Z for Zoological

I was recently quite chuffed to notice a bright little bird I hadn’t seen here before and which I identified as a European crested tit, a bird which isn’t seen in England, although we do have many other types of common tit -crestd titA more unusual wild animal to be found in Switzerland is the lynx, which was reintroduced from 1971, and we also have a few wolves and bears which come across the borders uninvited – all species which became extinct long ago here and elsewhere. Lynx We’re very lucky to have some excellent zoological gardens in Switzerland. The oldest is the  Basler “Zolli”, opened in 1874, and although it is a city zoo, it holds the most variety of animals and is an important one as zoos go. It remains very active and is even considering getting some pandas in, one of few European zoos to do so. It’s a very attractive zoo, a real “animal park” and a lovely place to go if you’re ever in in Basle, with a lot of mature trees and a nice relaxed atmosphere.Zoo Basel

Zoo Zürich is probably the biggest and most innovative of the zoos and has spent many years completely reconfiguring its enclosures and passing on any animals that it cannot sustainably look after – it is already 15 hectares and will grow to 20 in the next few years. This makes a visit very interesting, as it requires some patience to stand quietly and observe an enclosure until you spot an animal rather than having the animals presented in cages – a much more modern way to see animals we may never see in the wild and of course, nicer for the animals themselves to be able to retire if they want to! Zoo Zürich has achieved a lot in the scheme of zoos and has a lot to offer, not least its beautiful location high up above Zürich at 600 m above sea level – and you can admire a wide range of animals from elephants (which are successfully bred) to penguins, which are taken on walks through the zoo to give them plenty of exercise…PICT3770Great fun to take a walk with penguins in the snow!

A smaller zoo that has made concerted efforts to vastly improve the way they keep animals is the private Walter Zoo in Gossau, which we have often supported and visited with our children and dogs – yes, dogs are allowed here! Founded by Walter Pischl in 1961, “Tierli Walter” was quite a character; many a child had a school visit from him and his reptiles, always an exciting event and an unforgettable opportunity to get up close to a snake or lizard. The Walter Zoo has the largest monkey house in Switzerland, but is a real family day out with places to barbecue, a small circus each summer and great entertainment and facilities for children. walterzoo_gr2

Although there is always going to be argument as to the merits of zoos, so many children and adults will never have the opportunity to experience the variety of animals they can see in a zoo and some species would simply be extinct if it wasn’t for the breeding programmes in international zoos, so that personally, I am happy to see zoos continue to develop and improve as understanding of animals’ needs grows and I feel very fortunate to have been able to experience zoos all my life! PICT3491My youngest daughter’s favourites since she was very small, the flamingoes in Zurich

Y for Yacht

At first, it didn’t seem to me that “yacht” was a particularly Swiss thing to write about. Then I thought of Alinghi, twice winner of the America’s Cup, and the fact that Switzerland borders on two of the largest lakes in Europe, as well as having a big sailing scene on all the many lakes in this small country, and realised how wrong I was! Alinghi

Perhaps surprisingly for a land-locked country, the Swiss make excellent sailors. Their sense of order and precision, being methodical and sensible and unexcitable, are ideal traits for those who can think of nothing better than “simply messing about in boats”, as Ratty muses in The Wind in the Willows… To sail in Switzerland, you have to have a licence if you have more than 15m2 of sail area, and sailing has become even more popular as the years go by, with many going on to study for a coastal sailing licence. You might be surprised to hear how many have sailing experience, once you get chatting… ella maillart

You may never have heard of Ella Maillart from Lake Geneva (1903-1997), but she was an intelligent, fascinating and sporty young woman who sailed, climbed and skied in the days when it wasn’t entirely “proper” for females to do so, and she was only 20 when she sailed for Switzerland at the 1924 Olympics, the youngest sailor and the only woman! (She later skied for Switzerland internationally, too, in 1931-34, going on to become a travelling adventuress, writer and photographer, see Je suis de nulle part : Sur les traces d’Ella Maillart, a biography by Olivier Weber, her own The Cruel Way: Switzerland to Afghanistan by Ford, or ellamaillart.ch, for more about this very interesting person.)LacustreThe very elegant lines of the Lacustre…

Still on Lake Geneva, at Corsier Port, a contemporary of Maillart was the legendary boat builder, Henri Copponex – naval architect, regatta competitor and Olympic bronze medallist (1960). Perhaps most famous for his Lacustre boat designs from the 1930s onwards, he also designed Swedish 30m2 and the racing class 5.5m IR, in which he did much of his yacht racing internationally, among others – he drew over 400 boat plans, meticulously engineered via mathematics. Our particular interest, though, is his design of the smaller 15 SNS (Swiss National Series), because our own little yacht is a 1965 15 SNS from Corsier – designed by Copponex and 50 years old this year!! IMG_0699IMG_3028

 

X for Xtra and Xcüsi

A well-known phenomenon among ex-pats in Switzerland is the fact that the Swiss, who really are often multi-lingual, so often get it wrong when they think they’re using English words. One of the best examples is that a mobile phone is called a “handy” here (and in Germany, for that matter), which makes little sense to us – though since we don’t know whether to say “mobile” or “cell phone”… or is that simply British vs. US?! This and other terms of “Swinglish” are perhaps better xplained here http://www.newlyswissed.com/swinglish-101-the-swiss-say-the-darnest-things/ HandyHandy is also the cult retro washing up brand for sale at Migros!! Since over 50 years (as a Swiss might say ;o)…

In turn, this means that the Swiss will sometimes use words incorrectly when they speak English, not realising the difference, and one I’ve noticed is “extra”. If you do something “especially” for someone, or “on purpose”, you did it “extra” (I know extra isn’t really English, but you can see what I mean, right?!). Children annoy you – it’s “extra”! Direct translation from German. ???????????????????????????????A book that helps Germans to avoid misunderstanding the Swiss!

Another Swiss habit it took me a while to cotton on to and which I still don’t really understand (or ever remember to do) is the need to apologise before entering somebody’s home. Open the door, greet the visitor either with a handshake or three kisses on the cheeks (yep, three here!), depending on how well you know them, and then before they cross the threshold they will say, “Xgüsi…” (“excuse me” or “sorry” – a strange word anyway, neither French nor English – and certainly not German!) and sometimes again before entering your living room. I suppose Italians might say “permesso” or the French “permettez” for permission to enter, so perhaps it’s not all that different. It does still strike me as curious, though! A man come to fix something and wearing work boots will go through this ritual and then bend and take his boots off before coming to fix your electrics or your dishwasher, too :). Perhaps that’s the reason he needs to apologise…

 

W for Wil (or -wil…)

“Wil” is a common placename suffix in northeastern Switzerland, derived from “weiler”, which means “hamlet” or “village” (the dialect determines what the place name has crystallised into – in the German Palatinate you’ll find lots of place names ending in “-weiler”, while here, they are “-wil” or “-wilen”, as a rule). Next to the longest combination, “Niederhelfenschwil” there are shorter ones like “Ganterschwil” or “Uzwil” and then, quite simply, “Wil”.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI used to live opposite this church in Niederhelfenschwil, just to the left above the garden – in the attic of a half-timbered house dating from 1733 (with the church clock chiming every quarter hour 24/7 and a “concert” at 6 a.m.!)…

Wil itself sits on the border between cantons Thurgau and St. Gallen and is on the main A1 motorway route that crosses the country connecting Geneva on the French border to St. Margrethen on the Austrian border. Although it’s a small town, its position as a seat of the diocese (i.e. bishops) of St. Gallen has given it some importance through history, and it features a very picturesque old town perched on a small hill in the middle of the modern town. Wil HofWil_AltstadtWil Weiher

We first arrived in Wil in 1981 to find a lively little market town with a large variety of shops and businesses (and a high percentage of millionaires, apparently – they used to say there were 150 of them in Wil alone!) and even outside the old town there was some pretty art nouveau architecture in the shopping area – a beautiful old chemist (the Löwenapotheke, below, much longer ago!), a very attractive and famous café (Hirschy) with its own speciality (an almond-centred fish-shaped cake, the Mandelfischli) and still some sense of the surrounding country life and agriculture, with an annual cattle market.

In 1984, the town won the Wakker prize. This prize is awarded annually by the Swiss Heritage Society for exemplary protection of older parts of Swiss towns and there certainly is no lack of places to choose from in this country! Taking into consideration visible quality renovation and improvements and encouraging respect towards the older settlement structures, the committee rewards above-average architectural points as well as things like sustainability, traffic planning and the quality of life on offer. Wil certainly qualified and was proud of this achievement for many years. Löwenapotheke um 1900 wil-obere-bahnhofstrasse

I’m not sure what happened, really. Lovely old turn-of-the-century buildings were torn down and replaced by modern blocks, supercentres and endless fashion boutiques, the diversity of shops was reduced to yawning, cheaply-produced uniformity and the centre was made into a pedestrian zone, which only seemed to enourage the building of out-of-town shopping. Although the old town has of course remained standing (despite a couple of nasty fires that threatened more than just individual houses), by banning traffic the town lost its attraction to the passing shopper and gradually, the small hardware and homegoods stores closed, then the nicer cafés, the antique restorer retired, the flower shop moved, the fabric store couldn’t compete with the cut-price factory down the road and even the jeweller departed for better profits elsewhere… On the rare occasion I am in Wil these days, I find it very sad that millions have been spent on renovating the Hof (top picture) and making it into a posh restaurant, or building a mega-cinema/restaurant complex near the railway station, but the place is deathly quiet, the sub-post has reduced hours, as does the library, many shops are obviously empty or struggling to sell expensive art and the once traditional restaurant is vaguely Chinese or Thai. There is still a church and a primary school for the locals and just below the old town there’s St. Catherine’s convent which has run a girls’ school for over 200 years: they have recently expanded their intake and will soon be including boys, which is a great shame because the convent school had a very special and very musical programme which our youngest daughter appreciated, now swept away by becoming a “normal” secondary school. But there are barely a handful of elderly nuns left even for the religious side of the business… St. KathiSt. Katharinen, Wil and the last few town fields belonging to the convent

On the other hand, Wil has grown exponentially over the last 30 years, spreading out to include surrounding villages where more and more apartments and houses have been built to accomodate the many people who want to live in or near a place that is conveniently situated on rail and road to reach either Zurich or St. Gallen. I wonder if they are still so keen on sticking to local customs? At this time of year, it’s carneval (Fasnacht) and it has always been traditional for the local boys to beg pig’s bladders from the butchers, blow them up, fill them with water and run through the town dressed in black and red devil outfits, threatening to burst their bladders over you! And what about the regular Bärenfest? The town’s coat of arms features a bear and the Fest was always a source of pride. I suspect a drunken version of the Octoberfest has taken over, and in summer there is now a pop festival held below the old bishop’s seat… Tüüfeli

I may be a sentimental old thing but these days, I’m glad I don’t live in or near Wil any more and can just visit to enjoy the pretty bits, although it does feel like I abandoned a sinking ship in some ways! In 1990 I got married in the beautiful Baronenhaus in Wil, but would I choose to do so now? Maybe I just can’t take change?! 
Wil BaronenhausWil old town, with the Baronenhaus on the right…

A (shaggy?) knitting story

There’s a shop in New York, Purl Soho, that sells all things woolly and sewy (what I’d call a haberdashery, but apparently not in American!) and that maintains a simply gorgeous website and blog – Purlbee. Since I know of several non-knitters who have come across it, you  may have, too… It is a site that has very very yummy eye-candy in the way of yarns and notions, which they also sell online, but one of the main attractions is that every week they publish new patterns, beautifully and drool-inducingly photographed, which seem to give everybody the “wants”. I’ve noticed that these lovely things are often fairly simple ideas beautifully executed and exquisitely presented, and of course Purlbee thereby intends to sell their not inexpensive products, completely understandable and it probably works, too, so convincingly marketed. Since I am a long way from New York and not willing to pay postage to Switzerland, it’s the patterns that I will pore over, considering my options, my stash and the contents of my LYS (local yarn shop, for the uninitiated). dovetail-wrap-600-15Dovetail Wrap by Purlbee

So, last week was a case in point. A quick click-thru’ and there was an utterly luscious, cuddly shawl that was too easy for words and would be fabulous in just the right yarn. An enormous bell practically knocked me unsconscious (in my mind, folks!) – yesss, THAT was the pattern for that squishy alpaca I’d had in my stash for ages! A deep, dark inky brown, this Lana Grossa yarn would be perrrfect for this pattern. Bought several years ago in an online sale, the poor yarn had twice been knitted up and each time, unravelled again – nope, bolero far too warm, nope, pattern doesn’t show up and so on, and meantime, it had been languishing in my stash for too long. babyalpaca14

Excitedly, I rushed upstairs to my little studio area to dig it out and get going. Pah, this would finish like lightning on those 6 mm needles (about the fattest I’m willing to use) and I could just envision the light warm garter stitch shawl, almost feel it settling round my neck and shoulders… except, I couldn’t find the yarn.

I searched the cupboard, inside the boxes, inside the bags, on the bottom shelf. I rummaged through some plastic tubs of sock wool, baby wool and merino. I scratched my head thoughtfully. I dug into another bag that caught my eye. No, the alpaca wasn’t there, either. I cast my mind back a few weeks, remembering a big bag of yarn I’d taken to the charity shop, some stash I’d decided I’d never use… had I really put the alpaca in there?

I decided that I had. It was no use crying over spilt milk, I had given the alpaca to a better home and that was that. Silly of me, yes, but well, if I wasn’t going to use it, why keep it, after all, I was proud of myself for all the decluttering I had done, letting things go that others might yet enjoy if I didn’t actively use or admire them. And it’s not as if I had no wool left – I have plenty of other stash (just nothing that thick…) and plenty of other WIPs (works in progress) and more than plenty of other patterns, too, even without Ravelry’s delights. Ah well, that was that and it couldn’t be helped, I needed to focus on something else. With this, I wandered back downstairs to the living room, intending to do something completely different. But of course I couldn’t resist, I had to check the boxes and baskets that now seem to have “moved” there, neatly tucked under the console table. Oh really, no of course it’s not there, I know exactly what’s down here – MadelineTosh sock yarns, Malabrigo lace merino, Drops baby alpaca-silk, I can practically recite ball band numbers and colours and amounts of all that, no, I was just being unrealistic.isis_wrapl250_small2One of the frogged projects I’d foolishly tried with this yarn… Isis Wrap by Kathleen Power Johnson

Then I spied two knitting bags hanging on my embroidery stand… and lo and behold, one of them held about 6 or 7 little balls of varying sizes of that lovely dark brown baby alpaca!! Well!! Mentally patting myself on the back, proud as punch and beaming like a Cheshire cat, I pulled it all out, considered it briefly (there seemed a lot less than I remembered…surely I’d had 5 full balls of it?) and set to – even the 6mm circular was in there, it was simply meant to be. 8 stitches cast on, turn, sl1k1yok1yok1(pm)k1yok1yok2 and off I went.

I’d started with the biggest ball, then the next and the next, and by the time I’d caught up with a couple of taped TV programmes on a dull afternoon, I was using balls that got me only 3 or 4 rows further on – and then I ran out. The “wrap” was about bandana sized (83x41cm) and would just about tuck inside the neckline of a close-fitting coat, so snug and sweet, but far from a shawl. What to do? Opening my trusty laptop, I didn’t really think I’d find more of the same colour or batch after all these years, but gosh, you never know, do you?! Stranger things have happened. What I actually found was that the yarn had been discontinued, drat… but look, there’s a replacement, just the same, oh yes, well no, not the same colour range, but check that out, it’s the brand my LYS sells so surely I could have a look – couldn’t I?

My LYS is a 25 minute drive away. I didn’t have much time, as my game plan was to use another errand and a visit as an excuse to bypass the town where the shop is and it was getting near to closing time. As I drove, the sun began to come out and surely that was a good omen? Fortunately, it was quiet in town, I found a parking spot and hurried over to the shop. The assistant greeted me warmly and was a little surprised that I came with such a definite request, having memorised the name of the “new” yarn. Her brow furrowed as she tried to remember – and then cleared as she reached towards a box of samples, apologising as she did so, “I’m afraid I only have a very few colours left of this yarn…” Ah. Well, never mind, I should be grateful I was getting any opportunity to finish my shawl, and quickly plumped for cream (bright green seemed a little too… off?), asking for 3 balls and heading to the cash desk. “Oh,  she said, I’ve only got 4 in so shall I keep the last one on one side, you know, just-in-case?” My brain was pretty much switched off anyway, so I insisted that no, she could sell me all 4, no use leaving yarn orphans lying in the shop!

cool wool alpacaAs soon as I could, I returned home and settled in with my delectable wrap, oh it was going to be sooo gorgeous, too cuddly for words. Pulling the yarn end out of the centre, my mind began to register something. I wrapped the yarn round my finger and picked up the bandana. Then it hit me. The yarn was nowhere near as thick as the dark brown. Oh yes, it was the same percentage of merino and alpaca, but spun far more thinly. I checked the ball band. 140m/50g. I checked the old ball band. 85m/50g. I stopped in my tracks, stunned. That, my friends, is a considerable difference in thickness, needle size, tension, you name it. That was not going to work!

lemonade 1If you have read my blog for any length of time, you will know that I am Queen of making lemonade out of lemons. Why should I be daunted? How could I be stopped? Woe betide those who shake their heads at my hastiness! I barely skipped a beat. Grabbing the bandana, I tinked a row and cast off with that last precious bit of yarn, sewed all the (many!) ends in. So it was a bandana and not a shawl, see if I care! It’ll be useful to somebody, just you see, someone will ooh and aah over it and snuggle into its alpaca warmth on a chilly winter’s day. Yes they will.

And then I set to with the new cream yarn. 4 balls of alpaca merino loveliness, 5 mm circulars, a super pattern and now you could set a timer, the rate I whizzed along! Within a weekend (my husband was sick with ‘flu so I got lots of knitting time :o), I had busily garter stitched and yarnovered my way through 520m of soft cream dream wool and had a shawl  worthy of the name to show for it: 130cm across and 62cm deep. Happy? I was delirious! Now that was more like it!! Contentedly, I started sewing in ends again.

Late on Sunday, my husband was tired of spending all his weekend in bed or on the sofa feeling awful, so we decided to take the dog for a walk in the last light. I was soon in coat and boots, an enormous green shawl wrapped round my upper torso against the cold. My husband came towards the door, wearing a flat cap and flimsy scarf. I reached for the drawer that holds our hats, gloves and scarves in the entrance, surely we had something warmer than that for the poor man to wear. As I opened the drawer, my eye was caught by something cushily deep dark brown and hand-knitted, sitting innocently on the top of everything: the hat and cowl I had made my husband out of the brown baby alpaca not two months ago….

IMG_4296Jesse’s Christmas Hat by Elspeth Kursh and a supersimple 2/2 rib cowl…

Sievebrain.

 

IMG_4295

Purlbee’s Dovetail Wrap – even the name is pretty!IMG_4297…and the “bandana” version…not bad to get a bandana, cowl AND hat out of 425m!! :o

V for Vevey

A double V, really, as Vevey is in the canton of Vaud, down on beautiful Lake Geneva. Most people have heard of international and UN-centric Geneva, many know of Montreux and its famous jazz festival, some are aware of Lausanne’s cathedral and university, but little Vevey sitting quietly on the shore seems to just be “on the way” to Montreux and the large canton of ski resorts, another V, the Valais (Leysin, Villars, Zermatt, Verbier, Saas-Fee…). Even its coat of arms shows a double VVevey-coat_of_arms.svg

However, Vevey would be the place I would choose to go – and not necessarily because milk chocolate was invented here in 1875 (Nestlé’s HQ has been here since 1867 – though it was Fry’s who marketed the first chocolate bar!). Its history goes back to the Romans – they were pretty busy in Switzerland! – and it was known as Viviscus or Vibiscum. The food museum still has a Latin name: Alimentarium.vevey

Locally, the town is probably best known for the Fête des Vignerons, which takes place only every 20-25 years or so – it’s a wine festival, for this is wine-growing country, the Lavaux. Most of the grapes are Chasselas (Fendant wine in the Valais) and the white wines of this area are popular throughout the country – there is little to no export of Swiss wines, which often surprises visitors, as they are excellent. Particularly in conjunction with our traditional cheeses and meats.Le-Chasselas-Lavaux1 medallionI’m sure I’ve got one of these still, somewhere – must have a rummage!

When I thought of writing about Vevey, I had MFK Fisher in mind. American readers are more likely to have heard of this foodie than British readers, but her writing is highly recommended. After stints in Dijon and Strasbourg, MFK Fisher spent several pre-war years at Chexbres, above Vevey, which she writes about in an idyllic fashion – only failing finances and her partner’s health forced her to leave (for Berne; in her writing, she calls her partner, Dilwyn Parrish, “Chexbres”), along with the advent of war, and they returned to California. My recommendation of her writing is a volume that contains five of her books, “The Art of Eating” (includes Serve it Forth, Consider the Oyster, How to Cook a Wolf - love that one! - The Gastronomical Me and An Alphabet of Gourmets). (Apparently, this is no longer in print, but available second hand.) The book tells of Fisher’s food history from her unorthodox childhood in early 20th century California, through her discovery and appreciation of European cuisine and how she interpreted it as the century wore on. Delicious! chexbresmfk fisher

Having gone to school in Geneva myself, I was made aware that “going to school in Switzerland” had another connotation, that of finishing schools (LOL – mine was not one!), where young ladies’ education was “finished” in the days when real education for women was considered improper. I believe the curriculum was often restricted to cooking, skiing, French and how to set a table – or so they say! This area on Lake Geneva was certainly a popular one for this kind of school and it pops up in literature occasionally, as you may have noticed. However, in Little Women, it is young Laurie whose education is completed at a boarding school in Vevey, where Amy visits on her European tour. For the more literary-minded, Rousseau’s Julie, or the new Heloise is also set here – a novel of passion which made him the first celebrity author! Henry James’ Daisy Miller is partly set in Vevey, and more recently, Anita Brookner’s Hotel du Lac – so there’s your reading during your peaceful visit as you sit overlooking the lake… vevey charlie chaplin…and of course, Charlie Chaplin chose to live near Vevey and is buried here!

U for Urnäsch

It’s a funny-looking name for a place, isn’t it?! Probably seems like gobbledygook or double-dutch, even more so when you hear the local language – almost unintelligible to most other Swiss German speakers, a real mountain slang or patois. säntis art

The village itself is part of Appenzell – see A! – but lies a little higher up on the road to and  in the direction of the Säntis mountain which either towers over or otherwise forms a backdrop to most of the eastern cantons. Säntis

A pretty village typical of Appenzell Ausserrhoden (the Protestant outer ring canton that surrounds Catholic Appenzell Innerrhoden), it consists of a central core of those neutrally-coloured houses with the long bands of windows and panels – supposedly always in creams and beiges in AR, pastel blues and greens and blood reds or mustard yellows being the preferred colour scheme in AI – lined up around the church, plus the usual scattering of farms over the surrounding hillside that seems as if blocks had been spilled out of a child’s toybox. Like most small communities here, it features a good infra-structure: post, bank, dairy, butcher, baker (and probably a candlestick maker!), grocer, schools, garages, restaurants, electrician, carpenter, hairdresser, doctors, vet… and any number of others. This is unusual in the ROW (rest of the world!) these days, but I can assure you that here it’s pretty standard – you rarely need to leave a village unless you really want to, and local businesses are fiercely protected and patronised, to the point where locals will happily pay a higher price and defend the necessity to do so in order to keep up the old ways, a very endearing trait. (Perhaps one of the reasons that the Swiss can be a bit funny about “foreigners” and their willingness to abandon all social advantages of this infra-structure for a “good deal” elsewhere!)Urnäsch

Of course, for the tourist there are a number of attractions, quite apart from the beautiful local landscape for hiking, biking, cross-country skiing or snow-shoeing or using that little red train from Appenzell that turns a corner in Urnäsch to travel on to Herisau, or taking the post bus up to the Säntis or one of the holiday homes for some more hiking or skiing or other outdoor sports – or even just to sit over a drink and admire the view. Urnäsch has a museum of local culture and tradition that is in a quaint old house (unpainted!) just off the central square and showcases many aspects of country life in the region. This includes courses in how to yodel, how to swing a coin in an earthen bowl or how to ring a cowbell, all popular old-fashioned pastimes. Here, you’ll also hear the local zither music or a local band – usually a zither, a fiddle and a double bass.talerschwingenappenzeller musik

schelleBut that for which Urnäsch and the surrounding area of (Protestant) Ausserrhoden is probably most famous is something the locals do for themselves and not for the tourists – proved by the fact that although they also do it in the middle of the village, they also go off around all the outlying farms… I’m talking about the Silvesterchläuse. “Silvester” is New Year’s Eve, the feast day of Silvester I, a Catholic (!) pope and saint, and in the course of the religious struggle of the 16th century* this tradition was celebrated according to the old calender, in brief, today it is celebrated twice – once on December 31st and once on January 13th and does more than just let in the New Year: groups (Schuppel) of costumed men circulate through the area, stopping off at each house to sing a beautiful, haunting yodel (have a look and listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ainFfnylLho). There are basically three types of “Chläuse” (from the name “Klaus” from “Niklaus”/Nicholas):Urnaesch_Alter_Silvester_2

– the “wüeschte”, the ugly ones, are dressed like frightful monsters

– the “Naturchläuse” wear a costume made of twigs and branches and look like mobile tree spirits

These two types will usually be carrying or wearing the big, clanking cowbells, the “Schelli”, while

– the “schöne” are dressed in the traditional women’s costume or a velvet suit and a feminine mask, often with an amazing headdress portraying one of the local crafts (they spend a whole year making these!), and they generally wear the round bells that jingle, the “Rollewiiber”, though some will wear a Schelli. (In fact, girls are only allowed to take part in the children’s version of this tradition!)wüeschte schöne chläuse naturchläuse

People do gather in the villages and hamlets to watch and listen to the Chläuse, stamping cold feet and rubbing chilled hands and later retreating to the local inns for hot drinks. The Chläuse themselves begin their tour before dawn and expect refreshments at every house – due to their costumes, they drink through straws and the “refreshment” is generally a home-made schnaps or something similar, so that they can be quite merry as they walk jauntily from farm to farm with their heavy bells, hands in pockets (a very Appenzell stance), ready for the next yodel which presumably is considered a way of keeping bad spirits from the homestead for the following year, as well as encouraging productivity – it certainly promotes community! It will come as no surprise that these tours are finished by lunchtime – perhaps they need till next year to recover… kinderchläuse

*Around Urnäsch and Waldstatt, “old Silvester” is a remnant of confident rebellion against  Gregorian calendar reform introduced in 1584 in this region, and resulting in quite a tussle – the Urnäsch Silvesterchläuse still carry out their traditions on January 13th as an independent protest by part of the population which did not appreciate having its feast days dictated by anybody else! By this time, the Julian calendar (introduced in 46 BC) had limped behind “real” time by 10 days and a correction was necessary by introducing the Gregorian calendar.