Zurich exhibitions examine the Heidi myth

Exhibits which illustrate the commercialisation of Heidi Keystone Archive

Three "Heidi" exhibitions have opened in Zurich to mark the 100th anniversary of the death of Johanna Spyri, creator of a fictional character who represents an image of Switzerland throughout the world.

This content was published on May 25, 2001

The biggest, at the Strauhof museum, is entitled "Heidi: Myth, brand name, media star" and takes a look at the multi-faceted phenomenon of the Heidi books which have been translated into nearly 50 languages. Over 50 million copies have been sold since the first volume was published in 1879.

As the exhibition shows, Heidi is represented in all the media which have shaped the 20th century, including theatre, musicals, comics, radio, television series, films, cartoons and even the Internet.

It also examines the commercialisation of what is described as not just a story, but a myth. Although the "Heidiland" image disturbs many Swiss, Heidi is the epitome of Switzerland for many people outside the country. The exhibition looks at Heidi's popularity in countries such as Japan, and how she figures in marketing by Swiss tourism authorities.

Since 1937, when Shirley Temple starred in a Hollywood version of Heidi, at least 14 films have been made about her. The latest, directed by Markus Imboden, was released this year.

The exhibition examines the phenomenon of Heidi the film star and also adds a theatrical touch with a recreation of her bedroom at her grandfather's home in the Alps, complete with straw mattress, and of a room in Frankfurt, where she lived for a time.

One of its organisers, Elke Wurster, says Heidi's enduring popularity is easily explained: "The stories were written during the industrial revolution, when like today with globalisation and digitalisation, people were going through a time of sweeping change and uncertainty. Heidi somehow reconciles nature with culture, town with village, rich with poor and young with old."

The two other Heidi exhibitions are at the Swiss Youth Book Institute and the Johanna Spyri museum.

swissinfo with agencies

In compliance with the JTI standards

In compliance with the JTI standards

More: SWI certified by the Journalism Trust Initiative

Contributions under this article have been turned off. You can find an overview of ongoing debates with our journalists here. Please join us!

If you want to start a conversation about a topic raised in this article or want to report factual errors, email us at

Change your password

Do you really want to delete your profile?

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Almost finished... We need to confirm your email address. To complete the subscription process, please click the link in the email we just sent you.

Discover our weekly must-reads for free!

Sign up to get our top stories straight into your mailbox.

The SBC Privacy Policy provides additional information on how your data is processed.