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 theMonday, 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

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