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“Unspunnenfest”: 200th jubilee of a festival that gave a boost to tourism

By Georg Hoffmann (text) and Danna Levy-Hoffmann (photos)
Posted September 15, 2006

Alpine Wrestlers, stone throwers, alpenhorn players, yodelers and folk dancers cherished from the past. Thousands of Swiss from all regions of the country, most of them in traditional costumes, gathered in Interlaken, Switzerland from September 1 to 3.  

According to the organizers, an estimated 120,000 people were amongst the participants who celebrated the three-day Unspunnen Festival in its 200th jubilee. “It was a superlative weekend," said visibly happy, although tired, president Ueli Bettler after the successful event.  

Most importantly, this year the weather made up for its bad behavior in August 2005. The traditional festival should have been celebrated last year but storms and flooding hit the resort of the Bernese Oberland and forced the organizers to postpone the event. 

In 1805, the traditional costume and alpine herdsmen festival was held for the first time. Bernese aristocrats are believed to have organized the event in order to close the rift between town and country. Supposedly it was an attempt to better integrate the people from the Bernese Oberland into the canton. Previously, the country dwellers had rebelled because they felt underrepresented in the cantonal parliament. “We still need the spirit of Unspunnen nowadays. It is about listening to each other in days when gaps open again in society”, Federal Counselor Samuel Schmid reminded during his visit.  

Another goal of the festival is the preservation of Swiss folklore for future generations. And of course, it sells. While political goals were not achieved immediately, the festival gave a huge boots to tourism in the Bernese Oberland 200 years ago. According to Interlaken Tourism, figures are still good these days, although the markets have changed. Despite the flood, the annual report of the tourism organization counted 709,095 overnight stays in the hotels of the resort and its surrounding villages (an area of 15,000 inhabitants) in 2005. Almost as much as in the record year of 2004. For 2006 there should be another increase, also thanks to the Unspunnen Festival.  

The sound of folk music still echoes throughout the streets of Interlaken - streets where you find not only tourists from Europe and America these days, but also a surge in folks from the Middle and Far East. 

For more information on the Unspunnenfest go to  For more impressions contact also  

Georg Hoffmann and Danna Levy-Hoffmann are Switzerland based freelance journalists who lived in Israel and the U.S.

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