Let's get Swiss: Ballenberg
At first, appreciation of my Swiss roots was a chore. Dad half-dragged us to Seattle Swiss Society events where Simone and I would ultimately end up either getting lost in the surrounding areas or having massive two-person dance parties in the car. I've been in Switzerland for just about three years and two weeks and when people ask me if it's permanent or what I like about living here I always launch into this more-profound-than-necessary explanation of how it was my father who taught me how to appreciate our heritage and that when I finally had the opportunity to sample Switzerland for myself, I found that it felt more like home than the United States.
Exploring the mountains, going on hikes or taking the train through rural and urban villages make me fall in love with the country over and over and over again. And now I feel so stupid for not having a greater appreciation of the fondue nights, the First of August pins or simply the older generations of Swiss people who revel in the memories and traditions of their former home country. Better late than never, I guess!
I'm not usually one for museums - I find it difficult to let my imagination run wild, but Ballenberg in the Berner Oberland is different. On one of Switzerland's most beautiful summer days in August, my sister and I spent the day time-travelling from the 14th century to the 1800s in Ballenberg, exploring the architecture and outfits that our ancestors enjoyed at some point in the past.
Centuries-old farmhouses, alpine huts and barns representing a majority of Switzerland's cantons cover the 160-acre grounds of the museum. Walking through the wooden buildings we could peer into quaint rooms that had been set up to resemble actual bedrooms and living rooms using once-contemporary furniture and styles. (For some reason, I was particularly drawn to the kitchens and ladles of just about every house we walked through - that's why there are so many ladle pictures.)
I've always found the dark brown chalets that spot the hills and mountains in the Berner Oberland to be absolutely beautiful. Their window sills, decorated with the most glorious red and pink geraniums, never fail to bring me joy. So naturally, this area was my favourite part of the museum (my second favourite part was the älplermakaroni mit öpfumues!). Incredible but still just slightly less impressive than the chalets themselves is how they were moved to their current location - you have to understand that each farmhouse, barn, stall and hut was taken down in its original home and rebuilt piece-by-piece in Ballenberg. The appearance of many of the buildings, how they were built, the materials used and their external and interior characteristics are as true to the original as possible. Others have been "renovated" to make more room for visitors, but even then the changes still reflect elements of tradition and workmanship.
True Swiss tradition and the country's rich cultural heritage are so boldly and beautifully on display in Ballenberg that it's difficult not to suddenly start yodelling! Exhibitions in several houses showed what things looked like in the Olden Days - classrooms with long wooden tables; sinks whose drains were just small holes in the walls; barber shops with guests' own drawers for their personal coiffing supplies; outdoor plumbing; hundreds of sausages hanging from the ceiling of a smoke house; it ALL felt like home. And that makes me proud. And I can imagine that that makes Dad proud too.