Naked artists cause stir with Zurich street performances

Downtown Zurich at 1pm on a bright day in late summer: bankers on lunch break, tourists, school children…and a woman stripping out of her clothes until she is naked.

Naked artists cause stir with Zurich street performances
Artist Alina Kopytsa performs during the second edition of the "Body and Freedom Festival" in Zurich. Photo: AFP

Performance artist Katharina Vogel then slowly begins to move about as passers-by wonder try and work out what is going on.

That was the unusual scene confronting people on Zurich’s Rathausbrücke bridge on Thursday afternoon as Switzerland’s second-ever Body and Freedom Festival got underway.

Alina Kopytsa strips on Zurich's Rathausbrücke bridge. Photo: AFP

The art event, which runs until Sunday, features naked performances in public by 18 artists from around Europe during the day while the evenings are given over to so-called Naked Talks.

The brainchild of Biel artist Thomas Zollinger, the festival is about exploring ways the unclothed body can be used as an artistic tool in public spaces.

The naked performances, lasting up to an hour, are also designed to get people thinking about nakedness and the divide between the public and private sphere.

Artists Sascha Dickov (left) and Mischa Badasyan were among the performers on Thursday. Photo: AFP

Onlookers on Thursday were unsure what to make of the whole affair.

“I just find it barbaric. Lots of families with children cross this bridge. Kids learn what sexuality is at school. That’s why you don’t really need people walking around naked on the bridge,” a member of staff at one local fashion boutique was quoted as saying by the Blick newspaper.

Pensioner Bernhard Furrer admitted to Zurich daily Tages Anzeiger he was a fan of both art and naked skin. He had grown up a prude but his attitude had changed over time.

He said, however, the performance had been a little slow for his taste.

Lithuanian artist Orinta Pranaityte is photographed while performing in Zurich on Thursday. Photo: AFP

But two young women from the city said this slow pace was an essential part of the experience as it allowed them to really engage with what was going on.

Another 18-year-old echoed this sentiment. But she said “all the men with their cameras was kind of disgusting” – a reference to the many smartphones and other cameras being bandied about by male onlookers.

Read also: Naked performers takes to Swiss city's streets

For members


Five things that will surprise you about living in Switzerland

Some aspects of Swiss life, rules, and practices may be surprising — or even shocking — to new arrivals from more conservative or less regimented countries.

Five things that will surprise you about living in Switzerland
Unless you live alone on top of a mountain, you shouldn't flush your toilet at night. Photo by AFP

Taxpayer-funded prostitution

The ’world’s oldest profession’ is not only perfectly legal and considered as a ‘regular’ service industry, but pubilc funds are sometimes used to pay for sex workers’ comfort and safety.

For instance, in a 2012 referendum, 52 percent of Zurich voters approved the municipal plan to, um, erect 25 ‘sex boxes’ — basically, garage-like structures — where the city’s prostitutes could ply their trade in private, away from downtown’s gritty areas.

The boxes are under 24-hour surveillance, have a social worker on site, and include a laundry, shower and café.

The sex boxes are financed by taxpayers’ money. Photo by AFP

Total cost of the project was $2 million to build the structure, and another $800,000 was earmarked for annual operation costs — expenses that voters apparently thought made a lot of street sense.


Walking (or perhaps riding a bicycle or e-scooter) in the buff is also legal in Switzerland, as it is considered  an important element of ‘personal freedom’.

While Swiss …penal code does not expressly say public nudity should be practiced, it does not prohibit it either. It only bans ‘public indecency’.

After some people in the canton Appenzell complained that a hiker with no clothes on walked past a family with small children and a Christian rehabilitation centre,  a court ruled that cantons can ban public nudity, but few did.

The dignity of plants

Before you pick a flower on an Alpine meadow, think twice.

There’s actually a regulation called “The dignity of living things with regard to plants”. 

Although the law is written in a ‘legalese’, difficult to understand language, one of its articles clearly states that “decapitation of wild flowers at the roadside without rational reason” is strictly forbidden.

This applies to all humans passing by the flower, whether naked or clothed.

If you pick this flower for no valid reason, you are breaking the law. Photo by AFP

READ MORE: Five Swiss laws that foreign residents are bound to break 

You must have buddy for your pet

The Swiss Animal Protection Act says that small domestic animals like rabbits, hamsters and guinea pigs tend to get lonely without a companion, so they must be kept in pairs.

This law is included in Switzerland’s Constitution, so it is not a joke.

In fact, the Swiss are so serious about animal welfare (along with plant welfare) that the canton of Basel may actually launch a referendum granting “fundamental rights to life for non-human primates”. (No word about rights for human primates). 

For animal lovers, this vote is no monkey business.

Quiet in the bathroom!

This is not a law but rather a more or less common practice among tenants in Swiss apartments.

To be a good and considerate neighbour in Switzerland means not flushing your toilet after 10 PM. This may relate to all kinds of noises being forbidden after 10.

Of course, much depends on how thin your walls are, how often you use the loo at night, and how finicky your neighbours are.