Alfred Horisberger is playing Baron von Attinghausen in this year’s open-air production of William Tell in Interlaken. The Schiller play has been performed uninterrupted in the Bernese Oberland resort since 1947 and Horisberger has been a member of the cast for the past 29 years.
The 61-year-old technician, who works for a local utilities company, says that will amount to 561 performances by the end of this season. “For each performance, our name is crossed off so we can be paid. Everyone gets SFr15 ($12), whether you have a big part or are just one of the extras. We certainly don’t do it for the money!”
Horisberger first played Kuoni the herdsman before moving on to bigger roles including those of Walter Furst and Werner Stauffacher, two of Switzerland’s founding fathers.
He played Stauffacher for nine years and says he still knows all of the lines off by heart, even though he last performed the role ten years ago. “Tell was a real person, even if it is a mythical story. I’m a patriot and being part of the Tell production here has strengthened my patriotism.”
An old legend in the new world
The William Tell restaurant is a Swiss oasis in the heart of the Canadian city of Vancouver. The fine dining establishment was opened 40 years ago by Swiss expatriate Erwin Doebeli, who has run it ever since.
It specialises in Swiss cuisine and boasts a William Tell statue, prints relating to Switzerland and a large tapestry of the famous apple-shooting scene. Many years ago, Doebeli felt obliged to donate a trophy to the local crossbow club and ended up becoming a member. “I used to be a fairly good marksman in the Swiss army,” he recalls. “I ended up becoming champion of our Vancouver club seven or eight times.”
His Swiss wife, Josette, has a Tell-related hobby as well. After receiving a small jade apple from her husband as a gift, she began collecting apple-shaped objects and is known in the family affectionately as the “apple lady”. “The William Tell name came naturally because it was associated with Switzerland,” Doebeli says. “But it’s amazing how many people over here think William Tell was English.”
Kari Marbach poses with his high-tech crossbow in the Hohle Gasse, the narrow path where William Tell assassinated Gessler. Just before this scene, Marbach demonstrated his skill by shooting an apple through its core from 30 paces.
Never having performed such a stunt before, he was willing to oblige swissinfo in honour of the Tell anniversary. Marbach was quick to point out, though, that the modern sport has nothing in common with the legend, nor was he inspired by the story when he first took up the sport at age 14. However, if the Switzerland of today were ever in need of someone of Tell’s skills, Marbach would be the first choice.
The 34-year-old IT specialist is the reigning Swiss crossbow champion, winning the title by scoring a remarkable 293 points out of a possible 300 – two shy of the world record. Marbach puts his success down to mental training. “I start two or three months before a competition, seeing every shot in my head,” says the mild-mannered marksman. “I find it a relaxing sport and it lets me switch off from my work.”
The butcher of Buchs
So much has been written about the heroic deeds of William Tell that it is easy to forget the equally brave act performed by his son, Walter.
There is still a Walter Tell living in Switzerland, and swissinfo met up with the 45-year-old butcher who runs a shop specialising in horsemeat in the eastern town of Buchs.
“It’s a name like any other,” Tell says, but adds that he has often had to show his ID when people refuse to believe who he says he is. “My mother didn’t name me in honour of the legendary figure. She just liked the name. My schoolmates thought it was funny when we were first told the Tell story, but nobody laughed at me.”
There have also been benefits. Walter Tell was once invited to Interlaken’s open-air production of the Schiller play where he was treated like royalty. “We were given free tickets and got to go backstage,” he recalls.
And he has posed for adverts to promote a brand of Swiss beer called Tell, along with a man who has had the misfortune of carrying the name Gessler all his life.