The History of Schützenfest in Switzerland

The Eidgenössische Schützenfest (Federal Shooting Festival), is one of the most important national events of the modern federal state and modern democracy in Switzerland. As a "Schützenfest", it played a key role in the establishment of the Swiss will-nation, and is still important for their cohesion. Its traditional roots are closely linked to the Old Confederation and its alliances and sovereignty. Today, shooting is an essential part of Swiss Army conscription.

Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages, many towns had to find ways to defend themselves from gangs of marauders. For this reason, clubs and associations were founded, comparable to militias; these paramilitary associations were sanctioned for the first time in the Law for the Defensive Constitution of the Towns by King Henry I, and officially integrated into the towns' defence plans. Accompanying the military exercises and physical examinations of the towns' contingents, festivities were held combined with festive processions.

Participants from other parishes and at times even the feudal heads of state were also invited to these Schützenhöfe (Marksmen Court). However, the self-confident spirit of the townsfolk that marked these festivities was not always regarded positively by the authorities. For this reason, different traditions developed in different regions. The military significance lessened over the course of the centuries and became meaningless with the creation of regular troops and garrisons for national defence. The Schützenfests however continued in the form of a regional patriotic tradition.

Old Swiss Confederacy

Schützenfests played a central role in the Old Swiss Confederacy, during the 15th century, participants shooting the crossbow, contributing significantly to the coherence between the individual cantons. The Schweizerischer Schützenverein SSV (after fusion with the formerly independent Schweizerischer Sportschützenverband SSSV and Schweizerischer Arbeiterschützen-Bund SASB), is a shooting association in Switzerland founded in 1824, during the Swiss Restoration, in the wake of the collapse of the Helvetic Republic seen to return to the martial prowess of the Old Swiss Confederacy. The Schützenfest of 1849 in Aarau figures prominently in Gottfried Kellers 'Das Fähnlein der sieben Aufrechten' (The Flag of the Seven Uprisings), where Keller portrays the shooting clubs as vital for the preservation of direct democracy in the young Swiss federal state.

Modern Era

Since 1824, the Swiss Eidgenössische Schützenfest (Federal Shooting Festival) is organised by the SSV and counts 50,000 marksmen during the 4 weeks. See gallery below for images and a YouTube clip from the last Schützenfest in Wallis in 2015. Today, the SSV has about 133,000 members, including about 60,825 licensed members. The next Swiss Eidgenössische Schützenfest will take place in Luzern from June-July in 2020.

Schützenfest in Australia

In 1836-38, South Australia experienced a large migration of Germans, predominantly from Lutheran religion. In 1853, the Shooting Society was established and in 1861, the Shooting Party was established. In 1865, the German Club closed and with its closure, a picnic was organised in St Peters, Adelaide. The main activity of the picnic was shooting. Some 5,000 Adelaideans attended the picnic. The German Club of South Australia has since been reinstated.

Prior to the outbreak of World War I, numerous Schützenfests were held around Adelaide areas by the German Association, such as in Walkerville, Lobethal and Barossa Valley.

The festival was reinstated after World War II. It was held for many years in Hahndorf but is now held in the western Parklands. It is still a highly popular festival with the attendance being around 20,000 and festivities involve German food, beverages, dances and music. A shooting competition also occurs. See gallery below for images at the recent Schützenfest in South Australia.

Eidgenössische Schützenfest in Sydney

The Swiss Small Bore Rifle Club and the SCNSW are proud to host a debut Eidgenössische Schützenfest in Manly Vale, Sydney. Join us for a unique and traditional Swiss experience, and rekindle your memories of army conscription days. The festival will feature target shooting practice and games such as Seilziehen (Tug-of-War) and Sack Gumpen (Potato Sack Race), Spatz (Swiss Army Beef Stew) and hot chocolate.

To view more information about this event, and how to participate, please view our Events tab.

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