Unsupunnen Festival at Interlaken, Switzerland

For me and my wife, every visit to Switzerland has only one question repeating itself all the time not only when we are there but also after our return – ì Why canít we make Switzerland our permanent homeî. It is too beautiful to be true and every place you look at is straight out of a Picture Post Card / Vice Versa. I cannot but help narrating one experience which will amply highlight the character of the local populace. We were travelling in a local Bus and what we saw was an amazing. A 75 years+ old lady got up and offered her seat to a 80 years + lady. It says it all about the Swiss.

Interlaken

Interlaken

During this trip, we also visited Interlaken. Interlaken is approx 120 KMs ( by road) from Zurich; is part of the Canton Berne. It is located at 1,870 ft above sea level, has an area of only 4.4 km2 and a population of 5,389 only ( Dec 2009) including approx 25 % foreigners . German ( 85%), Portugese and Italian are spoken in Interlaken. It is well connected by Air, Train and Waterways. Interlaken is also the gate-way for the highest peak of Europe Jungfrau, (4,158 (13,642 ft). It is one of the oldest and most popular tourist resorts and is a paradise for skydiving, hang gliding, paragliding, skiing , trekking, water sports, zorbing, skiing and so on .

Jungfrau, (13,642 ft) - highest peak of Europe as seen from Interlaken .

Hullo India ( on the Main Street of Interlaken)

Luckily for us, a 3 day Festival called the ìUnsupunnen Festivalî was scheduled for the period of our stay. This festival is held once in 12 years and the Swiss from all over the Country i.e. 26 Cantons ( their Canton is equivalent of our State) participate. The Unspunnen is a celebration of Swiss folklore and the origins of this tradition goes back to the 13th Century. How-ever the first Official festival was held as Alpine Cowherds’ Festival in 1805 as an attempt to unite the City of Bern and the people from the mountainous area known as the Bernese Oberland. This 3 day festival remains a showcase for all the Cantons and a lot many individual and Inter Canton competitions are held during the day. Night time is ONE PARTY TIME for the whole town.

The Unspunnenfest Banner

The Unspunnenfest Banner

This Festival brings out the Best of the traditional and the contemporary of the Swiss. The only one Main Road is lined with the most colorful Canton wise Stalls with Ladies and the Gentlemen dressing up in their finest traditional Canton specific attire. The famous Lacework of Switzerland, Handicrafts, Curios, Farm produce, Wines, Cheese Bonanza ñ well its all there. In one of the stalls , one of the most interesting sightsí was to see 4 generations of Ladies ñ Great Grandmother, Grandmother, Mother and the Daughter ñ all furiously busy with the most delicate lacework.

Day Activities

The Day activities were fun. Traditional and Old World Charm individual / Inter Canton Competitions such as Stone Throwing,
Alpine Wrestling, Yodeling and Alphorn ( Alp- Horn) were held to name a few. .
Stone Throwing

One of the most famous traditions at the Unspunnen festival is the stone-throwing (Steinstossen) competition. The 1808 stone used for Stone throwing was stolen by members of the Belier Group (Jura separatists) from Unterseen Museum on Sunday June 3, 1984, and held as a “political hostage”. A new stone similar to the 1808 stone, also weighing 83.5 Kgs was found, and has been used in all competitions since then. This stone can currently be found in the counter hall of Interlaken UBS Bank.

Just for the record, the 1808 stone was mysteriously returned in 2000. However it was not used for the Competitions because of its reduction in weight. The 1808 stone was once again stolen on August 20, 2005 from a hotel in Interlaken. A small stone was left behind by the thieves bearing the emblem of Jura separatists. The French-speaking separatists did not claim responsibility this time, but did issue a statement in support of the theft. Its where-abouts remain unknown.

Set for the Stone throw

Set for the Stone throw

Stone airborne. Jungfrau (13,642 ft) in the backdrop

Stone airborne. Jungfrau (13,642 ft) in the backdrop

Alpine Wrestling
In Alpine wrestling (Schwingen), the contestants wear special shorts over their trousers. One hand grips the opponent’s belt (through a hole at the back) and the other grips the bottom of the shorts. The aim is to throw the opponent onto his back (with both shoulders touching the ground), without losing the grip on his shorts. Each bout lasts up to about 10 minutes. If neither succeeds during this time, it is a draw. Herdsmen wear blue shirts and other competitors wear white.
Alpine Wrestling in progress

An overview Alpine Wrestling

An overview Alpine Wrestling

Alpine Wrestling

Alpine Wrestling

Yodelling
The word “yodel” is derived from an old German word meaning to cry out with joy. It is a traditional form of singing and more often than not, it is about the mountains and local life, or melodies sung without words.

The Yodeling Competition

The Yodeling Competition

Flag Throwing
Flag throwing is also a part of the Celebrations. A lot of concentration and skill is required to swing, throw and catch the flags.

Flag Tossing

Flag Tossing

Flag Tossing

Flag Tossing

Flag Tossing

Alphorns
The Alphorns are wooden musical instruments originally used to send signals across the mountains and to call cattle. This National Instrument of Switzerland is more than 3 metres (10 feet) long.

Alphorn Blowing

Alphorn Blowing

Alphorn Blowing

National Costumes
Too see almost all the participants as well as the locals in their traditional Canton Specific attire is an unforgettable treat. Inspired by the drawings of the Swiss Artists, Traditional costumes were reintroduced in Switzerland during the 1920s. Swiss also have a National l Day for Traditional Costumes and every three years, they have a Federal Traditional Costume Festival.

With the participants in their Canton specific Costumes

With the participants in their Canton specific Costumes

The Choir and Dance Competitions
Come Sundown and with it starts another round of Festivities. Its BEER TIME. The beginning is with Choir singing and graduates on to Dancing Competitions.

The Choir Competition

The Choir Competition

The Dance Competition

The spectators from India

Night Time is PARTY TIME
Have you ever seen any town as a whole partying till the wee hours of every morning and continuing for 3 consecutive nights; night after night. A large number Bands are positioned all along on Streets belting the best of Swiss music and folklore.

The following photos say it all.

One of the many  Street Bands

One of the many Street Bands

 Another Street Band

Another Street Band

The  Lady Bartenders shaking a leg  at 3 a.m. in the morning

The Lady Bartenders shaking a leg at 3 a.m. in the morning

Cheers

Cheers

The Procession and The Grand Finale
On the final day of the Unspunnenfest , there is a grand procession through the streets of Interlaken in which the groups from all of the different cantons of Switzerland take part, portraying the traditions and characteristics of their regions.

Leading the Parade

Leading the Parade

A Hundred Bells and Cigars

A Hundred Bells and Cigars

All set for a Battle

All set for a Battle

The Swiss Icon

The Swiss Icon

and more

and more

of all shapes and kinds

of all shapes and kinds

and of all ages

and of all ages

Riot of colors

Riot of colors

The scene is : roadside traditional dancing in equally traditional attires, pubs brimming with revelers, Music blaring, Public dancing, Waitresses dancing, Waiters dancing, Cooks dancing and the whole world dancing. It was a mind boggling experience.

Note : Own inputs have been supplemented with facts, figures and photos from the Internet.

17 Comments

  • Sanand R says:

    Terrific scenic beauty but the last line stole the show and said it all.

  • Sandeep Gupta says:

    Mr Sanand,

    1. Really do not know as to what exactly are you trying to convey through your comment.

    2. Just for the record, out of the 30 photos that have been published, 12 photos are from my camera. The photos which relate to Interlaken(1), Banner, Stone throwing(2), Wrestling (2), Yodelling(1), Flag throwing( 3), Alphorn (1) and Procession (7) are from the Internet.

    2. One might agree that as a tourist you can not cover all the events. Hence, in case some facts, figures and photos are taken from the Internet to make the article more informative and it is so acknowledged in the post, one should not have a problem. This is a Travel Blog where-in we share and exchange our experiences. It is not a competition, nothing is being vied for.

    I would appreciate if you could clarify as to what you meant by ” but the last line stole the show and said it all” .

    Sandeep Gupta

  • ram dhall says:

    Thanks for sharing this awe-inspiring piece of writing on the Unsupunnen Festival, equally well supported by some scintilating pictures.

    Simply brilliant.

    Look forward to your next post.

  • Sandeep Gupta says:

    Many thanks.
    Sandeep.

  • vinaymusafir says:

    Very well narrated post, decorated with beautiful pics.
    i appreciate your efforts to make travelogue informative and factful, by adding information from other sources. Its right that one can’t cover the whole thing, to make the story complete with facts & information sometime needs others help. Well information is all about searching and sharing.
    Well Done. Truly inspirational.
    Cheers!

  • Sandeep Gupta says:

    You have definitely made my day.
    Thanks.
    Sandeep.

  • Nandan says:

    Wow. I wonder why they do it only once in 12 years. This needs to be done more often :-)

    Interesting tale around stone-stealing business, can make a good plot for a movie. I have never been to Swiss and somehow it always appears (in travel logs like this) as too good to be true.

    This is a well documented rich story and I am sure that it would be extremely useful for fellow Ghumakkars. My personal fav pic is the one with that tall black glass :-)

  • Sandeep Gupta says:

    Nandan,
    You are ever so thoughtful in your words. Grateful thanks.

    About the picture – what is appreciable? the Man or the Glass? or the background? I suppose it is the combination of allwhich you liked. Great Stout Beer it was. Doubly intoxicating; since, literally the whole town was dancing – simple AWESOME .

    Sandeep.

  • Virag Sharma says:

    Just wow. Pics says whole story.

  • Nandan says:

    Sir – To tell you the truth, on a Friday noon, it is the content in the glass being held by you :-) fancies me most. I hope to get some of it as the day progresses.

  • Its nice to see a board in Hindi in Switzerland :)

  • ashok sharma says:

    great photographs.good narration.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *