Unspunnen – Youth Day

Unspunnen – Youth Day

by Rita Brügger

The Unspunnenfest is a festival of long historical tradition. In 1805 it was carried out for the first time as a sign of reconciliation between the region of Unspunnen  and the city of Berne. It was a matter of creating peace, mutual understanding and building bridges. The stone of Unspunnen with a weight of 83.5 kg is considered to be a symbol of this festival and is thrown by the best stone throwers as far as 3 or 4 metres. Folk music, yodelling and national sports such as Schwingen (Swiss wrestling) are also represented here.
Without a large media presence, this year’s Unspunnen fair was opened with the Day of Youth. What there was to see and hear was a cause for joy.
The streets and meadows of Interlaken are full of colourful life. The picture is dominated by countless young people, who leave a festive impression in their colourful traditional costumes. Children and young people from all parts of the country have travelled here to actively participate in the traditional festival and present what they have learned throughout the year. They stroll happily across the fairground, head for the tent in droves, where they are catered and get ready for their performance. The programme includes a wide range of events that are part of Swiss customs: children’s choirs, dance groups, young swiss wrestlers (Schwinger), stone throwers (Steinstößer), junior Hornussers3 , young flag throwers, alpine horn players, folk music youth groups and marksmen show their skills on this day.
At the beginning of the afternoon, Karin Niederberger, President of the Swiss Yodel Association, welcomes a group of nearly 500 children who perform two wonderful yodelling songs in the auditorium as a whole choir. She expresses her refreshing spontaneous gratitude to the parents, grandparents and leaders for teaching the children values and traditions and to the children for participating. She considers it the duty of adults to pass on to young people what they have experienced and learned themselves, the Swiss values of respect, reliability and decency. This, she emphasises, strengthens cohesion in the country.
In the choir’s appealing songs and the other performances of the various children’s choirs, the love for the homeland, the own region and nature with the mountains and the plants is expressed in a touching way. The childrens choir Herisau, for example, sings: “We have a wonderful country. Do you feel the same? We won’t sell it – at no price. Wealth is not based on gold or material goods. It is based on peace and cheerfulness.” (analogous translation) A joyful yodel follows the clear verses that are recited. From the Children of Glarus we hear: “I’m born in the Glarnerland, where everyone knows everybody. I’m at home in Glarnerland where I’m used to everything. I’m born in Zigerschlitz (nickname for canton Glarus) The air there is of benefit to you.” The young singers radiate contentment. Even the smaller ones among them position themselves according to tradition. The boys with their hands in their pockets, while the girls hide their arms under the apron. The children sing all the songs by heart. Some of the little ones sometimes leave their mouths shut or even open in amazement, sometimes a traditional costume apron flutters up and down boisterously. But this does not detract from the seriousness of the choir singers. One notices that the young people take their younger comrades with them, the little ones are eager to catch up with the older ones.
The same can also be observed in the big ballroom. Several folk dances are presented here together in smaller or larger formations. There‘s the “luxury polka” and “the cocky one”. The band plays and the children start to move. On the stage they are guided by an enthusiastic dance leader. “Turning, turning, fore-back, side by side gallop, back and forth, clapping, clapping.” Everyone seems to be trained and knows what to do. Braids fly, heated faces look around for those who clearly have a better command of dance. Joy can be seen everywhere, whether they jump over the parquet floor barefoot, in their traditional costume shoes or with their originally white socks. The affiliation of the children can be recognised by the costume, which differs slightly from region to region, and is sometimes simpler if it is a working-day costume, then again very festive, for example if the child wears a feast day costume or even the Gotthelftracht4. The boys also look pretty in their white shirts and red gilets or in Edelweiss-shirts or alpine herdsmens shirts. A few tired feet need some rest in the nearby park fountain. Rumpled hair, no problem. The girls braid their braids mutually again. It is striking how well-groomed the young people are.
On the festival grounds there is a lovely merry-go-round with carriages and horses. Children can use it free of charge. There is no crowd. A group notices that they have to get ready for the performance. “Maybe you can have a ride later”, says the childminder to the children. Without muttering, it is accepted. There are also various games available for the breaks. On a beam, a 12-year-old girl shows some boys who is master on the beam. No one can stand up to her in a duel over who stays on the beam the longest. The audience comments and cheers exuberantly but always peacefully.
Two boys with wrestling pants are fighting on the mat. Who can bring the other down first? Clear rules such as fair play are even observed by the children. Like the big ones, the winner knocks the sawdust off the loser’s shoulder. A sign of respect for the other person. The children can also have a try on Hornussen. One is amazed at the fact that children in traditional costumes, who are usually familiar with a different discipline than with this Swiss national sport, manage quite well to hit a tennis ball far into the field by pushing it out of the trestle, where a team of young Hornussers in protective helmets try to stop it with shingles (boards that are thrown into the air).
In the marksmen’s tent, highly concentrated youths in in full gear are ready for the championship. They hold their weapons steady and aim for the target at the request of the head. A shooter draws special attention to herself. She is blind and therefore has to overcome more hurdles than others in order to pursue her hobby. She achieves the high accuracy only by her hearing. At the end she scores a good score and reaches the 5th rank.
The day shows what young people are able to do under supervision and with what joy they enjoy their sensible/meaningful leisure activities. The Youth Day is a real community experience and a joy for young and old.        •

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