Of all the cities that could have showed up on the cookie I was given, Interlaken was by far the most unexpected. When I was applying, Interlaken was the city on this trip that I truly knew the least about and that, truthfully, had the least influence on my wanting to be a part of this adventure. That being said, after the stories I’ve heard, the research I’ve done, and the pictures I’ve seen, Interlaken is shaping up to be the city I love the most on the trip, which serves as a classic reminder to always keep your mind open.
Knowing little about Interlaken, as well as Switzerland at large, I had very few preconceived notions of what it would be like. I assumed there was a good possibility of mountains, as the Swiss Alps are a pretty commonly known geographical landmark of Switzerland. Considering their long-held tradition of distancing themselves from international armed conflict, I also assumed that the people are probably very kind in all of Switzerland, and Interlaken would be no exception to that. As we’ve gone through our meetings I’ve compounded on these notions based upon stories that alumni have told about it. I know also picture it as a gorgeous town sitting at the base of the mountains with lush scenery, and I’m picturing a lot of adventurous memories to be had based on all of the excursion stories people have told. Already, my mental image of Interlaken was a positive one, but after looking into it more, Interlaken seems like I may have some of my best adventures ever there.
Upon research, I’ve found that the first sedentary settlement in Interlaken came about in 1133 when a monastery under the rule of the Holy Roman Empire was built. An old mill was also built relatively soon after, but these two landmarks formed two separate villages that would not be combined for several centuries. Interlaken was actually known as Aarmühle until 1891 when the two towns had finally come under a single municipality. After transportation advances of the 19th century allowed for easier access into Interlaken, tourism began to rapidly become the primary source of income for the city due to its natural beauty and travel links through the Swiss Alps.
As the tourism has grown in Switzerland, much of it came to Interlaken because of it’s strategic position in the Bernese Oberland. Its position makes all sorts of adventure fall within 3 hours of travel time or less, which is why so many have come to find Interlaken as their home base for Swiss travel. Two rail stations come through Interlaken, allowing for cheap and simple travel to and from Interlaken, which has even further expanded the tourism. Also, a major Swiss cultural festival known as Unspunnenfest is held in Interlaken, and it will be happening again this year for the first time since 2006! This features yodeling and wrestling contests, as well as many forms of celebration of Swiss culture. Unfortunately for us, the event usually occurs in September, so we won’t be able to participate.
Interlaken’s history is both rich and varied, going from a small town formed from a monastery to a cultural and international hub of the Swiss Alps. My question I’d like to have answered while I’m there is important to me: in what ways has Interlaken’s religiously-based heritage affected its modern day culture and values? I think part of this answer could come from visiting and learning more about the actual monastery itself in order to obtain more historical and cultural knowledge on it. However, the most complex but worthwhile portion of answering the question will come from my observance of and conversation with the people of Interlaken. I am immensely excited to work toward the answer to this question, as finding the roots to cultures and customs is fascinating to me.