Michaela Merz

Swimming in a crowd – a late summer in Zurich

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I grew up in Prague during communism. During that time, one feature of this city of more than a million inhabitants was its near complete evacuation every weekend. All my friends escaped to either a small vacation house, summer cottage or holiday villa. Most social life took place in small villages. On Fridays, the cars would be loaded up, a weekend of parties and dance evenings would follow, and on Sunday, the traffic column would move back in the direction of the capital. At that time, the communist regime did not understand what the Romans had already understood a thousand years earlier: not only is bread of importance, but so is entertainment. During my Prague days, entertainment was lacking. There was really not much going on in Prague at that time.

This has changed in many large cities. Today, the problem is not that one does not know what to do because the opportunities are so few, but rather, one cannot decide what to do, because the offering is so extensive and exciting. After my holidays, I returned to a Zurich experiencing the magical weather of a once in a century summer, with temperatures exceeding 30 degrees. Weather just right for swimming in the Limmat River. The Limmat is a river, which flows through Zurich and contributes much to the attractiveness of the city. Swimming in the Limmat is forbidden except on the Zurich Limmat-Swimming day. To thousands of highly motivated people Limmat-Swimming means jumping into the river and drifting to a goal about 3 kilometers downstream. Limmat-Swimming also means that when 4000 tickets go on sale, they are sold off within minutes like warm biscuits. This year it took only 45 minutes to sell all of the tickets.

I was pleasantly surprised as I handed over my bag of clothes in the Frauenbadi changing room and picked up an inflatable turtle. Every year there is a different animal serving as a small swimming aid. From past years, we have assembled an amusing gallery of ducks, crocodiles and similar inflatable creatures at home. I hopped into the 22 degrees water with my older two daughters. My youngest son, the best swimmer of us all, had to watch us from the shore. For this event, the age guillotine is merciless, and he is still far away from the minimum age.

On this day, nobody is alone. One drifts downstream and engages in conversation with all sorts of people, both in the water as well on the riverbanks. People call out, greet and joke. Thus, one grows into a large, like-minded community.

The following Saturday, the Street Parade: 27 Love Mobiles, thousands of dressed up people – the majority of them half-naked in the insane heat -, and music, music, and more music. This unifies young people, in the afternoon with their littles ones equipped with hearing protection, but also the 50-, 60- and 70-year olds. Everyone was there, and together there were more than 1 million people. Getting from the Opera House to Central was impossible – and I with my little one right in the middle of this – and this was only early afternoon. The partying was hard – loud and shrill. It was, as one rarely finds Switzerland. Everyone greeting on a first name basis, borders disappearing, for a few hours an incredible strong community emerges.

I enjoyed both Zurich experiences very much. I found both incredibly inspiring, maybe aside from the endless queues in front of the toilets and the mountains of rubbish in the streets.

Zurich in the late summer is a city worth visiting.

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