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Onions galore in Bern

About 60 tonnes of onions are hauled into Bern for the market

(Keystone)

In the darkest days of autumn, a traditional festival gives colour to the centre of the federal capital, Bern. Colour and smell, because this festival is dedicated to the fragrant onion.

The Zibelemärit, or onion market, is a real feast for the senses. Held on the fourth Monday of November every year, the best-known and most popular of Switzerland's autumn markets traces its history back to the 15th century.

Tradition has it that the market was allowed after farmers from the neighbouring Fribourg region helped in the clearing-up efforts following the city fire of 1405. Historians dispute this, but whatever its origins the Zibelemärit is now well-established among the city's festivals.

At the break of dawn, farmers from surrounding areas converge on Berne with truckloads of onions and garlic, and other produce. Before dawn, they set up their stalls throughout the old town, from the cathedral to the parliament building.

Onions are heaped high on the tables and twisted into decorative garlands. They are also the chief ingredient in the tasty onion tarts, which are offered for sale with spicy mulled wine to keep out the cold.

By early afternoon the carnival spirit takes hold. Children push their way through the crowds, sprinkling shoppers with confetti and hitting one another with brightly coloured plastic hammers, which have become a feature of the festival in recent years.

If the noise gets too much, visitors to the market can retreat to cafes and bars to unwind and observe the goings-on from a safe distance. By late afternoon the stalls are packed away, but the party atmosphere continues well into the evening.

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