• Deborah Kade

Unspunnen Day 4

I so enjoy looking out and seeing the Mönch and the Jungfrau. Last night, I had such a terrific view. I really like this picture!

The pictures under Travel Showcase have a mind of their own. Please be patient while I learn the program and get all the bugs worked out. I am finding I can get the blog "home" writings and a few included pictures published in a reasonable amount of time but it takes over an hour or more to download the Travel Showcase pictures. The Internet isn't working at all in the room so I will try publishing the Travel Showcase a day later. It beats sitting in the dark outside. I think the best reception for the Internet is at the outside table.

Today's featured event is the steinstossen. I have discussed the steinstossen for the last couple so you must be an expert on this by now.

Since the steinstossen doesn't start for a couple hours, I thought I would write a little more on the History of the Unspunnen.

Between 1798 and 1803, Switzerland was designated the "Helvetic Republic", with a system of government along French lines: town and country had equal status and the guilds no longer held a monopoly of power. The Bernese Oberland was an autonomous canton.

This politically difficult situation manifested itself in various coups d’état and conflicts between Unitarians (who wanted a unitary state) and Federalists. In an attempt to stabilize the state of affairs, Napoleon issued an Act of Mediation in 1803. This had severe consequences for the rural areas of the former city-cantons in particular: the Bernese Oberland lost its status as a canton and political weight again shifted markedly in favor of the urban population. It was thus understandable that there was discontent, especially in Bödeli, the rural region between Lake Thun and Lake Brienz.

The Spirit of Unspunnen

Given this tense situation, the government in Bern and its representatives in the Oberland did everything they could to prevent unrest and uprisings. Then came the idea of a joint festival aimed at promoting brotherhood among town and country dwellers.

"...only purpose is to revive the old, simple customs and joys of our fathers among ourselves and to ensure they continue; to establish new links of friendship between the various farming peoples of Helvetica; most importantly, however, to cultivate and nourish once again between the rural residents and the city residents the former mutual goodwill and gracious unity to which for centuries our fatherland has owed its strength, its glory and its good fortune.” Four citizens of Bern who all had comparatively good relationships with the Bernese Oberland were responsible for organizing the festival: Mayor Niklaus Friedrich von Mülinen, Chief Magistrate Friedrich Ludwig Thormann, historian Franz Sigmund Wagner and painter Franz Niklaus König.

The early Unspunnen Festivals

The first Unspunnenfest took place in 1805 and comprised a parade and competitions in singing, shooting, wrestling, boulder throwing and Alpine horn playing. The original idea was to repeat the festival every year. However, the next festival was not held until three years later, in August 1808. Although the events were a huge success in terms of visitor numbers (the festival in 1808 was attended by more than 5,000 people), they did not achieve their founders’ political aims. The population of the Bödeli region was not to be appeased and, just a few years after the second Unspunnenfest, unrest broke out.

This year, they hope to attract more than 400,000 people over the course of the festival.

There is a lady and her husband from Basel whom booked a room for themselves and four other friends two years ago. Back in 2006, the closest room they could find was in Meiringen which is quite a distance away. Parking is very limited in Interlaken so they would park at a friend's house in Bönigen and take the bus to Interlaken.

Unspunnen and tourism

The Unspunnen festivals met with a huge response – and not just in Switzerland. This was the result not only of extensive advertising before the events (the first of their kind), but also the reports issued afterwards. Well-known artists such as Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun, Franz Niklaus König and Johannes Stähli captured their Unspunnen experiences in idyllic paintings and reproduced them for distribution. Authors of travel guides and writers such as Madame Germaine de Staël wrote about the Unspunnenfest, which attracted visitors from far and wide who wanted to see the festival with their own eyes. Therefore, it is no exaggeration to claim that the Unspunnen festival marks the start of tourism in the Bödeli region and throughout the Bernese Oberland.

The next Unspunnenfest did not take place until June 1905, one hundred years later, to "reinvigorate the season". However, the tourist boom triggered by the early festivals came to an abrupt end with the two World Wars. Although resourceful hoteliers and innkeepers tried to re-establish the Unspunnenfest in 1925/26, the next event was not held until 1946 – when, still overshadowed by the war years, it served as a demonstration of allegiance to Switzerland, homeland and unity. The festivals in 1955 and 1968 were marked by subtle efforts at modernization: there was a demand for new songs, updated displays and artistic interpretations. During the 1980s and 90s, the Unspunnenfest cemented its status as a major media event: 260 media representatives attended the festival in 1981, and that figure had grown to more than 300 by 1993, all reporting on the extraordinary folklore gathering. A befitting celebration marking the 200th anniversary of the festival was due to take place in 2005. However, owing to catastrophic floods in many areas of the country, the festival was postponed for a year, being held instead in 2006 – with twice as many reasons for a joyful celebration.

Here are some interesting facts:

The best rifleman at the first Unspunnenfest in 1805, Johann Kaspar Beugger from Aarmühle, was blind in one eye

On the Sunday of the 1905 festival, local bakers reported that their bread supplies had run out

The gun salute that was due to herald the start of the parade in 1946 did not take place. A mouse had chewed through the fuse

The participants at the festival in 1968 competed not just against one another but also against a horrendous plague of wasps

Dr. Bendicht Horn, more used to treating humans than animals, had a special patient during the 1981 Unspunnenfest: away from the main crowds, he put a plaster cast on a deer’s leg. The animal was frightened by the huge number of people and had jumped over a crag and broken its leg

This morning, our friend Ferosa was cleaning the next door neighbor's house. I got many hugs while she told me what has happened to her and her husband over the past year. Later on in the day, I met her again while I was walking back to Sunny Days.

I thought today was the important steinstossen. No! I have to wait a couple more days. Today was a friendly competition between three of the members of Interlaken's club.

There were a few speeches from the head of the Unspunnen, the head of the steinstossen club, etc.

This man is the head of the Unspunnen committee.

Three men gave a demonstration of the techniques you use with the different size rocks.

The rock:

People at the steinstossen event were very vocal. The person throwing the stone is introduced to a round of applause First, the thrower wipes off the stone.

Then, the man lifts it to his waist and then his chest.

The audience starts clapping softly and slowly. Next, the stone is lifted overhead.

As the thrower walks toward the "toss line" (I made up that description), the clapping gets louder and faster. Then the rock is thrown.

The referees come in to measure. They take their time measuring. Every little inch matters.

The distance is given to the announcer. There are cheers, clapping, silence, etc. when the distance is announced. After the stone is tossed and the distance measured, the thrower has to put the stone on a cart and roll it to the starting point for the next competitor.

Then, I had the tender Hallmark moment with the thrower in the blue shirt and his son.

After the little competition among the Interlaken men, people from the audience were allowed to try their hand at throwing a very light fake rock.

The man in the blue shirt wanted to have his son throw the light stone. It might have been light for an adult but it was very heavy for his son. The son was hesitant. After I showed him the pictures of his father, he decided to let his father show him what to do. The boy thought I would take his picture, too. The man's wife and daughter were sitting next to me. I wish I had captured their smiles as well.

The smile on the boy's face................. Priceless!!!!

Michael, I have lens envy. Can you just imagine my smile if......................

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