Badenfahrt is a huge ten-day festival held only once every ten years. This year's is held from August 18th to 27th.
In Baden, a spa town in canton Aargau on the river Limmat, some 25km from Zurich. Normally a calm place with a population of around 19,000, at festival time its streets swell with around a million visitors over the ten days.
Baden's mineral hot springs have been well-known since they were discovered by the Romans. In the Middle Ages the town became fashionable as a cure-resort, its thermal waters attracting Swiss and foreign dignitaries, noblemen, artists and well-heeled holidaymakers from nearby Zurich.
During the time of protestant reformer Ulrich Zwingli – who pushed Zurich into adopting the Reformation in 1525 – Zurich residents saw Catholic Baden as a place to let their hair down and have fun. Unlike in puritanical Zurich, Baden was looser with its morals, allowing, for instance, men and women to bathe in the same pool. In its heyday Baden had two public baths and 30 private baths, which were known not only for their curative waters but as places to eat, drink and be merry.
Zurich and Baden were connected by rail in 1847 when Switzerland's first ever train line opened, making a Badenfahrt – literally, a trip to Baden – even easier. People flocked to the town to bathe in its restorative waters and have a jolly good time.
In 1923 Baden capitalized on its reputation as a party town to throw a festival, which organizers named Badenfahrt after the historically popular trip. Since then the festival has been held every ten years (with a smaller version in between, every five), taking over the city with parades, theatre, music and revelry.
In 2017 the Swiss federal culture office placed the Badenfahrt on its list of living traditions in Switzerland.
What's happening this year?
This year's Badenfahrt takes the theme ‘Versus' and aims to celebrate the city's contrasts and contradictions, for example the modern industrial city versus the historic Old Town.
Events are spread over a vast area centred around the Limmat river and divided into six zones, each with a different character. Three main stages will host music, dance, theatre, plus there's a fairground, workshops and events for kids and much more. A main spectacle, Universus, will be held most nights in the Kurpark, and promises to be a fantastical light, music and sound show attracting 800 spectators a night.
Central to the festival are the 100 food bars, each individually designed and operated by an association. Much effort and money goes into creating elaborate, colourful and fantastical places to scoff festival fare.
If you want to take your own Badenfahrt by visiting this year's festival, a one-day ticket costs 15 francs, or it's 45 francs for the whole ten days. The price includes free public transport within the city and surrounding area.
For more details (in German) visit badenfahrt.ch