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Swiss Days in Indiana end on high note

Young yodelling star Taylor Ware at the Swiss Days festival in Berne swissinfo.ch

Thousands of visitors from near and far took part in this year's Swiss Days in Berne in the US state of Indiana, many of them nostalgic about their Swiss roots.

This content was published on July 29, 2007 - 16:42

One of the main attractions at the four-day festival of Swiss food, drink and music was a concert by 12-year-old Taylor Ware, whose American yodel was one of the crowd-pullers.

The otherwise peaceful small town in the heart of the US was founded in 1852 by a group of Mennonites from the Jura region of Switzerland.

Descendants of those first settlers value the traditions of their forefathers highly, in particular close ties within the family.

"It was a splendid festival with a wonderful atmosphere and even the weather played along," local mayor John Minch told swissinfo.

"I also sensed a certain new energy," he said after changes in the organisation of the festival.

Huge family gathering

The Swiss Days are something like a huge family gathering that brings together people from all points of the compass once a year.

They come from Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles. Swiss Days give many people the opportunity to visit relatives and acquaintances.

"What really impressed me was the diversity of people who came here in peace," Minch said. That was a message that Berne wanted to send out: A family-oriented community that also welcomes strangers.

The diversity of visitors was certainly very apparent. Today, apart from the descendants of Swiss, Germans and British people as well as orthodox Amish strolling around, there are people from Latin America and Asia.

Minch said he had noticed this year that the Amish, who live in their simple farms around Berne, came out this year in larger numbers and mixed with other people.

They were also present at the big parade on Saturday evening when hundreds of curious onlookers lined the streets.

Open-air museum

During the Swiss Days another attraction was the Swiss Heritage Village, an open-air museum with buildings dating from when the town was founded.

These came to life for the occasion with one couple demonstrating how settlers made cheese 150 years ago. You could, of course, taste samples of what they made.

In the Luginbill House near the cheese dairy, Christine Beitler Nofziger had lit the old oven and was baking cookies. And from the nearby living room there were the sounds of a harmonium. Anna V. Liechty had come to play her old instrument.

"I'm 91 years old," she said in her best Swiss Bernese dialect. "When I moved into the old people's residence with my brother a few years ago, I bequeathed the harmonium to the museum."

Liechty has travelled a lot and was for a time a missionary in the Congo Republic. In the 1960s she visited Switzerland and its capital, Bern.

Today's generation scarcely speak Swiss-German any more, which is also regretted.

"My parents always spoke Swiss-German to each other when they didn't want us children to understand what was going on," is a sentence you hear quite often.

Dream

There was great interest this year for the swissinfo delegation that had travelled from Switzerland to the festival. Many of the people of Berne, Indiana, have never been to the homeland of their forefathers. It is a dream many of them would like to come true.

Music still has a special value in the Berne of today and so it was no surprise that Taylor Ware's concert pulled in the crowds.

Her yodel sounds American to Swiss ears but for the local public her music was clearly linked with Switzerland.

"It's uncanny how the girl can sing," commented John Wanner, who is in his 80s and a descendant of a Berne settler.

swissinfo, Rita Emch in Berne, Indiana

Key facts

Swiss Days has been taking place at the end of July in Berne for more than 30 years, recently attracting 20,000-30,000 visitors a year.
It is organised by the local chamber of commerce.
The programme includes Swiss food, music, dancing, exhibitions and other attractions.

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In brief

In 1852 a group of 70 Mennonites from the Jura in Switzerland arrived in the area.

In 1871 the community was registered as Berne and a train went through Berne for the first time.

The train connection resulted in more immigrants, mostly from Switzerland and Germany. Economic expansion began.

Berne today has around 4,150 inhabitants. Some 4,000 Amish have settled outside the town.

Berne is proud of its Swiss roots and the descendents of the settlers lay great value on the tradition of their forefathers' home.

Swiss influence is everywhere: as conspicuous as the many Swiss names and coats of arms on shops and residential buildings is the floral decoration – geraniums line window boxes and roads.

Family names that give away their Swiss origins include Graber, Amstuz, Lehmann, Neuenschwander, Liechti and Sprunger.

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