Railroads to Anywhere: Urnäsch and Appenzell

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 25 May 2016

The sun is shining outside my window, birds sing their sweet melodies and I have the morning free to catch up on a long-neglected blog.

There is a smile upon my face as I try to capture in words the sense of a region I often visit, a region which has captivated me with its quiet majesty and hidden histories.

I am certain that long after the world expires that Appenzellerland will be the last to know and that they will keep on being Appenzellers right up until the end of time itself.

Appenzellerland, 30 March 2016

The boy inside the man has decided it is time for a wee adventure, a spontaneous journey, before returning to the isolation of an empty flat.

I left work, grabbed a Post Bus and walked a wee bit from Hundwil to Waldstatt.

The train station whispered promises to me.

Go, go, see places that have only been names on the map.


Take the train.

Buy a ticket to Anywhere you´ve never been before.

Appenzell Railways (Appenzeller Bahnen) (AB) is a Swiss railway company with HQ in Herisau, operating a network of railways in the cantons of Appenzell Innerrhoden (AI), Appenzell Auserrhoden (AR) and St. Gallen (SG).

The AB is, much like your humble blogger, an odd mix of old and young.

The AB is less a railway than it is the result of merger after merger with small railways: the Rorschach Heiden Mountain Line (RHB), the Appenzeller Railway (AB), the St. Gallen – Gais – Appenzell Railway (SGA), the Rheineck Walzenhausen Mountain Line (RhW), the Trogener Railway (TB) (between St. Gallen and Trogen), the Altstätten Gais Line (AG) (between Gais and Altstätten) and the Säntis Line (between Appenzell and Wasserauen).

It was only in 2006, after mergering between railways begun in 1947, that the AB that exists today came into being, allowing folks to get to know Appenzellerland and its beauty in a comfortable and relaxing way.

From Waldstatt (See my former post Appenzeller Alpacas) I bought a ticket to Urnäsch.

Outside the train windows the rugged peaks of Säntis, Kronberg, Hohe Kasten and Ebenalp stand in sharp contrast to the gently rolling hills below.

The Urnäsch flows beside the tracks, a natural wonder of spirited river and scenic waterfalls.

Urnäsch is a lovely old village with its charming half-timbered square and its Museum of Traditions (Appenzeller Brauchtumsmuseum).


Wappen von Urnäsch

Though its features are offered in German only, the Museum is still an enjoyable interactive experience.

Test your hand at cowbell ringing and Talerschwingen (coin spinning).

Try on some of the eccentric masks of the Kläusen, who parade about the streets to celebrate both New Year´s Days of our modern Common Era calendar and the ancient Julian calendar (1 January and 13 January).

Experience the interior of a reconstructed farmhouse.

Marvel at the artistry and intricacy of costumes and crafts.

Philipp Langenegger was born in 1976 in Urnäsch, Appenzell Ausserrhoden, Switzerland.

He is an actor, known for The Fifth Estate (2013), Schlussklappe (2011) and Herr Kurschildgen und das Meer (2008).

Jonas Hiller (born February 12, 1982) is a Swiss professional ice hockey goaltender currently playing for the EHC Biel of the National League A (NLA).

He has also played for the Calgary Flames and the Anaheim Ducks, with whom he began his NHL career with in 2007 after going undrafted in any NHL Entry Draft.

Away from ice and snow and indoor TV viewing, early summer sees farmers attired in traditional costumes do their Alpfahrten walking and leading their herds of cows from barns to alpine pastures only to reverse the process from hills to barnyards in September.

Here is the heart of Appenzeller folk music and April´s end find Urnächers celebrating their culture and traditions with their Striechmusiktag.

I linger a while then take a train to Appenzell, the capital of the canton Appenzell Innerrhoden.

Appenzell is an odd place.

It is a politically confusing place for the outsider.

Its police, fire, water and energy are all governments unto themselves.

For most of Switzerland the ballot box is the main method of expressing opinion, but in the canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden, there is a different way – a way that has remained unchanged since the 14th century.

It is the last Sunday in April and the sloping main square is packed.

Early birds have nabbed the front row with the crowd ten deep behind them.

Brave souls perch precariously on bicycle racks or on the edge of stone fountains while the more fortunate sit in comfort at windows overlooking the square.

Shops and restaurants are lost amidst a sea of people for all of Appenzell Innerrhoden has gathered in Appenzell town´s main square – Parliament (the Landsgemeinde).

Appenzell Innerrhoden is one of only two Swiss cantons (the other is Glaurus) where an open air Parliament is still used to decide community affairs, vote on referenda and elect the cantonal government.

Change comes very slowly here.

Appenzell Innerrhoden was the last canton in Switzerland to reluctantly give women the vote in cantonal matters.

In 1991.

And only because the canton was forced to do so by a Federal Supreme Court decision.

Exactly on time, at midday, once the church service is over, drums roll, flags flutter, the brass band plays a tune and the dignitaries proceed from the church down the main street, around the square and on to a stage.

The masses stand around the back and sides of the square, in ranks behind a rope barrier separating them from the inner circle of the electorate.

A wide processional aisle separates the groups and is fiercely guarded by men in smart black uniforms and shiny helmets.

Anyone wanting to cross the aisle has to show his / her voting card in order to duck under the rope and enter the centre corral.

Everyone stands, voters included, and endure the elements.

Council members stand on an elevated dais behind a wooden railing,  solemnly dressed in black or grey robes awaiting the judgement of the people.

Before the debates begin, councillors and voters take the oath, placing their left hands together, one on top of another, raise their right hands above their heads clenching the two smallest fingers to their palms and sticking out the other two with their thumbs, swearing to help each other through thick and thin, in peace and war, forever and ever.

The Parliamentary session has begun.

Any voter can get up and speak on any issue being decided.

No vote is taken until everyone who wants to speak has had their say.

Speeches are heard in silence.

No one heckles.

No one claps.

No one cheers.

No one murmurs or grumbles.

Very civilized but lacking life, any sort of vitality.

Each debate ends in a vote, with hands in the air for yea or nay, and the session crawls slowly onwards.

They say that this is democracy in its purest form as everyone has a chance to be involved and have their say and those elected are forced to answer directly to their voters, but there is such peer pressure to conform that democracy is strangled –  publicly.

Everyone knows exactly what you think and how you vote, knows your views on every issue.

To literally stand up for your beliefs in the face of a huge majority is not for the faint of heart.

But the tradition never dies for what is lost in anonymity is gained in community, a sense of belonging to something greater than your individual self.

I can´t help but wonder when I consider the tradition of the Landsgemeinde, how do the oddballs, the non-conformist, the creative and the artistic cope with living in such a traditionalist setting?

For Appenzell has attracted and nurtured both writers and artists.

Graphic artist and painter Alfred Broger, also known as Chrönis Fred, was born here and here remains.

As do painter Roswitha Doerig, cabaret man and satirist Simon Enzler,  painter Carl Walter Liner, painter Sibylle Neff, painter and filmmaker Roman Signer, as well as writers Sabine Wen-Ching Wang and Dorothee Elmiger, non-conformists who have called Appenzell home.

How have they survived and thrived in this environment?

It is a question for another time.

I first need to see their works to fathom their reasons.

Afternoon is fading and I still wish to see another town before homeward bound: Gais, presently the home to Newcastle ex-pat friend and Starbucks co-worker Bryan “walks like a chicken” Pattison.

Bryan often speaks of Gais when both praising and criticizing Switzerland and his life in exile here, so a train to Gais I must take.

For perhaps in understanding Gais and Bryan´s feelings towards it I too might gain perspective as to why I am here.

All aboard…

(Sources: Wikipedia / Swiss Watching, Diccon Bewes)
















Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s