World Blog Surf Day/Holidays and Celebrations/Fasnacht!

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So, this is my first post in a ring of this type, and I hope the organizers can forgive me for it being a bit late – having a toddler makes me pretty brain addled sometimes. World Blog Surf Day is an opportunity to learn something new about a different culture, especially through the eyes of a non-native.

The topic for this year’s World Blog Surf Day is Holidays and Celebrations – what is your new favorite as an expat living in a foreign country? My husband and I had a chat about this today. We’ve encountered so many fascinating cultural things unique to Switzerland. We narrowed it down to three: Fasnacht, the Zurich Limmatswimmen, and of course the cow parade when they are moved between the winter and summer pastures.

I think the wildest festival, and the one that is completely local to northern Switzerland where we live is Fasnacht. World Blog Surf Day is a perfect time to introduce the world to this crazy Swiss tradition. Fasnacht is like a mashup of Halloween, Groundhog’s Day, Mardi Gras, and a trade show all wrapped up together. Each town that celebrates it has a huge parade of participants wearing incredible costumes and masks that rival anything we’ve ever seen before. Members of various guilds dress in matching costumes, and often have a band. Confetti is everywhere, and even the parade-viewers dress up.

The festival is based on the idea of frighting away the winter and welcoming the spring. It is usually celebrated close to Mardi Gras, which is Lent, the beginning of the Christian period leading up to Easter. The festivities are run by the city and by the guilds of that city. In the middle ages, guilds were very popular, and the membership in them passed from family to family. Most guilds were originally based on a particular trade, such as bakers, carpenters and wine merchants. You can read more about the Zurich Guilds here.

Our home city, Winterthur, has a huge celebration. While not as famous as the one in Basel, the Wintherthur Fasnacht festivities go on for several days (and nights) culminating in an over-the-top parade. Each guild has their own matching set of costumes and/or masks, and nothing I can say can properly explain the excitement and chaos of the Winterthur Fasnacht.

On the day of the parade, my husband, son and I caught a bus into town very early into the altstadt (old town area). We scouted out a spot on the parade route, and waited. By the time the parade started, we were packed in. Our son fell asleep as soon as it started, so my husband pulled the stroller out of the crowd, and watched from further out. I braved the crowds right on the front line of the parade route (it was, at times, up to five people thick) and was stepped on, shoved, and drowned in confetti, but I got some great pictures out of it, and a great view. It was incredibly loud, and there were tons of bands all playing very good music.

One of the things I found most fascinating was all the masks. For each guild they are similar, as if made by the same person, but are often slightly different for each member. Most look like they are made of wood, but I assume that might be a bit too heavy. Regardless, I couldn’t help gasping each time I saw a new group go by.

Occasionally parade members would grab older children and carry them off partway down the parade route. They would usually try to grab children who were throwing confetti or acting even more wild than the rest of the crowd.

We held in until nearly the very end of the parade – about two and a half hours – but snuck out to catch a bus home, grinning and covered in confetti. We shook out our coats and the stroller (child removed, of course), and were still finding confetti for months afterwards.

If you are visiting or living in Switzerland, I would highly recommend checking out one of the major Fasnacht festivals. Here’s a few links to learn more:

So that’s about it! Please go on to read another great World Blog Surf Day, by visiting the next blog, BBE’s Video Snapshots and his post about All Saints Day in Belgium from the eyes of a UK expat. If you are reading through the ring, and find the chain broken, here the link to the master list of participants of the third WBSD.

Also, many thanks to Karen, who is helping in today’s events for World Blog Surf Day. Karen is an American expat blogger last seen in Prague. The Wall Street Journal said, “Her blog makes a fun read for anyone looking for reassurance that change can be a wonderful thing–and also for anyone interested in visiting the Czech Republic.” You can check out her blog here: Empty Nest Expat.

Rushing towards Christmas?

Not just yet. This post is spurred by something I read in a friend’s blog today where she was grumbling that a local big supermarket already had Christmas trees and a few Christmas items up for sale. One summer in college I worked at a Hallmark store. I think most people know that every year they produce a certain number of Christmas ornaments, often continuing themes for years, and also producing ornaments based on popular movies and books. Some people are very enthusiastic about collecting them. I can’t remember ever buying one for myself, but we have several ones that have been gifted to us by family and friends over the years that we treasure.

Anywho… back to my original point. Almost as soon as I started working at the store, there was a buzz of excitement surrounding the ornaments. The new display was going up… in July! I was horrified, even at my young age. And I still don’t like it to this day that the commercialism of Christmas is pushed up so early by these big corporate stores overriding other holidays and stressing people out. OK, off my soapbox.

I am very happy to say that I’ve not seen an inkling of any Christmas decor anywhere in Switzerland yet. Halloween is only loosely celebrated here – probably brought by the number of expats living here. So there are a few displays of Halloween costumes and a bunch of fall decor type things for sale such as pumpkin-shaped crocks and wreaths made out of leaves. The excitement and wonder of the holiday season starts usually smack on December 1st, and continues on until Christmas Day. I’m looking forward to the amazing hand-crafted gifts that you can only find at the Christmas Markets. I want to get my steaming cup of Glühwein – hot mulled wine. And all the other delights that the markets have to offer. But I’m happy to wait for that until December, and enjoy what we have right now – a crisp cool fall.

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Adventures in German

I’m now in my second class of the study of the German language. I’m still pretty terrible at it, especially since I don’t have the discipline to fully immerse myself. I should be watching more German TV, and studying harder.

Tonight’s class started with a brief discussion of what symptoms you would have if you had a cold (i.e. cough, runny nose, etc.). The teacher wrote a number of terms on the board, some of which I understood. I jotted all of them down and on our class break, used my trusty Wörterbuch to translate the ones I’d missed.

The last word on the list was die Gliederschmerzen. This is one of those long German words that is easier translated when you break it apart. I already knew that “schmerzen” meant “pain” or “ache”. I leaned over to my favorite classmate, a fun blond Slovakian girl, and asked her if she knew what Gliederschmerzen meant. We both reached for our dictionaries (hers is obviously Slovakian/German). In my dictionary, the entry for “Glied” reads:

1. Limb, member

“Limb pain” seemed like an odd translation, so I kept reading to see if there was any further clarification.

2. penis, (male) member.

Wait, what? Penis? Really? Did the teacher pull a fast one? Did Gliederschmerzen really translate as “penis ache”?

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Mainau Island, Germany

A few weekends ago, we went to visit a good friend of ours who lives just across the border in Constance, Germany. It is only about a 45 minute train ride from Winterthur, and we can even take a direct train with no transfers.

We’d been to the city of Constance once before close to Christmas to see the spectacular Christmas market with our friends Stacy and Oliver. I’d always wanted to return to Constance, because it looked like such a pretty city, sitting on the shores of Lake Constance. While we didn’t really get to explore the city on this visit either, we got to check out some amazing gardens located on the Island of Mainau and the historic buildings. The island has a fascinating history, having been transferred between several different countries and families, and most recently owed by a Swedish Prince. It is mainly known for its expansive gardens, and it was pretty popular the day we were there.

We started by meeting up with Ayse, who is one of Heath’s coworkers, but a very good friend of ours as well. She’s even babysat Eddie on a few occasions. She helped us get our boat tickets, as we had decided to take the ferry there. You can also drive to a parking lot near the island on the mainland and take a footbridge across (the island isn’t very far out in the lake). We enjoyed the boat ride, and I hope that Heath and I might be able to take one of the dinner cruises sometime.

Ayse and Heath on the boat

Ayse and Heath on the boat

It was unfortunately a cloudy day for much of our visit, so a lot of my pictures didn’t come out all that well. The gardens were gorgeous. Thousands of plants, flowers, and trees, and even a small vineyard. We saw apples, plums, roses, and many other plants that I don’t know the name of.

A terraced part of the garden

Me and my guy!

Me and my guy!

There were horse-drawn carriage rides, a really neat miniature train set, an overly-crowded orchid-filled butterfly house, several huge playgrounds (one of which catering to really small kids like ours), and even a petting zoo:

Chasing goats in the petting zoo.

Chasing goats in the petting zoo.

We briefly toured the inside of several of the historic buildings, including a museum that had the wedding gown of one of the former residents of the island. I know all my costume nut friends would go ga-ga over the details of this gown, so I snapped a few pictures (more can be found on Flickr):

Embroidered Wedding Gown

Embroidered Wedding Gown

We took the footbridge off the island, and took a bus back to the city where we said good-bye to Asye and caught a train back home. I’d recommend the Island of Mainau to anyone, even if you have children. Just take your walking shoes!

To view a bunch more pictures of our visit to Mainau Island, click here.

To learn more about Mainau Island, Wikipedia has a great article in English here.

The official site for Mainau Island is here (German text only).

The Walls in the Mall…

…are like totally totally tall, for sure, dude.

Only members of my immediate family will get that joke. But I thought of it today when I ventured into a Swiss version of a shopping mall in Zurich with my friend Stacy today.

Most shopping can be found in shops in a city’s center. A bakery can be found across the way from a trendy clothing store; a chocolate shop is right next to a small grocery. All of the shops are entered from the street. The idea of an American-style shopping mall where most or all of the shops are entered from within a giant building is probably strange to most Swiss (and Europeans for that matter). Having spent most of my life living in one suburb or another, I’m quite familiar with the good, bad, and ugly malls in several cities in the US.

Today I had a rare baby-free afternoon, and when I met up with my pal, we decided to check out the new Sihlcity on the west side of Zurich. We arrived by tram from the opposite side of the city. The design of the mall is pretty modern. When you first arrive, there is an open-air courtyard-type area that separates the movie theatre from the main mall building. There’s a hotel on one side (with a SPA! You have no idea how tempted we were to skip the mall and just go to the spa!). And most of the other store fronts that face the open courtyard are restaurants.

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