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Yesterday was a holiday. There were so many things we could do. We thought about going to Paris for the day, or maybe somewhere in Germany. Maybe stay closer to home and visit Schaffhausen, with its pretty old town and iconic Rhine Falls…

What we actually did, was go and watch a bunch of grown men hold onto one another’s shorts and try to flip each other like tortoises. Welcome to Schwingen, a national sport of Switzerland. I’m a bit unclear on the rules, but the idea seems to be to get your opponent on their back, with both shoulders on the floor, by twisting, pushing, wrestling, hugging or sitting on them. Each competitor wears a pair of breeches with a belt to help the other grip onto them and they employ all sorts of flips and trips to try to win.

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Regional and cantonal festivals are held outdoors in spring and summer. On a sunny day it’s a nice day out – and for a lot of visitors, looked a bit like an excuse to drink in the morning – but hey, it was a holiday :). There’s food, drinks, space to sit and chat, benches for watching the fighting and yodelling. Oh, and a cow, bull and horse to pet.

They’re not actually part of the entertainment, but the prizes. Winners can get anything from a blender to a giant bell or a prize bull. What they won’t get is money. The Swiss had an unfortunate history of selling themselves off as mercenaries, and it ended up with them being on both sides of a battle. After that, it was apparently forbidden for any Swiss to fight for money, so Schwingen, shooting and other combat-style sports have other sorts of prizes. You could, in theory, sell them (and the bulls from the national contests can be worth tens of thousands of pounds), but the winner’s* actual, genuine, take-home prize is a cow.

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It’s weird. But no more strange than some of our more eccentric UK traditions (cheese rolling, anyone?) It felt very Swiss, very communal, very family friendly – and fun.

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* Can Jungle Book fans please appreciate that the winner is referred to as the Schwingerkönig. The Swinger king. The King of the Swingers… Just saying…


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