Discover the Traditions of Appenzell
The Traditions of Appenzell
The traditions of Appenzell are rich. With folkways dating back to the Middle Ages, it has a very distinct local culture. When you stay there, you quickly feel like you’re living in a very different time.
In this post, I’ll tell you about some of the fun and unusual local traditions that I enjoyed while visiting Appenzell last summer.
Alpine Farming Region
Appenzell is a large village of about 6,000 residents near the border with Austria in northeast Switzerland. Swiss German is the local spoken language.
Appenzell is the hub of a traditional alpine farming region known as Appenzellerland. In fact, it’s one of the most traditional regions in the whole country. A case in point: the Canton of Appenzell was the last canton in Switzerland to give women the right to vote, holding off until 1991.
Buildings with Folk Art Motifs
When you enter the village of Appenzell, you’ll see lots of candy-colored wooden buildings lining its narrow streets. In addition, folk art motifs add playful accents to many of the facades. To say the least, this makes it a pleasure for strolling and soaking up the atmosphere.
The Hotel Santis, where we stayed, is one of the most brightly decorated buildings in town.
The Museum Appenzell – Traditional Handicrafts
If you want to see many types of traditional crafts under one roof, visit the Museum Appenzell. There, you’ll find painted furniture, folk art, embroidery, and vintage cowbells, all made by local artists.
The museum collection includes many works by Johannes Hugentobler, a 20th century artist who was the driving force behind the painted buildings in town. Hugentobler also painted still lifes, landscapes, and large-scale murals prized by locals. Here, you can see several of his works surrounding his painted furniture.
Cows Descending from Alpine Summer Pastures
One of the most delightful traditions in Appenzell is when local farmers bring their herds down from the high summer pastures. To mark the end of the season and get ready for winter, the farmers often “dress” their cows in garlands and lead them on parades through local towns. This annual event, which begins in late-August and runs through much of September, also includes the happy sounds of clanging cowbells.
Below, local artist Martha Manser has painted a folk art version of this late-summer tradition.
Traditional Appenzeller Men’s Costume
During the cattle drives, many of the herdsmen wear colorful costumes from head to toe. Sometimes, you’ll see them wearing a bright red vest, embroidered white shirt, suspenders with brass ornaments, and a black hat. Also, the men’s costumes can include silver shoe buckles and an “ear shoe”, which looks like an earring worn on one ear.
However, the real stars of the show are the cows, often garlanded with large bells and flowers. In Appenzell, the cows parade right through the middle of the village. What’s more, Appenzell posts a schedule of the “parades,” because there are so many herds coming through town!
Watch the video to see the beautiful costumes and hear the bells.
At Sennensattler-Büdeli, Roger Dörig is now running the same workshop once owned by his grandfather. Following in his footsteps, Roger makes leather cow belts and belts for people. Plus, he creates the brass and silver adornments found on Appenzeller men’s costumes.
At the workshop, you can even create your own belt. Working with Roger, you choose a leather color (black or red), type of buckle (brass or silver), and adornment and arrange them on the belt.
Though it’s ideal to do this in person, you also can design your belt on Roger’s website and order it online. Since Roger needs time to fill all his custom orders, he only keeps the shop open two days a week.
Yodeling and Folk Music
Yodeling, or singing without words, is still a part of everyday life in Appenzell. One evening, as we walked down a street, we heard two men yodeling from outside their second floor window.
Later that same evening, we came upon a large group of locals singing folk songs outside of a pub. As you can imagine, their strong voices and lovely harmonies both surprised and delighted us.
Then there’s Talerschwingen, an unusual tradition popular in eastern Switzerland that involves several singers. First, each Talerschwinger places a Swiss 5-franc coin inside an earthenware bowl. While holding the bowl in his left hand, each singer swirls it around as he tries to keep the coin rolling evenly. Soon, the coin creates a gently ringing sound while the singers yodel together in harmony.
With all of this in mind, watch the video to see Enzian, a local group of Talerschwingers, perform their music.
The Appenzell Hammered Dulcimer
Not only are yodeling and folk music common in Appenzell, but so is the use of the trapezoidal-shaped hammered dulcimer. As you’ll see, dulcimer players use small hammers to strike the strings for sound.
In Appenzell, local craftsmen make many of these dulcimers. In fact, you can travel to the nearby village of Gonten to visit the Foundation for Appenzell Folk Music, or Roothuus Gonten, to learn about the unique folk music heritage of the area.
To attend a folk music concert, visit the Kleinen Ratsaal (little city hall) in Appenzell, which features concerts on many summer evenings. In addition, you can hear concerts in neighborhood villages, as well as nearby Roothuus Gonten.
Curious? Watch the video to listen to the gorgeous sounds of the dulcimer.
One of the most popular local products is Appenzeller cheese, which alpine farmers have made since the 1200s. Apparently, its slightly spicy flavor comes from the herbal brine that farmers rub on the cheese before it begins the aging process. The spices, which come from the rolling hills around Appenzell, include cloves, tarragon, juniper, rosemary, and sage.
Visit Appenzell for Local Color
As you can see, Appenzell is filled with lots of local color. Whether it’s folk art, music, great food, or museums, Appenzell has it all. Plus, there are scenic walks in the hills and mountains surrounding the village. I’ll tell you all about that in another post.
In the meantime, if you want to get off the beaten track in Switzerland, plan to spend at least a few days in Appenzell – if not more. That way, you’ll get to fully experience all of the traditions that this charming village has to offer.
You can easily visit Appenzell as a day trip from Zurich. Traveling by train takes less than two hours and just over an hour by car.