off the train, but that the train was departing. Furthermore, once the train is in motion it will not stop until it reached the next destination. The man with an Italian accented Swiss-German then explained that his wife was still on the platform. Adding to the problem of leaving his wife behind, was the fact that neither of them had mobile phones on them. After twenty some minutes on the train the man deboarded the train in Zug after apologising for his frantic behaviour.This little story illustrates a fine point about Switzerland. In fact it is one of the paradoxes of this tiny country, especially for Expats: Ask most Expats to list three things that they like or even love about Switzerland and the rail service will surely be listed. “It’s efficient and punctual” is a praise often quoted by Expats from the UK and Ireland, whereas most Americans and Canadians are simply amazed that trains can transport more than goods. However, these are the same people who find it terrible and cold hearted of the SBB to give such little regard to travellers racing down the platform with a suitcase trailing behind them trying to make the train as the last call is announced and the little green light encircling the open button disappears for the last time and the doors shut leaving that poor traveller to wait for the next train.Cold and heartless would be one explanation. Mechanical and calculated another. Much can be said about Switzerland by looking at the rail system. The reason the trains are on time and why a 10 minute delay is front page news is because it has been calculated. If the train waited an extra 30 seconds at every station it would gradually delay itself more and more. Other trains would then need to wait for passengers needing to make connections and the entire system would descend into chaos like in Italy, where one travelling by train can merely hope that there will not be a strike and that the train will arrive that day.While disorder and unpunctuality are frowned upon in Switzerland, so are limitations to mobility and personal freedoms. Therefore, most longer routes are travelled once an hour and many of the in-between-stops can be reached by taking another train. The other thing that makes train travel so convenient in Switzerland is that it is a “one ticket all trains service”; unlike travelling with the Deutsche Bahn where ICE trains cost more than regional trains.The best tip for travelling with the train in Switzerland is to give yourself a few extra minutes to get to the station. If you’re on time, you should not miss your train.If you’re travelling by train around Switzerland here are a few tips: Frequent travellers of longer distances or people who simply love sitting in trains should get a GA (Generalabonnement). This is a card that gives you unlimited travel in Switzerland for the year for 3100.00 CHF or 285.00 CHF/Month in second class. Less frequent travelers should at least get a Halbtax that gets you 50% off the price of all tickets for train and bus. The cost for this is 150.00 CHF for a year.Both will save you money. As a reference a one-way ticket Zurich to Bern at a normal price is 46.00 CHF.Have visitors coming to Switzerland? Tell them to get a Swiss Card for the time they are here to save money and hassle when travelling. There are different time frames from a few days to a month. Are you on facebook? You can become a fan of the SBB and see their Sparbillette programme and see all the latest ticket specials. For iPhone users the SBB Mobile App is great and allows you to check your connections anytime anywhere. German – English Vocabulary for train travel: das Gleis = track der Zug = train die SBB = Schweizerische Bundesbahn (Swiss Federal Railway) die Bahn = railway / rail der Fahrschein = ticket der Nachtzuschlag = addditional fee for night trains (after 1 am) die Verspätung = delay die Gleisänderung = change of track “Der Kluge reist im Zuge” = “The smart one travels with the train” (Written by Christian Langenegger, co-founder of Marathon Sprachen in Winterthur

Summer’s Here, Bring On The Water!

After a weather of “beschissenem Wetter” the sun and subsequently the “Gluthitze” has returned to Zurich. For many coming from North America this heat is nothing unusual, but it is hard to cope with given the fact that most places lack air conditioning, and those places that have it never turn it up as high as say a North American cinema.

As hot as it may be, summer is when Zürich really shines and shows that it is truly one of the best cities in the world. Contributing to the high standard of living is the number of public swimming pools and “baths”. Zürich has more places to swim than almost any other European city, which is fascinating given the fact that it is still landlocked.

These swimming pools (“Badi” in Swiss German) are mere minutes from every district in the city. There are 6 pools, 6 beaches/bathhouses on the lake, and 5 bathhouses on the Limmat, numerous areas to just swim at your own risk and 7 indoor swimming pools.

That adds up to 24 public pools, beaches and baths that are also supplemented by 8 school swimming pools that open to the public at certain times. The baths are so well organized that men not wishing to be harassed by women’s goggling eyes can swim at the Flussbad Schanzengraben (for men only). Women also have a private bath at Stadthausquai.

And if you live on the Gold Coast in places such as Herrliberg, you may have a beach for town residents only. Here you’ll have to put up with both men and women, but at least you can be socially exclusive.

Unlike many North American cities with lakes and rivers that post water quality hazards and closures of public swimming areas on a regular bases, Lake Zurich (Zürichsee) is renowned for its water quality, which is in fact so clean that many of the fish are dying as there is nothing for them to eat. This fact is welcomed by many swimmers as it ensures a degree of relief as they do not need to fear a Jaws-like fish devouring them while peacefully swimming at one of the lakeside baths.

One of my favourite baths is the Utoquai. Swimming here is like taking a trip back to 19th century Zurich. It was designed by William Henri Martin and built in 1890 as a bathing palace to accent the newly built quay along the lake. The original structure had four separate areas for men, women, boys, and girls. The sunbathing terrace on the roofs were added in 1908.

In the 1950s the bath house was almost demolished during a craze of rebuilding and redesigning the city. However, the people of Zurich then as now cherished their baths and would not allow this. In 1973 the boys and girls swimming pools were covered and turned into sunbathing areas. In the 1990s a sauna and massage area was added, making the bath usable year round.

If swimming isn’t your thing, but you’re still looking for a way to cool down try on of Zurich’s 1200+ water fountains with drinking quality water. Not only an excellent way to cool down, but save money and the environment.

Here is a list of the 24 swimming places in Zurich:

Indoor Pools:





Wärmebad Käferberg



Summer Pools, Baths and Beaches (Lake & River):

Freibad Allenmoos

Freibad Auhof

Flussbad Au-Höngg

Freibad Dolder

Seebad Enge

Freibad Heuried

Seebad Katzensee

Freibad Letzigraben (designed by Swiss author Max Frisch)

Strandbad Mythenquai

Flussbad Oberer Letten

Flussbad Schanzengraben (men only)

Freibad Seebach

Frauenbad Stadthausquai (women only)

Strandbad Tiefenbrunnen

Flussbad Unterer Letten

Seebad Utoquai

Strandbad Wollishofen

Freibad Zwischen den Hölzern

(Written by Christian Langenegger, co-founder of Marathon Sprachen in Winterthur

Enjoying Some Basketball In Zurich

This is a review of the National League B Semi Final Playoff game between the Zurich Polyrapid Wildcats and Villars.

We were fortunate enough to be invited to a basketball game at the weekend, it was our first sporting event in Zurich and the first time we had watched basketball.

The game took place at the Sporthalle im Birch, a school sports facility near Oerlikon.

The Wildcats got off to a great pace, scoring 18 points before Villars managed to trouble the scorer, but the visitors chipped away at the advantage and bang on half time, the score was 30-30. Momentum was definitely with Villars and half time came at a very good time for the Wildcats who needed to regroup.

Regroup they did and the Wildcats started the second half in the same way they did the first, building a crushing lead that Villars would never be able to overcome, the Wildcats finally winning 72-60, Castro responsible for 20 points.

It was a really fun afternoon and a decent atmosphere. I liked the way that kids run on to the court to shoot hoops during time outs and in between quarters.

If you are looking for a good way to see some live sport, I can heartily recommend watching the Wildcats. There will be at least one more game this season.