Appenzell Landsgemeinde – Open-air Parliament in Appenzell

May 1, 2017 — No comments

The air is crisp and the sky deep blue on this Sunday morning in April, when eligible citizens in the spectacular Canton Appenzell Inner-Rhodes come together to embody one of the oldest forms of living democracy. With a population of under 16,000 spread across 174 gorgeous square kilometers, this small Canton upholds a political practice that dates back to the Middle Ages. (To provide a comparison, Canton Appenzell Inner-Rhodes would fit over one hundred times into Lake Ontario).

Appenzell Landsgemeinde Service

The ceremonial part starts with the Landsgemeinde service at the parish church. The word Rhodes in German refers to wood cutting, which began in the Appenzell region in the 11th century. St. Mauritius church was built around the same time and became one of the most richly decorated in Switzerland.

Landsgemeinde AppenzellOn the main street coming into town earlier I had passed the President of the Government on his bicycle pedalling at good speed, his black ceremonial gown flapping in the wind, complemented by a black top hat and sword dangling by his side. Now in town, the church bells are calling people and they stream in from every direction in their Sunday best. Everyone knows everyone; greetings and smiles are abundant. Young and old, men and women, families, locals and tourists, with a noticeable amount of young men, smartly dressed in suit and tie, holding their ceremonial sword. All are mounting the stairs that lead up to the parish church.

Landsgemeinde AppenzellChoir and strings are settled in the loft, all seats are taken and the swords rest on the pew hooks. The procession of clergy down the center aisle signals the start of the service. They are followed by flag bearers flanked by a young squire on either side, in turn followed by the clad-in-black cantonal councillors, and guests of honor. The sermon draws parallels to the Appenzell Landsgemeinde with the learnings of five hundred years of reformation and six hundred years of Brother Klaus, the Swiss peace maker and nation-father. The festive atmosphere is augmented by powerful church music and ends in a moving Agnus Dei performance by the mens’ choir.

Appenzell Landsgemeinde Procession

There is time for lunch after the ninety minute service. Government officials settle with their guests in one of the historic restaurants, locals take in the sun with a standing apéro, and others enjoy a comfortable folk place to eat the typical Appenzell Landsgemeinde lunch: Appenzell Siedwurst, potato salad and Landsgemeinde-Chrempfli, the traditional baked goods for this occasion.

After lunch, everyone re-assembles in front of the Town Hall for the traditional procession to the voting square. With measured step at the head of the procession walks the Landweibel (usher) with his scepter. Closely following are Presidents and Council in their official black cloaks. (Note that they are bare headed on the way to the Appenzell Landsgemeinde. In a later photo you see them return from the voting area, confirmed as the newly elected Council, now walking with their black top hats on their head.) Flag bearers in colorful historic costumes and guests of honor follow, accompanied by music group Harmonie. Tourists and visitors are closely pressed against the buildings lining the narrow streets, mere inches from the procession.

Close to three thousand voters are waiting assembled within the voting area. Men have the option to still use their sword to identify voting privileges, women use voters cards. Under a cloudless blue sky with the sun burning relentlessly, the Appenzell Landsgemeinde develops its business in over three hours.

Appenzell Landsgemeinde Voting

When St. Moritz, the great bell in the church tower falls silent, the Landammann opens the assembly. After the election of the new Presidents and Council, the presiding Landammann, followed by the eligible voters, swear the Landsgemeinde oath. It is a goose flesh moment when the entire assembled community speaks the oath as one and raises their right arm high above their heads for the oath.

The government provides an account of its activity and the budget, then proceeds to the political agenda. At any point of the proceedings, each person entitled to vote has the opportunity to advance to the podium and argue for or against an issue, put forward a suggestion or submit a new initiative. Voting is always done by a show of hands.

I couldn’t help but be impressed by this solid and ceremonial process of direct democracy, literally held out in the open, – visible and clear for all to witness, participate and be heard in. While the Appenzell Landsgemeinde is not without criticism chiefly because of lack of anonymity during the voting process, it is an event that clearly brings people and their government into direct and immediate contact in a way that other parts of the world can only dream of.

If you’ve ever experienced the Appenzell Landsgemeinde, I’m certain you will leave a comment below. This is an experience not soon or easily forgotten!

About Silvia and Swiss Wanderlust


Switzerland travel enthusiast. Cat lover, bicyclist and classical music fan. I prefer walking over running and enjoy a good Swiss card game of Jass with friends.  More about Silvia and Swiss Wanderlust »

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Additional Information

Landscape Photos: ©,

Parish Photos: St. Mauritius Catholic Church

All other Photos: Silvia Schoch

Appenzell Landsgemeinde
Appenzell Landsgemeinde
Appenzell Landsgemeinde
Appenzell Landsgemeinde
Appenzell Landsgemeinde
Appenzell Landsgemeinde
Appenzell Landsgemeinde


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