Ballenberg Swiss Open-Air Museum

 by  Diana Studer   
- gardening for biodiversity
in Cape Town, South Africa

Britrail in December, Eurail in January, in the seventies with my shiny new library diploma ... then in May I met the Ungardener, and made Switzerland my home in September.

Terracotta roof tiles on Ticino farmhouse at Ballenberg
Terracotta roof tiles on Ticino farmhouse at Ballenberg

I have wanted to visit Ballenberg, ever since I heard of it. It is a bit like old racehorses (patrician villas) put out to grazing, with some carthorses (farmhouses) and a few donkeys (sheds and barns). You will need a whole day for the journey through Switzerland’s lakes and mountains, where the English invented tourism. Train from Bern to Interlaken, then Brienz. Tatu, ta taa, yellow Post Bus blowing the post horn, through villages, and up the mountain side. When you arrive check the day's programme of demonstrations. We saw cheese making, weaving and a blacksmith in action on a lovely day in July 2009.

Plenty of shelter if it rains, as the houses are open to explore. Among trees, peaceful green walks. Over a hundred buildings, arranged by their cantons, so you can travel throughout Switzerland in one day. Swiss-German (most of it), French (west), Italian (south), and Romantic (high up in the mountain valleys). And each of those languages is divided again into many dialects, making English the second language in Swiss cities!

Windowbox at Ballenberg
Windowbox at Ballenberg

Pelargonium window boxes, an overflowing riot of colour, tourist symbol of Switzerland. The plants came from South Africa – in the 19th century.

Echinacea in apothecary's garden at Ballenberg
Echinacea in apothecary's garden at Ballenberg

In the apothecary’s house you can buy traditional herbal remedies, plant based medicine and commercial products like Echinaforce. A medicinal herb garden, which the apothecary would have needed to prepare his medicines from scratch. In the days when traditional medicine was no longer the herbalist “witch” who lived tucked away in the forest.

We had lunch in Ticino – the Italian canton. Risotto. Looking over a small vineyard on a sunny slope, and across the “real world” down in the valley to more mountains. First picture, is that roof, of terracotta tiles, covering a prosperous farmhouse with an inner courtyard.

The oldest house at Ballenberg from 1515
The oldest house at Ballenberg from 1515

The oldest house at Ballenberg. 1515. Instead of being left to fall into ruin and disappear forever, here the houses can display their charm. From large and beautiful villas, with historically accurate gardens, to Alpine shepherds huts, from prosperous farmhouses, to the blacksmith’s forge.

Swiss chalet at Ballenberg
Swiss chalet at Ballenberg

This is a true museum. In the open air. Where old houses have been brought to retire in peace, after a long hard life. Each one is settled into its landscape. Meadows with cows and goats (rare breeds). Fresh garden flowers on the dinner table.

Straw hat workshop from Villnachern
Straw hat workshop from Villnachern

Weaving loom at Ballenberg
Weaving loom at Ballenberg

Their charm kept alive with dedication – maintaining folk customs and hand crafts which would otherwise die out. There is a straw hat workshop from Villnachern (Aargau). I bought some woven linen with bees on it for my sister’s birthday!

Church from Turtig=Raron in Wallis
Church from Turtig=Raron in Wallis

This tiny church was rescued from Turtig/Raron in the bilingual canton of Wallis (Swiss-German) or Valais (French).

A school at Ballenberg museum
A school at Ballenberg museum

A schoolroom, as the Ungardener remembers it. Those black things lying on the desk, are extra sleeves, to protect their clothes from ink smudges. Anyone out there still remember ink smudged fingers? Blackboards and chalk screeching?

Post Bus back. Then the Brienzer lake steamer, past the Giessbach Falls.

Directions and opening times for Ballenberg

Pictures by Jurg and Diana Studer

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Comments

  1. I do remember black chalkboards and chalk but not the ink. I have longed to travel to Switzerland. You have made me add it to the top 5 spots...one day soon I hope!! So much to learn, to explore, to enjoy...

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    1. I remember battling with ink-smudged fingers. Then I discovered a pen with cartridges, which I loved and used for years. Now it's almost always a pencil. Left-handed made writing with ink a more interesting experience.

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  2. The fishman and I are planning to travel to Germany and Switzerland for our 30th. He's relatively fluent with German. We both trace some ancestry to Germany, and I to Switzerland, so I guess that's part of the appeal. Plus, we're simply curious. Wisconsin (the state I live in) is home to many German (and some Swiss) emigrants. Thanks for this info--I'll put the town on the "to see" list.

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