No one ever has enough time on holiday. There is always something you didn’t get to see, a place that you only found out about on your last night, that building, this church.
Switzerland is one of those countries that likes to be obvious. Mountains spring up everywhere and there is a abundance of lakes, cows, pretty fields and even snow at summer. Chances are, you just don’t have time to see it all.
So, if you are a traveler in a hurry, you can actually visit all of Switzerland in one day. It is a small country and the transportation system is terrific…no, I am pulling your leg. I am not going to tell you how to traverse the whole country in a day.
Or am I?
Tucked away in the Bernese Oberland, there is a place called Ballenberg – all of Switzerland in one day is actually possible.
The Open Air Museum Ballenberg is one of the largest museums in Switzerland. It represents the Swiss architectural and cultural landscape, all in one place. Over 100 houses – the oldest from the 14th century – have been rebuilt in the 164 acre grounds.
Now what do I mean by rebuilt?
Actually, they have been transported from their original sites, collected from all across the country, and rebuilt at the museum in as original a state as possible. In order to become a part of the collection, the house has to fulfill certain criteria:
– be endangered – basically in fear of it’s life due to new construction, land reuse or facing imminent destruction,
-have architectural merit -something unique that is worth saving
Should the house be considered worth saving, it is taken apart, piece by piece and transported to Ballenberg where it finds a new home as a museum piece.
Practically every canton and architectural style is represented, from goat herders huts to the homes of the rich, quite literally, the butcher, baker, candlestick maker and all their friends. The oldest house in Switzerland lives on in Ballenberg – at 670 years old. It is also the least decorated house in the museum – the empty rooms tell their own story.
All the houses are accessible, so you can wander in and out of them, seeing how people lived all that time ago – most houses have been amply decorated to reflect them in their original state, some leave rather more to the imagination and are sparse.
Of course, houses aren’t really the most exciting way to spend a day. There really are only so many gables and roofs you can admire.
The clever people at Ballenberg have set themselves loftier goals.
The museum also preserves traditions which are slowly dying out. Bobbin lace making, traditional weaving, basket making, rope making, wood carving and pottery are just some of the crafts that are on display and are being actively presented by skilled artisans.
They go one step further.
Not content with keeping traditions alive, they are also keeping animals alive. Rare breeds which are facing extinction in the modern world, are being bred at Ballenberg, giving us a chance to see hairy footed chickens, woolly pigs and mini goats. As many of the houses in Ballenberg are former farms, the animals are a part of the landscape, where you expect to see them, there they are.
This extends to the rare plants collections, an extensive medicinal garden and traditional farmer’s garden.
So, you are still bored.
Well, in Ballenberg you can also eat. Stop by the smoke house with it’s hundreds of sausages hanging from the ceiling, wander over to the mill and grind some flour or head over to the cheese makers hut to sample some of the wares. Ballenberg has restaurants (all of them follow the same vein – rebuilt houses) but you can just buy your picnic as you wander.
For those with more time and larger budgets,avail yourself of the many courses that Ballenberg offers, from short one day affairs to ones lasting a week or longer. You can learn everything and I am not going to list it all here, so please help yourself:
It will also help you brush up on your German but many of the teachers will have some smattering of English, otherwise, just watch and learn.
From Brienz railway station you can take the bus to Ballenberg and either get out at the West or the East entrance – in order to see everything you are going to have to walk from one end to the other, so it doesn’t really matter where you get out. Personally, I recommend getting out at West. The hill at the East entrance can be rather tiresome on a hot day and it’s far more entertaining walking down it.
It is not open at winter so get there anytime after Easter and try to leave at the end of October.