Origins of Unspunnen festival
The first Unspunnen festival took place in Interlaken in 1805 in response to Napoleon’s abolishment of freedom between the hitherto autonomous city of Bern and the also independent Bernese rural areas.
The new constitution not only abolished freedom of trade, but also freedom of religion and press, and the equality of rights. This resulted in political unrest between the two regions since the rural area suffered the greatest loss of freedom as the political weight shifted to the urban population.
Lauterbrunnen, Bernese Oberland (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Rather than let it come to violence, four citizens of the city of Bern with good contacts to the Bernese Oberland organized a joint folk festival comprising a parade and competitions in singing, shooting, wrestling, boulder throwing and Alpine horn playing – the Unspunnen – in the hopes to mitigate tension. This worked until 1814, when it came to upheavals in the Bernese Oberland after all. However, to this day, the Unspunnen festival is held every six years in Interlaken.
Celebrities of the time such as Madame Germaine de Staël and other writers and journalists throughout the century wrote about the Unspunnen festival which in effected started tourism in the Bernese Oberland. Today, it is well established as an folklore gathering par excellence in Switzerland and attended by visitors from around the world.