Travels & Traditions: The Swiss Mitteland - #313

MAN: The problem is not about his interesting points.

MAN: But you can't blame me for jumping to the conclusions I did. He looks like ...

BURT WOLF: He was the greatest detective who never lived, and for over a hundred years, millions of fans have followed his adventures in magazines, books and some of the most successful mystery films ever made.

SHERLOCK HOLMES: This is Sherlock Holmes. I want to speak to Sir Reginald Bailey, please.

MAN: Reginald Bailey?

SHERLOCK HOLMES: Elementary, my dear Watson. In the first place, he couldn’t put handcuffs on Colonel Moran, so I had to do it myself. And in the second place, Inspector McDonald during a fight was more a hindrance than help, which is not characteristic of a real policeman.

WATSON: Amazing, Holmes. Uncovering such a fiendish plot with so little evidence.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Sherlock Holmes was created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the 1880s. Conan Doyle was a doctor, but his early practice was so small that he had lots of time to write, and eventually became one of England's greatest authors. In over 60 books, Sherlock Holmes battled evil, which often appeared in the form of Professor James Moriarty, the greatest of the master criminals. And it was here in Switzerland, at the Reichenbach Falls, where Professor Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes met their end.

BURT WOLF: Conan Doyle described the Falls as a torrent, swollen by the melting snow, plunging into a tremendous abyss from which the spray rolls up like the smoke from a burning house. That star marks the spot where the two men wrestled, slipped and fell to their deaths.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: There are a number of theories as to why Conan Doyle killed off his most successful character. Conan Doyle loved Switzerland, and he came here on a hiking tour with his wife. In the middle of the tour she was diagnosed with tuberculosis. The first theory holds that he killed off Holmes so he could stop writing and would have more time to take care of his wife. The second theory is that he killed off Holmes to punish himself for not having made the diagnosis before they left England.

BURT WOLF: The Falls have become a shrine for Sherlock Holmes’ fans. Each year, thousands of visitors ride the restored rack railway that travels along the same path that was used by Holmes and Moriarty, at least on the way up. At the base of the Falls is the town of Meiringen, which has made Sherlock Holmes into an industry. The place is packed with signs commemorating his exploits. There are 250 societies devoted to the study of Sherlock Holmes, with over 80 thousand registered members, and almost all of them feel the need to come here as often as they can. In the basement of what was once the town's English Church is the Sherlock Holmes Museum.

BURT WOLF: It contains a precise replica of the living room that Holmes and Dr. Watson shared. The audiotape does a good job of explaining what it is you're looking at.

ANNOUNCER: The wallpaper, which was Mrs. Hudson’s choice, and can not be construed from either text or original illustrations, was available in 1895 from Willems & Company Shop, just around the corner in Marylebone High Street. It's a sensible choice for the room of two notoriously heavy smokers. Holmes ponderous common place books, in which he kept his index cuttings and case notes, which many a criminal would have been glad to destroy, line the shelves above. Between the windows, the trophy of arms displays mementoes brought back by Watson from his ill-fated service in the Second Afghan War. Two jezails, the Afghan form of muzzle-loading musket, which caused his wounds at the Battle of Maiwand, and premature retirement from the Army, the Khyber knives at the top, and the other weapons all return from that campaign in British soldiers’ kit bags.

The mantle piece over the fireplace follows the Victorian practice of putting a cheap softwood board on the mantle shelf, and decorating it with the remnants left over from the window curtains and trimmings. So Holmes apparently barbaric act of spiking a jack knife into the very center of it, and skewering his unanswered correspondence to it caused no lasting damage. On the right hand side of the fireplace is the Persian slipper where Holmes kept his tobacco. On the hearth lies the slightly bent poker of the speckled band, and in front of it the bear skin hearth rug, upon which Thornycroft Huxtable collapsed dramatically during the Case of the Priory School.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Sherlock Holmes spent his life and met his death fighting against evil, a subject of particular interest to the Swiss. Their own national hero, William Tell, was right up there with Holmes when it came to fighting the bad guys. Now Holmes specialized in the individual criminal, whereas Tell dealt primarily with agents of non-democratic governments.

BURT WOLF: The Swiss love majority rule, and they've made it a part of their culture for over 500 years. Democracy in Switzerland starts in the smallest town and works its way up or down, depending on your view, to the federal level. This is the district of Appenzell. Election day begins with the regions' representatives marching through the streets. They move along slowly so everyone can get a good look at the government and see in which direction it's going.

BURT WOLF: When the officials and the citizens reach the town square, the issue at hand is read to the public. People have been talking about the vote for months, and just to make sure that it's understood there is one last explanation of the points in question.

BURT WOLF: Then a vote is called for. If the number of hands going up clearly indicates the community's preference, the result is announced and they move to the next item on the agenda. If things are not obvious, they will make a person by person count.

BURT WOLF: Switzerland's Parliament building was put up in 1896, built exclusively with Swiss materials, and presents the work of Swiss artists and craftsmen. Parliament elects a federal council of seven members, and each year a different member becomes federal president.

BURT WOLF: Officially the post has no special powers or privileges, but it sure looks great on your resume. For me, the most interesting aspect of Swiss democracy is a rule that allows the citizens to propose legislation of their own, or block legislation already approved by Parliament. Anyone who gathers a hundred thousand signatures to support a particular initiative gets a nationwide vote on the issue. In recent years, voters have rejected a cap on military spending, but accepted the protection of marshlands. It only takes 50 thousand signatures to challenge a piece of legislation that has been passed, but you've got to make that challenge within a hundred days of the official publication of the law. Great stuff, power to the people.

BURT WOLF: Tours of Parliament are given to the public, and I took mine with Elizabeth Thurlemann.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: That’s quite a painting.

ELIZABETH THURLEMANN ON CAMERA: Yes, that's where Switzerland was founded.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: There’s the Swiss Army Knife factory.

ELIZABETH THURLEMANN ON CAMERA: That's right. That's Brunen Schwyz, the little town on the back there, which gave the name to Switzerland. The angel, that's the proof that all ladies are angels.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Aha. It sits in the cloud, you wouldn't even notice it if you didn't point it out ...

ELIZABETH THURLEMANN ON CAMERA: In the clouds, That’s right. Yes. Can you see that fish? The painter was Charles Giron, and he finished the painting on the first of April.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: April Fool's Day.

ELIZABETH THURLEMANN ON CAMERA: April Fool's Day. And in French, you call an April joke, you call it an April fish. Un poisson d’avril. That's why he made that fish on that rock over there.



BURT WOLF: In addition to their government responsibilities, the members of Parliament have a busy schedule of extracurricular activities. There's a cooking club, a group of singing senators, and a sky diving team.

BURT WOLF: This part of Switzerland is a center for traditional Swiss sports, and this sport is called hornussen. It grew out of an ancient Roman war game where soldiers practiced their skill at hitting hot missiles at the enemy. During the 1500s, Swiss farmers turned it into a game, it's played on a field, or flat meadow. First thing you do is get the cows out of the way. Then you take a piece of clay and place it at the end of a curved metal track, called a bock. A disc, a little smaller than a hockey puck, called a hornuss, is stuck on top of the clay. The traf, which is a ten foot long flexible rod, with a cork handle and a compressed wooden cylinder at the end, is swung back and then forward in a golf-like motion. The objective being to hit the disc as hard and as far as you can.

BURT WOLF: Of course, the force of the traf coming off the bock and impacting on your hornuss is important, but it's not everything.

BURT WOLF: Out in the field, which was recently filled with cows, are members of the opposing team, who while being very careful where they step, use paddles known as schindelen, to stop your hornuss before it hits the ground. If it does hit the ground, it's a nummer, ahh, and the fielding team gets a penalty point.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Ready out there?

MAN: Yo!

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Oh, wow. Back...Back ... no, you're going the wrong way.

BURT WOLF: Each player gets two strokes per round, and the lowest number of points wins. The game takes about three and a half hours, but my lawyer says I can get time off for good behavior. And I think I'll use that time to make a little cheese. Professional Swiss cheese makers produce hundreds of different cheeses, and much of their finest work is done in the region known as Emmental. Emmental is also the name that the Swiss use for what most Americans call Swiss cheese.

BURT WOLF: If you'd like to see what Swiss cheese making was like in the past, you can stop into the Affoltern Dairy in Emmental and take a look.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: You can even make your own cheese. You have to make a reservation in advance, and you'll pay about 25 dollars to join a group of ten cheese makers. Of course, you could have your own group, assuming you know nine other people who want to make cheese.

BURT WOLF: A professional cheese maker guides you through the process. Fresh milk is heated in a copper vat. An enzyme called rennet, which comes from a cow's stomach, is stirred in. The original equipment for stirring was a small pine tree, with its branches turned back. The rennet makes the milk separate into solid curds and liquid whey. The solid curd is broken up into small pieces, which helps the whey separate. Cheesecloth, attached to a flexible frame, is lowered into the vat and drawn along the bottom to scoop out the curds. The curds go into a mold where more of the whey drains away.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: And now you have come to the critical moment for the amateur cheese maker. Are you going to leave the cheese you made with the cheese master, who will keep it in a brine solution for two days, and then age it for two or three months, and eventually mail it to you, or are you going to forget about the cheese that you made, and take home a piece of the real Emmental. You know I'm not getting any younger, and I have questions about the mail. So I'm taking the real cheese.

BURT WOLF: The Swiss work hard at protecting and honoring their rural history. The Ballenberg Open Air Museum is a good example. A small valley is being used to preserve about a hundred classic buildings that have been brought here from all over the country. Farm animals, historical gardens and fields surround the buildings. In many cases, the animals and plants are considered endangered species, and can only be found here in Ballenberg. Where else could you see a grazing woolen-coated pig?

BURT WOLF: This is a typical farmhouse from the area around Bern. The district that it comes from is famous for its high quality sandstone, and farmers use as much of it as they can afford. The guy who built this house used sandstone for the cellar vaulting and the back of the first floor. The rest of the house, however, was made of wood and painted gray to look like sandstone. The top floor windows are also just paint, there are no rooms behind them. Specific realities were not important, it was the overall impression that counted. The inside is also set up to give the feeling of dignified prosperity. Three parlors leading into each other--totally impractical for daily use. The plan for this house was determined more by the desire to create an impression than by any rational considerations.

Across from the main house is the treasure house. This was the place where the farmer kept the reserves that would ensure his survival if the main house was destroyed by fire. It was always built up from the prevailing wind, and it had to be visible from the main house. If you're lucky enough to have a treasure, you’d better keep an eye on it.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: And when the youngest son was old enough to take over the farm, the father gave it to him. The reason the youngest son was chosen is that it gave the father the greatest number of years to stay in control before he had to give it up. And when the mother and father moved out of the big house, they didn't move very far. About 20 yards seemed far enough.

BURT WOLF: The house they moved to was called a stockli, and it was just far enough across the yard to give the son's family a sense of privacy, but well within nagging distance.

BURT WOLF: In addition to teaching the history of Switzerland through its buildings, Ballenberg’s staff demonstrate more than 25 different period crafts. A classic pottery, the potter spins his wheel by foot, draws the clay into a vessel by hand, and keeps the kids away with his elbows.

BURT WOLF: The blacksmith shop works the way it has for centuries.

BURT WOLF: Ballenberg also has three restaurants that serve traditional dishes from each of the regions of Switzerland. It’s like eating my way through the history of Swiss cooking.

BURT WOLF: This area is one of the most beautiful parts of Europe. And I think the best way to see it is on one of the post buses that run through the country.

BURT WOLF: If you're coming from the United States, you can buy a Swiss pass that will give you unlimited travel on the most important buses, trains and boats, and discounts on many others.

BURT WOLF: Post bus also has a series of organized routes that take you through the most beautiful parts of the country. You don't have to worry about which roads to take, or keep a tight schedule. Just relax and enjoy the scenery.

BURT WOLF: While I was in Bern, I stayed at the Bellevue Palace, which is right in the center of the city, and just down the block from Parliament. It's the best place in town, and it should be, it's owned by the Swiss federal government. It's the home away from home for the nations' top officials and ministers. When Parliament is in session, 50 members of the government live here. It's also the place where visiting dignitaries stay. Presidents and prime ministers coming to Switzerland's capital stay at the Palace, and it's the unofficial ballroom for major receptions. Throughout the day there are gatherings where representatives of other nations and members of major corporations meet with Swiss officials.

BURT WOLF: The original Bellevue Palace was put up in 1913, on a site which had been the federal mint. The owners liked the idea that the land already had a history of attracting money. The building is made of local sandstone which in Bern is a symbol of wealth and power, and it was designed to look like the federal buildings that surround it.

BURT WOLF: But the Bellevue Palace isn't just for people in the government or for people who have come here to do business. The management has set up three excursions that are designed for tourists. The first is based on Bern's unusual museums. The Swiss Alpine Museum has a collection of highly detailed maps and models of the Alps. Histories of mountain rescues, and material about famous summit ascents.

BURT WOLF: The Museum of Art has an important collection of Swiss art, including the world's largest collection of works by Paul Klee. The Communications Museum explains the history of the Swiss postal service, and its national bus program that will take you to every corner of the country. They also have the world's largest collection of stamps.

BURT WOLF: Including my favorite that was issued in the spring of 2001.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: It looks like a piece of chocolate, and it smells like one too.

BURT WOLF: The hotel's second tour takes you out into the Emmental region. Packed with beautiful villages, surrounded by rich farmland, this is the place to see and hike through the type of rural Switzerland that has become famous in stories like "Heidi" and "William Tell".

BURT WOLF: The third program sends you up into the mountains to see the most dramatic scenery in Europe. Remember the Bellevue Palace is owned by the federal government, and when they set up these trips for you, it's like being booked by the president's personal concierge.

BURT WOLF: The concierge at the hotel can also book you into the restaurants in and around town, that serve the traditional dishes of the region. A 20-minute ride from Bern to the town of Worb, will deposit you in front of the guest house Lowen. The building has the traditional architecture of the Emmental.

BURT WOLF: The restaurant inside is about as down home as you can get. It's been run by the same family for over 600 years. The present generation is represented by Hans Peter Bernhard, who does the cooking, and his wife Ursula who runs the front of the house. I tasted two of the house specialties. One was a brisket of beef that was marinated in a mixture of vinegar and wine and then slowly braised. It's served with mashed potatoes. The second was a veal steak, sauteed and served with a mushroom sauce and noodles. A few years ago Ursula gave her husband an antique corkscrew and a book on the history of corkscrews. It appears to have been an ideal gift.

BURT WOLF: Today Hans Peter has a collection of over 650 corkscrews that are on display in a cave beneath the restaurant.

HANS PETER BERNHARD ON CAMERA: Oh, the favorite is in here, that's the small tiny one, that's a patent from America, you can put it together, you can put it in your pocket, and then you open like this, and so you can open the bottle. That's from 1891. English ones, they are round, they put this key inside, in the bottle and then with this one, they pull it out, oh, it's a bit tricky.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Oh, I see. Must have been invented by a dentist. I saw some very funny ones as we were walking in.

HANS PETER BERNHARD ON CAMERA: Some naughty ones I think.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: No, the naughty ones we're not going to show you. We're going to show you the funny ones.


BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Funny’s allowed, naughty is not.


BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Come on, let's take a look at the funny ones.

HANS PETER BERNHARD ON CAMERA: Yes. Look at them, there are ... that's a Alka-Seltzer. You know, Alka ... that's for bad wine.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The Alka-Seltzer's right in there.

HANS PETER BERNHARD ON CAMERA: You open that, get your headache and you can eat that thing.

BURT WOLF: Ahh, enough corkscrewing around. I need to know what time it is, and Switzerland is the place to find out.

BURT WOLF: About six thousand years ago, humans became interested in knowing what time it was, and with every generation that followed, the desire for greater precision and greater availability became more pronounced.

BURT WOLF: We've discovered tools for measuring time that go back to 3500 B.C. The sun dial goes back to 1500 B.C. and was probably the first clock to measure in hours.

BURT WOLF: The word clock originally meant bell, and was a reference to the bells that announced the hour from bell towers during the Middle Ages. The first clocks showed up during the 1300s, but they weren't very accurate.

BURT WOLF: They got a lot better during the 1600s, when the pendulum was introduced. The first watch showed up around 1500, and for over 500 years they were based on an expanding spring that you wound up to keep the mechanism going.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: During the 1500s, King Louis forced the Protestants out of France. Many of them were skilled metallurgists and watchmakers, and thousands of them came to Switzerland. They started an industry which eventually made Switzerland the watchmaking center of the world.

BURT WOLF: These are the watchmakers rooms at the Rado Company just outside of Bern. Along with the traditional Swiss respect for the watches' internal technology, they've taken a modern approach to design. They wanted to have a look that was easily recognizable. Their first claim to fame came from the development of the original scratch-proof watch, called the DiaStar, which was introduced in 1962. Since then Rado has become the most popular watch in Switzerland. Instead of the conventional metals used by most watchmakers, like gold and silver, Rado works in hard metals, high-tech ceramics and sapphire crystal. Nice way to have time on your hands. Because we are in the watchmaking capital of the world, I am very much aware of time, and we're out of it. I hope you have enjoyed this visit to the Swiss Mittelland, and if you've got time next time I hope you will take time to join me. For TRAVELS & TRADITIONS, I'm Burt Wolf.