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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

A Worshipful wet weekend in Wollishofen

A group of Worshipful Company of Actuaries liverymen and their spouses, led by its Master Chris Ide, recently made a trip to Zurich as guests of the Guild Wollishofen.

Members were invited to attend the Zurich Spring Festival, known as Sechseläuten, in April, which celebrates the end of the winter and the coming of spring.

Unfortunately, the Swiss hospitality on the first evening extended to replication of the British weather and the grand opening was marred by cold wind and persistent rain, a theme that continued through the weekend.

After an excellent dinner revived spirits, the itinerary for the rest of the weekend included a coach and boat tour of the city, a rousing dinner speech about the history of Belvoir Park, the Guild Hall of Zunft Wollishofen, from its master Jürg Dangel — a dark tale of skulduggery, sex and suicide — and a trip to the Rigi Mountain overlooking Lake Lucerne.

Events concluded with the Sechseläuten Parade, a procession of the 27 Guilds of Zurich, accompanied by members of the Worshipful Company, and culminated in the lighting of a 50-foot high funeral pyre, signifying the end of winter, which was finally achieved despite the ever-present rain.

The full first-person report of the Worshipful Company’s exploits can be found below:

“A group of Worshipful Company of Actuaries liverymen and their spouses led by its Master Chris Ide made a trip to Zurich as guests of the Guild Wollishofen. This Guild is one of the Guilds of Zurich and it takes its name from the Wollishofen area of Zurich. There is thus an affiliation with the Guilds or Livery Companies of the City of London, which though take their names from the various trades, crafts and professions.

“We were invited to attend the Zurich Spring Festival known as Sechseläuten, from 11th to 15th April, which celebrates the end of the winter and the coming of spring. Sechseläuten is a tradition that has three different antecedents:
1. The Zurich guilds that governed and influenced the fate of the city and its important political, military and commercial institutions for over 250 years;
2. Past guild trading regulations. In the summer the bell rang at 6 o’clock to signify the end of work; in the winter an hour earlier;
3. A pagan ritual of symbolically burning the winter away to welcome and celebrate the arrival of spring.

“It was an excellent weekend although those who flew from Heathrow’s newly notorious Terminal 5 set out with some trepidation! Fortunately only Past Master Frost lost any luggage but he was reunited with it before the day was out. Mind you we demonstrated actuarial caution by packing as much as possible into our hand luggage, in the case of the Clerk, all of it.

“We were billeted in a nice cosy hotel (Hotel Europe) well situated within easy walking distance of most of the functions we were due to attend.

“On the first evening we went to watch the opening of the Festival. Swiss hospitality is legendary and extended to replication of the British weather in case we felt homesick. The grand opening was marred by cold wind and persistent rain. What should have been enjoyed in the open was seen from inside a marquee. We had the opportunity to eat Swiss hot dogs, which comprised a 12-inch sausage and, separately, a bap to be bitten off alternately. There was a succession of speeches in German, which elicited periodic laughter. We learnt later that the humour was Teutonic, the first joke being, “You thought you’d have half an hour of speeches. There will only be 10 minutes of it.” A group of singers accompanied by accordion percussion and wind instruments then sang a succession of pleasing songs. This was followed by an excellent dinner.

“The next day we had a tour of the city by coach and boat. Zurich has only 300,000 inhabitants, less than half of Manchester but, the guide told us, it is one of the most diverse cities in the world; diverse not just in the Ken Livingston sense of ethnicity and sexuality but also in terms of scenery. We saw the offices of the big Swiss banks and insurers. We saw a red ‘castle’, which the guide said was extremely expensive and where our Master stayed for three months when he worked in Zurich. The highlight of the tour was an ancient church with coloured windows that portrayed Biblical stories.

“That evening we had a Livery Dinner in Belvoir Park, the Guild Hall of Zunft Wollishofen. Our Principal Guest was Jürg Dangel, its Master. The food and wine were excellent, as was the company. In his speech our Master joked that eight of us (i.e. the Past Masters) had brought our ex-mistresses with us. Jürg Dangel then gave us the history of Belvoir Park, a dark and sordid tale of skulduggery, murder, suicide, sex and mayhem with a mysterious Lydia figuring prominently. It could well have served as the plot/libretto for a Wagnerian opera, the only thing missing being incest.

“On Sunday, a bright and sunny day, we had an excellent trip to the Rigi Mountain, which that day was covered in fresh snow. It overlooks Lake Lucerne. We went by coach, cable car and train and later, on reaching the shores of the lake, we were met by a ferry which took us to Lucerne, a pretty, well preserved town whose patisseries had unexpectedly good takings that day.

“On Monday we attended the Sechseläuten Parade of the 27 Guilds of Zurich, the highlight of the weekend. Unfortunately the poor weather had returned. It was another day of persistent driving rain. The day started with a reception and lunch at Belvoir Park following which we saw a procession of delegates from various Guilds some in horse drawn carriages and some on foot, some old and some young, mostly lively but some suffering from the rain. Our own Master, looking suitably regal in his robes of office, took part in the Parade, as did the Clerk, David Johnson and our Wardens Andrew Benke and Adrian Waddingham.

“The rain and the cold weather sent many of us back to the hotel to watch the burning of “Winter” on television rather than stay outside. “Winter” was represented by a straw man placed upon a 50-foot high funeral pyre, which was set fire to with the help of explosives. The heavy rain resulted in a record 27 minutes for the task to be completed.

“The evening was rounded off with dinner at the hotel. Then the next day we returned to England after an enjoyable but rather rainy weekend.”