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Exhibition highlights lure of the mountains

Around 50,000 people visit the ice palace on top of the Jungfraujoch each year Keystone

Man's enduring love affair with the mountains is the subject of a new exhibition at the Swiss Alpine Museum in Bern.

The exhibition, entitled “Jungfrau, Mönch and Eiger – stories about the fascination of the mountains”, features paintings, posters and postcards of the famous mountain trio in the Bernese Oberland.

It displays the peaks in all their glory and shows how their beauty depends on the play of light on the rocks and snow, ice and vegetation, the weather and the time of day.

The idea for the exhibition came last year when Beat Gugger, the museum’s guest curator and initiator, embarked on a personal odyssey to find out why mountains are so beautiful.

Even though Gugger spent a year in search of the truth, he didn’t really find an answer to his question.

“It is difficult to find words to explain the beauty of mountains. In preparation for the exhibition we did a survey and most people said they find their vastness, their distance and their mystique fascinating.”

Terrifying terrain

Before the 18th century, mountains were regarded as rather terrifying and it was not until 1730 – when art started to concentrate more on the aesthetic beauty of nature – that mountains came to be seen as picturesque and idyllic.

An explosion of construction work in the Swiss Alps over the last century, with cable cars, funiculars, trains and ski lifts scaling peaks, also allowed increased public access to mountain areas.

An average of about 450,000 to 500,000 people now take the train to the top of the Jungfraujoch each year, and at peak times up to 6,000 people are transported daily to the “top of Europe”, as the Jungfraujoch is also called.

Urs Kneubühl, director of the Alpine museum, accepts that the mountains are no longer as remote and romantic as they used to be, but he says there are many places where people can still find peace and quiet.

“Even though there are places which seem less beautiful due to the vast number of tourists, you can still find places in the Alps that are remote. I know tourism can be a problem but it would be wrong to say the beauty of the Alps has been destroyed,” he said.

Stunning views

For Gugger, it is also important to relax when enjoying a beautiful view. He says this is best achieved while lying on the grass – something that can be done at the exhibition.

Visitors can stretch their legs on a little grassy area and look at a painted version of the famous trio of “Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau”, just as Lord Byron and Jon Cam Hobhouse did in 1816.

When the two English poets reached the “Hundschopf”, Hobhouse wrote the following entry in his diary: “We lay down for a while to gaze at this renowned view – then we wrote our names on a piece of paper, which we hid under a little stone near a blue tree.”

According to the accompanying text, many tourists have emulated the poets’ piece of vandalism by leaving their names on walls and benches.

The exhibition runs until December 1 2002.

by Billi Bierling

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR