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Appenzell, Switzerland's Historic Heartland


Switzerland's unique history is best studied in its most traditional region, Appenzell, where the cow culture is chronicled in a fine folk museum.

Complete Video Script

The Swiss are famously independent, and historically, the big threat to their independence was the Habsburg Empire from Austria. In the Middle Ages, this region was fragmented into small "cantons," or states. In the 13th century, three of these cantons joined together to fight the Habsburgs. By 1291 they established their independence and Switzerland was born. This union eventually grew to include 26 cantons and the country we know today.

Switzerland is unique among its European neighbors. It's not in the EU, and, rather than the euro, it uses its own currency. This stubborn pride and the resulting survival of local traditions is one thing that makes Switzerland such a rewarding place to visit.

You feel that strength of that tradition here in the town of Appenzell. Amazingly, it wasn't until 1990 that Appenzell women were given full voting rights. This has been the capital of the canton for 400 years, and many of the buildings date back to that time.

Switzerland's independence distinguished it from European high culture. Back then, it took royalty, or the Roman Catholic Church, to pay for big-time cultural achievements. So instead of lots of grand palaces and cathedrals, today travelers see Swiss culture on a small and personal scale.

Folk museums here give an intimate peek into Appenzell's humble rural culture, with rooms replicating everyday life, from where they raised their families, to where they worked.

In this 400-year-old building, the ceilings are low, and the floors are creaky with centuries-old beams. Simple folk art shows the importance of cows, and the ritual of taking the herd up to the high meadows for the summer, and back down for the winter.

This room shows life as it was for the herder in the high Alps, who spent summers alone milking cows and making cheese. These decorative cow bells awaited the festive day when the herd would descend from the high meadow.

It was a world of wood. The woodshop is where milk pails would be fashioned out of maple and fir: soaked in water to be made pliable, assembled watertight with no nails, and then artfully carved.

The woodworker's bedroom reflects the pride he had in his profession. He earned enough to afford some fine painted furniture. This wardrobe dates from 1817.