Let's get Swiss: Seeländisches Schwingfest
It's simple to understand really: two opponents stand on a pile of sawdust, grab each other's potato-sack shorts and try to pin their opponent's shoulders to the ground within six minutes. The first Schwinger to do so while holding their opponent's shorts with at least one hand wins the round and is awarded a score from the judges based on the style and difficulty level of the winning manoeuvre.
Each participant wrestles six opponents with the top two wrestlers as of the fifth round facing off in a "Schlussgang" (last round). Opponents are paired off according to the judges. There are no weight classes...so if you're paired with Christian Stucki, well, good luck to you!
D surprised me with tickets to the Seeländisches Schwingfest last Sunday. These competitions just drip of traditional Swissness, so you can imagine how excited I was to be there. All of Swiss culture's wonderful traditions and characteristics come out at a Schwingfest and there is nothing I didn't love about being there.
You've got huge guys (butchers, farmers, carpenters, cheese makers) throwing each other around on piles of sawdust wearing shorts made of the same material as potato sacks. Yodellers, flag throwers and Alphorn players make their way around the crowds, stopping every once in a while to entertain spectators. Each judge wears a tracht.
When a round is complete, the winning Schwinger helps the loser up and brushes the sawdust off his back. Participants wear sweatpants and traditional Swiss farmer's shirts (I bought one and felt proud to be wearing the same outfit as the old man next to me) - no sponsorship of any athlete is visible in the competition area.
First prize is a huge, gorgeous bull! Second through fifth prize are award-winning cows and horses (they can be traded in for money but I like the idea of Schwingers winning not a trophy but livestock and a big cowbell). From fifth place on, Schwingers get to select a prize donated by sponsors and local companies. We're not talking big, golden watches or luxury stuff here folks. Hand-carved wooden chairs and tables, John Deer lawnmowers, coffee machines...in the end I think all the participants get a prize. They get to pick what they want depending on the final results. Glory isn't any less emotional or important than any other sport...after all, triumph only comes to the biggest, strongest men and there are few worthy of a massive bull decorated with a flower garland.
The 2014 Seeländisches Schwingfest was particularly exciting because we had top Schwinger schtars on the sawdust - Christian Stucki, Florian Gnägi, 2013 Schwingerkönig Matthias Sempach and 2010 Schwingerkönig Kilian Wenger! The final round saw crowd favourite Stucki against 2010's national Schwingfest winner Wenger. Unfortunately, it was a tie and both dropped quite a few spots in the rankings.
And we sat on little benches in the grass, a family in front of us and old men with pipes behind us, commenting on the rounds and calling the players by nicknames as if they watched them as boys playing around in the wheat fields years before. We snacked on the bread and Swiss cheese we brought with us and sipped on Apfel Schorle.
Schwinging has been untouched by the money and commercialisation that drowns other sports. Of course, Schwinging wouldn't work in any other country...it's just too Swiss. But that's what makes it so nice...it's something you only have the honour of enjoying if you're here. The ultimate cultural experience, from 6.45 a.m. to 5 p.m. And with a six-franc bratwurst to boot, it doesn't get much more Swiss than that.
Potato sacks? No, Schwinger shorts! (A family-friendly sport, these go OVER the pants...)
Schlussgang - Stucki vs. Wenger
Sempach brushes sawdust off his opponents's (the loser's) back