7 Fun Facts About Knabenschiessen

August 26, 2022
Author Nicolas Gremion


Every second weekend of September, Zürich holds Knabenschiessen—one of Switzerland’s oldest and largest festivals—drawing and firing up crowds from near and far.


Knabenschiessen is an annual public event aimed for challenge and cheer, and it happens in Albisgütli at the foot of the good old Uetliberg. The festivity centers on a shooting competition for teenagers, although it offers a range of activities for the adults and the younger kids who cannot join the contest.


Here are 7 fun facts about Knabenschiessen:



#1- Knabenschiessen is a tradition that dates back centuries.


Knabenschiessen officially began in 1899 to inspire teenage male citizens to volunteer in the Swiss army. However, the showdown of marksmanship among young Swiss men took root in the shooting event that had been going on since the mid-1600s to hone the Swiss boys’ military skills.


Schützengesellschaft (or Zürich Rifle Association) is responsible for organizing the present-day contest.


[Image Credit: Paebi]



#2- Formerly an all-boys’ thing, Knabenschiessen is now inclusive.


The term Knabenschiessen or “boy shooting” was coined with competition-worthy young males in mind. The top-notcher would be known as Schützenkönig or “King of Marksmen.”


During its first 102 years, Knabenschiessen was held exclusively for young males. But due to the decreasing number of boy participants—and perhaps also owing to the increasing voice of girls in society—the shooting competition began embracing teenage females in 1991, the year when the Swiss Confederation marked its 700th anniversary.


It was in 1997 that the first-ever lady victor emerged: 15-year-old Rahel Goldschmid, who would for a year reign as Schützenkönigin (or “Queen of Markspeople,” if you will).


The official tournament Website features the Knabenschiessen Hall of Fame, plus interviews with some of the long-ago winners, including Schützenkönige and Schützenköniginnen Erwin Bühler (1946), Hans Schmalz (1963), Erich Kern (1967), Rahel Goldschmid (1997), and Milena Brennwald (2014).



#3- Thousands of teenagers vie for the top prize.


Some 5,000 boys and girls aged 13 to 17 years old, individually or in groups, have been participating annually in recent years. Only those who reside or study in the canton of Zürich can join, which can be frustrating for the others, but that is what tradition dictates.


Being part of the fiery excitement only takes courage and enthusiasm—and, maybe, a bit of practice. The targets are digital, so the contestants and spectators can almost instantly check the results. The fee is just upwards of CHF10, and it includes a food voucher. The registration form, showdown mechanics, and shooting regulations appear here.



#4- A gamut of the donated prizes await the winners.


Knabenschiessen brings out the sense of community in the canton’s population. It happens out of the graciousness of volunteers across Zürich who pool resources to make the occasion awesome, amazing, and truly memorable.


Most of the prizes come from benefactors. The top 2022 sponsors include the Zürcher Kantonalbank that takes care of the CHF5,000 award to the year’s Schützenkönig or Schützenkönigin, Weggen guild that provides the “Kettelithaler,” and the Corps Consulaire de Zurich that offers a pewter can.


The top-notcher, along with ten (10) other participants, will also get to visit the Swiss army and board the Confederation’s armed forces’ “Super Puma” helicopter for a sightseeing flight. Meanwhile, the best shooters of eligible age groups receive medals from the Zürich city council, on top of CHF500 from Zürcher Kantonalbank.


There are prizes for individuals, including scouts and members of youth music groups, as well as classes that win collectively.



#5- Schools are closed, but shops are open.


The festivity kicks off on the second Saturday of September, when the first shot of the contest is fired, and it runs for three days. The Monday that concludes this long weekend is rest and recreation at its best, at least for the youth, because the schools across Zürich are closed…and the shops in the canton are open to double the fun!


Parents of school-aged kids usually treat Knabenschiessen Monday as a non-working holiday, so the family can have more time to go around.



#6- Hundreds of thousands of people flock to Knabenschiessen yearly.


Knabenschiessen has evolved into Zürich’s biggest and most-attended annual folk festivals and one of Switzerland’s biggest celebrations. It has been drawing at least 700,000 visitors from various parts of the world in recent years, except in 2020 when Knabenschiessen was canceled in the wake of the coronavirus disease 2019 (or COVID-19) pandemic.


To get to Albisgütli where the action is, it is best to take public transportation as parking can be a problem. From the nearest stop, about one kilometer’s worth of uphill walk will be necessary to reach the competition hall and the carnival.



#7- With Knabenschiessen comes Chilbi.


The shooting competition in modern-day Knabenschiessen is only a part of the vibrant festival. More than the contest, there is Chilbi, a fantastic funfair featuring colorful parades, amusement rides, food and beverage stands, a market, and great music.


Adults and kids who do not take part in the marksmanship tournament will have the time of their lives amid cotton candy, Swiss raclette, and other gastronomic delights. They can also have fun on the carousel, Ferris wheel, and other carnival rides.


If you are new in Zürich and wonder how your family can enjoy these September festivities without looking, touching, or hearing the competition rifles, know that Knabenschiessen provides the perfect setting where you and your kids will get lots of entertainment and have a chock-full of memories to take home.



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