Unspunne, the Swiss folk festival that comes once every 12 years

SWITZERLAND — If you thought that waiting a full year for the next Swiss National Day was long, imagine waiting 12! That is how long fans of the Unspunnen have waited to see the best of wrestling, flag and stone throwing, and yodeling in one place. All this Swissness will be on display at a 10-day festival that takes place at the end of August in Interlaken.

The festival is made up of two smaller festivals. The Traditional Costume and Alpine Herdsmen’s Festival and the Unspunnen-Schwinget, with plenty of sweat and competition.

The 26 August-3 September fete takes place in the Unspunnen village, with a two-day wrestling competition. The meet of 120 of the best Swiss wrestlers, is followed by flag and boulder throwing. The Unspunnen stone, “an 83.5 kg rough glacial boulder, is thrown with a running jump for the longest possible distance”. The current record stands at a staggering 4m11.

The 800kg boulder last thrown in 2005. Photo by Tony Bowden.

Then, there is the Hornussen. 

No one I know in Geneva plays this ancient mix of golf, baseball, disk throwing game, whose players seem to be dressed for jai-alai or lacrosse. The traditional Swiss sport traces its roots to the 16th century in Emmental. It is considered by the Swiss Federal Office of Culture as a “Living Tradition“, with 190 practicing clubs — mostly in the cantons of Argau, Bern, Lucerne and Solothurn.

Hornnussen playing in the 30s in Thun, Central Switzerland. Photo, Carl Jost, Swiss Bern Archives.

There is also a massive Costume and Alpine parade with typical dresses from all over Switzerland which could be quite impressive. According to the national tourist office, “Switzerland has more than 700 different costumes”, and a great number of these will be worn by the hundreds of participants.

Swiss costumes on display during the parade of the 26 cantons. Photo, MySwitzerland.

Ricolaaaa… anyone?
Photo of Swiss wrestlers, courtesy of Unspunnen Festival.

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