Zurich’s Love Parade thankfully has nothing to do with Swiss snow

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Forget the cheesy cuckoo clocks, tons of snow and the multi-purpose Swiss Army Knife; the de facto, race-your-heartbeat reason to trip to Switzerland is Zurich’s annual Street Parade.

This gathering of madness in the name of a good time certifies that Switzerland too is a land of much-needed healthy contradictions. Street Parade is a public party that ensures hot pulses keep pumping far away from snow-covered mountains that threaten to freeze you to an early grave. This is in a country that seems to never get enough sunshine and where the white fluffy stuff remains a tourist draw-card even during alleged summer months.

Cuckoo clocks are what comes to mind when one thinks of Switzerland. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Cuckoo clocks are what comes to mind when one thinks of Switzerland. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

The Street Parade is a teenager that arrived as a saving grace during the early 1990s. And there’s only a sliver of sunshine for the duration of the day-long street festivities as masses of grey clouds look south to revelers making their way along the 2,4-kilometer party route.

This route crosses a picturesque lake over bridges and brings the town to a halt. Earplugs are handed to the timid. And eyes can’t get enough of persons dressed in some of the most absurd costumes. Or persons who look like they need to get dressed.

During my walk along the route, a nurse in bright pink PVC offered an alluring smile; a man appeared dressed as a circus master leading a young girl looking like a meek wild cat and an Asian woman imitated a fairy. It was an exhibition of fetishes, freaks and fantasies.

Anybody need a nurse? Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Anybody need a nurse? Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

The Street Parade is the highlight of a weekend of frivolities. Partying endures for a few days before and after the Saturday, which is reserved for the congregation to meet on Zurich’s streets.

The Street Parade story involves a mathematics student, Marek Krynski from the host city, who was “inspired by a television report on the Berlin Love Parade” in June 1992. It’s summer time across Europe in the middle of the year and there’s never a shortage of reasons to make happy.

Weird circus act. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Weird circus act. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

So Krynski hopped across the border to Berlin to see how it’s pulled off and returned to start the party with his city as its backdrop for what was to become a public love fest. Rave music was the sound of the day back then and 2,000 partygoers showed up to party public. Permission from local Swiss authorities guaranteed that the inaugural Street Parade went off smoothly.

“The Street Parade is a demonstration for love, peace, freedom and tolerance… It is a demonstration for being and celebrating without violence, regardless of race, skin colour, sexual orientation or special interests,” states the official spin of the party’s roots.

Asian fairy. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Asian fairy. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Two years later, the event was banned though by the Zurich police chief for being “too big, too loud, litters the streets of the city and moreover only of interest to an insignificant section of the population”. Local media responded with venom while socialists and other political heavyweights ensured the mega party’s survival. By the time the music was turned on, 50,000 people had gathered in the streets in 1994.

Picture perfect Switzerland. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Picture perfect Switzerland. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

By 1999 the organisers launched their own radio station for the Parade weekend and historians voted it as one of the 100 “most significant events in Switzerland”. These days the event attracts at least a million participants and is broadcast live on Swiss TV. In Switzerland, 150 trains lead to the party and tour operators tout special packages.

The event, organised by the Zurich Street Parade Association, has 3,000 helpers, a host of sanitary stations and interestingly a third of its disciples arrive from Germany.

Safari grandpa. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Safari grandpa. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

They arrive as spectators of almost forty Love Mobiles. These are trucks that carry DJs and dancers along the Street Parade route. House and techno remains the event’s signature tunes but it’s not just the gaudy that prevails. While most parties have that crass-loud feel, there are intimate underground getaways and alternatives. Lists are usually available on websites which promote the 100 or so party spots.

During the night, Zurich’s inner-city cafes and restaurants invite the flock. Streets are lined with loud speakers and it’s all about letting it all hang out. It’s strange that all of this unfolds in a land historically associated with a children’s cartoon character named Heidi. Serenity and all those nice things don’t fit quite well with this load of noise. But it’s nice to know they know how to party.

Street Parade storms Zurich on August 9 this year. Log on to www.streetparade.com for details.

If Street Parade is not your scene or you want to combine your sweat sessions with some serious snow, these are other Swiss highlights to include on your itinerary:

Straight up, you should know that Geneva doesn’t offer much of a party. This is United Nations town so while it’s all formalities and early-to-bed, there are a host of nationalities represented on the cuisine front. I found an interesting Moroccan restaurant, La Mamounia, serving Middle Eastern specialties and belly dancing.

You can view the French mountains from Geneva, which also shows off its French influence. With only 180,000 inhabitants, this former Catholic town is small-town bliss with international flavour. Restaurants overpopulate the place and some are so tiny that they only serve two tables. Reservations are critical. And then you’d better eat up quickly and leave.

Just twenty minutes from Geneva nestles a little town, Carogne, which offers a host of themed tours. This includes tours of hidden gardens, antique shops, historical sites, artists and craftsmen. Carogne’s open-air market offers fresh produce far from the mass manufactured vibe. Get fresh fruit, vegetables, home-made juices, jams and breads. Shops also specialise in a variety of goods; like the one which stocks 180 types of teas, others offer hats, soaps, chocolates and beautifully designed kettles. Church bells mark the hours. Old world feel guaranteed.

Zermatt is ski junky dreams come true. No cars are allowed to enter so one walks your way around in the fresh air. Rent a bicycle, swim in hot indoor baths and get down with some amazing skiing. If you’re not appropriately attired the mountains of Switzerland will freeze you to death. If you are warmly dressed the views of freedom and inspiration will awaken your excitement at being a participant in life.

Trains take you across Switzerland with ease. They’re clean and run on time. Get the Golden Pass Line to venture across beautiful landscapes. Switzerland looks magical along these routes.

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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