AT: Lenzburg, Switzerland + Jugendfest

As you may recall from my Europe packing post, this summer I traveled to Switzerland and Germany.  For my inaugural “Away Things” post I thought I’d share some images and impressions of the charming  festival I attended in a small suburb of Zurich. Think Heidi meets The Hunger Games.  The Lenzburg Jugendfest was unlike anything I’d ever experienced.  Come see!

The primary purpose of my trip was to see our son Will who was wrapping up a six month internship at Porsche Engineering in Stuttgart (lucky guy!)  In planning the trip I discovered that Lenzburg, Switzerland—my great-great-grandmother’s home and the setting for the first part of the historical novel I’m working on–was only two hours away from Stuttgart.  A side-trip was in order.

I decided to time my visit around the annual Jugendfest (Youth Festival) celebration, hoping to get a sense of the town’s customs and costumes. My D.C.-based sister Michelle offered to join me and we met up in front of the central clock in Zurich’s main train station for the thirty minute ride out to Lenzburg.  Once there we took a short taxi ride over to the Hotel Krone which has been in operation since 1765.  Situated at the base of the hill below the schloss (castle) and a five minute walk from the old town, the location was ideal and the gummy bears on our pillows set the tone for the rest of the sweet and sometimes silly weekend.

From my research, I knew that the 400 year old Jugendfest celebration included a week of activities culminating with a parade of children dressed in white followed by a mock battle fought between teenage cadets and a group described online as “booty lusting irregulars” (?!) before ending in fireworks launched from the ramparts of the castle.  I thought it sounded ein bischen hokey.  But happily, it proved to be absolutely charming.

Michelle and I spent the day before the main events exploring the beautifully preserved schloss and its cheery formal gardens.

That afternoon we toured the town’s numerous fountains that had been decorated with flowers by local townspeople.  Our tour guides wore the city’s cornflower blue and white colors.

While strolling around we saw firemen stringing evergreen boughs and hanging flower bouquets causing some seasonal confusion. The whole town smelled like Christmas in the height of summer! In the main church where we enjoyed a dress rehearsal of the children’s concert (including an impassioned vocal performance of “Let It Go” and a spirited xylophone rendition of “It Don’t Mean A Thing if You Ain’t Got That Swing”) the floral displays were especially wonderful.

Marching bands and drum corps were everywhere.  An English-speaking woman standing near us for the evening band competition told us that though she and her husband had moved away from Lenzburg they try to come back every year for Jugendfest and their children and grandchildren all participate.  The local townspeople were so enthusiastic about every little detail.

Later that night Will drove over  from Stuttgart and the next morning chatted with more drummers outside our hotel before we headed over to the main square to see the children receive a ceremonial coin from the mayor and then parade with their teachers through the old town.

They were followed by the high-spirited teenage cadets wielding guns with flowers peeping out of the barrels and those “booty-lusting irregulars” which turned out to be adults dressed as marauders from around the globe.

The irregulars were decidedly unpolitically correct. But the adults enthusiastically playing these multicultural villains clearly had no problems with ethnic stereotypes.

After they paraded through town we all marched out to the fields to watch the battles that raged across the farmland.

Finally ending up at the local fairgrounds where a substantial replica of Schloss Lenzburg was burned to the ground.

That night we sat on the edge of one of the decorated fountains in front of our hotel and watched the children parade through the streets one more time–this time with beautiful paper lanterns–before fireworks sparkled above the schloss.

As advertized, the Lenzburg Jugendfest was the festiest of festivals! I almost hesitate to share it with you because I don’t want it overrun with visitors but my, oh my, it was magical and definitely worth attending if your travels take you nearby.

If you choose to go, the annual Lenzburg Jugendfest happens the week leading up to the second Friday of July but the maneuvers are only every other year.  Check here for further details and look for programs and other information at the tourist information office which is located right across from the Hotel Krone.   

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Kathryn Pritchett

writes about Things Elemental — where we find shelter, why we connect, what sustains us and how we strut our stuff.