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Bern gets to know its onions

Around 70 tonnes of onions are normally sold at the annual market.

(Keystone / Lukas Lehmann)

The Swiss capital, Bern has been celebrating its annual onion market - the Zibelemärit. Around 60 tonnes of the fragrant bulbs were expected to be sold as thousands of visitors descended on the city to gulp mulled wine and chomp onion pies.

Some 700 stalls, heaped high with strings of onions, lined the streets of the city centre. The produce, grown on local farms, was trucked in during the early hours of Monday morning, and snapped up by eager visitors, in a tradition dating back to the 15th century.

"Legend has it that at the beginning of the 15th century, in 1405, people from Fribourg came to help the citizens of Bern rebuild the city after it burnt down. As a result, the Fribourgeois were given the opportunity to sell their onions at Bern's markets," Hans-Peter Ernst from Bern Tourism told swissinfo.

The festival really began in 1860 when farmers from the surrounding region came to sell not just onions, but fruits and vegetables in Bern.

The market takes place on the fourth Monday of November, and visitors usually knock back a good supply of hot mulled wine to keep the cold at bay. They need to keep their wits about them, though; the streets are filled with mischievous children totting plastic hammers and bags of confetti.

The party atmosphere heats up considerably as the day wears on, and in recent years, there have been some unwelcome incidents. Police on Monday said they had confiscated as many as 80 potentially dangerous instruments from over-exuberant teenagers.

For the most part, though, the festival passes off smoothly, if extremely noisily. The stalls are packed away in the late afternoon, but revellers continue to throng the streets until well after nightfall.

The clean-up operation, to clear away masses of soggy confetti, discarded plastic hammers and mulled wine cups, proceeds well into the night. By morning, as if by magic, the Bernese wake up to a spotless city; the only reminder, perhaps, being the lingering effects of too much mulled wine and onion pie.

by Samantha Tonkin

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