Thursday, 31 July 2008

1st August: The Swiss National Day and how it all begun

Swiss National Day 1st August

There is probably no country in the world where its national day is not celebrated by big business. This was the collection they had in our local supermarket. I even bought a lantern and some swiss lights, but really only for the purpose of making the following photo. And now I will tell you how it all begun in Switzerland. A country with only seven million inhabitants in the middle of Europe where you only need six hours to cross it by car from West to East and from North to south only 3-4 hours if the Alps were not in the way, but we are there. A safe place for your numbered bank accounts, for trying out your skis and for seeing cows with wonderful big brown eyes.

1st August

The Beginning of Switzerland: The Rütli Oath

Where did it all start? Well it was some time in August 1291 as the legend goes, somewhere on the Lake of Lucerne on a meadow which has since been known as the Rütli meadow. It is reported as being a clear starry night with a light breeze coming over the Gotthard mountains. A couple of blokes were on the meadow and a small fire was burning. The men were not talking very much but were watching the lake with full concentration. Now and again one of the men, Walter Fürst, got up and took a few steps towards the town of Brunnen, sunk in thought. His white hair looked like snow in the moonlight. I know this sounds all very romantic but I am translating it from a German text on the computer about how it all started, so please bare with me. I don’t know whether there is a word of truth in it, but don’t say that to a 100% Swiss, otherwise they might get slightly annoyed.

Ok this bloke was waiting for something at the lake. Now we are in the Kanton (State/county) of Uri and this Walter Furst was a local native. He Then heard the sound of oars from a boat and noticed it was his mate from another Kanton, known as Schwyz. It was Konrad Hunn a drinking companion and he was very old, his weak legs could hardly carry him and he fell down(probably had a few beers before). Their leader was another Werner Stauffacher and Water Fürst had met his mates and they all shook hands and sat round the fire together. Suddenly some more men came out of the woods wearing shepheard’s shirts and carrying knotty sticks (well that’s what it says). They were from the Kanton of Unterwalden. They had left their farms early in the evening and were led by young Arnold finding their way to this place with the fire burning. So all these men got to know each other. Walter Stauffacher climbed onto a stone where he could keep an eye on everyone from the three Kantons and he seemed to be the big boss. He decided to hold a speech.

“Brothers” he said and everyone stood up (probably damp on the grass). He continued “in the name of God we are standing here (because of the wet grass) and we give each other our hands. A purpose, a target has united us. We want to be free (now I know where Freddie Mercury got the idea for his song). In the deepest hardships we promise to help each other, to stand together when fighting the bailiffs and not to bow before any violence. If there is anyone here that is not ready to sacrifice his life , his possessions and his blood, then he should leave this circle.” Well as no-one left (so they say) Werner Stauffacher continued. He then said “so everyone here from Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden arise and give your hands to the oath. God shall be out witness that we have decided to protect our freedom against any foreign power and violence (I hope Mad Gaddafi is reading this) and we will protect ourselves and our children.”

Like a holy chorus the oath sounded in the night “We swear it”. The hands went down to their original position again and in the silence that followed Walter Fürst said “May God be with you and your club, my Swiss confederates.” This not being enough Walter continued “Friends we have decided to get rid of our tomentors, the bailiffs. If anyone has any advice how to do it I would like to hear it. Speak up. Everyone started mumbling in the crowd and then it went quiet when Arnold from Melchtal stepped up and made a suggestion.
“We should trick the bailiffs with our cunning. On the day when we have to deliver our rent, or at New Year when we bring our presents to the castle, we will come from behind the walls where no-one expects us. We will hide our weapons under our shirts (ouch) and at a certain organised signal we will pounce. A couple of dozen of us are enough to rid us of the bailiffs and their sort.
“Well said” called Rudolf Stauffacher, the one time Swiss mayor of Unterwalden and everyone started cheering and clapping. Arnold glowed with eagerness and enthusiasm. The noble mayor from Oedisriet in Unterwalden had his doubts.
“Men you forget how strong the enemy is. If we get rid of the bailiffs the emperor, his dukes and lords will become our enemies. I ask you are you ready to fight against such a strong army with our weak weapons?”
“We are ready, The Emperor is dead. We will pull the horsemen from their mounts!”
The shouts of the men were mixed. Once again the mayor tried to bring the fighting spirit of the men to sense.
“We should wait with the uprising until the new emperor is elected. Perhaps it may no longer be the Hapsburgers (well it wasn’t mad Gaddafi) and we can’t get rid of the bailiffs without shedding blood and without weapons.”
Again the speaker was disturbed by interjections.
“Albrecht (now who is he – wait and see) the emperor’s son is not much better than his dead father. He will send new bailiffs. At Christmas we will fight.”
The Uri mayor also wanted to quieten the men down.
“With arms and fighting we can do nothing against such a well equipped enemy. If they win there will be worse times than what we now experience.We should tell the new emperor what disturbs us, tell him our problems and that he should be kinder with us.”
But the men did not like this suggestion.
“We have waited long enough and nothing has helped up to now. Violence must be conquered with violence” shouted Werner Stauffacher from Schwyz to the Uri men.”
It had now begun to get dark in the East and it was time to go home.
Werner Stauffacher could not leave it like that and came to his last question.
“Shall we attempt to fight the bailiffs and their groupies?”
As if one powerful voice spoke the men said “Yes we will, god help us.” (or something like that).
The farmers then went home.

Well that’s the story which has been handed down from generation to generation and is now even on the computer. Our children are taught this in the school and from this meeting of the three groups in the middle of Switzerland the country has developed over the years. Other Kantons joined from the French speaking parts to the Italian kanton, which was the last to join around 1820. Before we got organised we were a mixed bunch. We are still a mixed bunch, but have got used to each other.

The Kanton where I live, Solothurn, joined with the Kanton of Fribourg in 1481. I remember we had big festivals in our Kanton in 1981 to celebrate 500 years of the Eidgenossenschaft. We Swiss are Eidgenossen which means something like being Federal. So you see we had it before the Yanks.

So what do we Swiss do on 1. August. Well the meadow where this oath was supposed to take place, exists and the patriotic Swiss may make their way there and celebrate with one of our ministers who makes a speech. Unfortunately over the last years it has not been so popular, particularly while our Neo Nazi friends interrupt the celebrations from time to time and the police have to make sure that nothing happens and the socialists do not go because they say it is all some sort of story and not true.

All over Switzerland large fires are to be seen at the tops of the mountains – useful for getting rid of any old furniture you might no longer need. The villages and towns organise children’s processions where they carry lanterns as the one in the photo and of course every large town and even some of the villages throws away thousands of Swiss francs on firework displays. We decorate our gardens with patriotic lights and candles and some families have a b-b-q outside inviting family members. Patriotic speeches are made in every town/village by local politicians and all in all we have a 4. July in the Swiss way.

1st August flags

This is one of our lamp posts in our village and they are all decorated at the moment with these flags. The red and white one left is our Kanton flag for Solothurn, the middle one the Swiss flag and on the right, the flag of Feldbrunnen. The name Feldbrunnen means in English meadow fountain. You can see on the flag at the top our local castle, Schloss Waldegg, and then the fountain or drinking trough on a green background symbolising the meadow.

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