Barry : an exhibition for a Swiss icon

On arrival at Bern Railway Station on Monday evening (18th) the first poster to catch my eye (well, it’s quite a big one) was this :

Barry Poster

Barry, the most famous rescue dog in the world, died 200 years ago but remains a legend to this day. Barry can be admired at the Natural History Museum Bern, where a new exhibition explores the heroic deeds attributed to this extraordinary St Bernard from the Great St Bernard Pass. The question is, which of the stories surrounding him are fact and which are myths? The exhibition tells the whole truth.”

I knew Barry was a popular dog’s name in Switzerland. I have a children’s picture book which tells his story. So on the Wednesday morning I took the short stroll from Barbara’s house to the Natural History Museum of Bern to find out more. The excellent display is on the second floor of the museum.

Barry diorama

Trusty Barry Diorama

Trusty Barry, cask at the ready. Left to his own devices for days on end, Barry patrols paths and ravines looking for travellers who are lost or buried in the snow. Wherever he goes he carries a cask of wine round his neck. The victims he finds are first offered a good strong drink. The faithful dog then runs back to the hospice to fetch help.

The Barrel


The real Barry

The Real Barry reworked by Georg Ruprecht in 1923.

Barry had been stuffed in 1814 using the primitive techniques of the time. Ruprecht used modern techniques at the time to create a plaster model of Barry’s body and clad it in the dog’s skin.

Barry was born in 1800 at the hospice on the summit of the Great St Bernard Pass. At almost 2500m altitude cold, fog and snow posed a danger to travellers and, accompanied by dogs, clerics and lay brothers from the hospice would go out each day looking for lost and weary travellers. Barry was to become their most tireless assistant he is said to have saved over 40 people from an icy death.

In 1812 a servant from the hospice brought the old and weary dog to Bern and he died there in 1814. After his death his body was handed over to a taxidermist so “that after his death this loyal dog will not be forgotten” [F. Meisner, 1815]

Great St Bernard Pass

The Great St Bernard Pass in Winter

The Hospice of the Canons Regular of St Augustine at the summit of the Great St Bernard Pass has been a place of safety and shelter for travellers for almost 1,000 years. In the 11th century, in order to help wayfarers, Bernard of Menthon founded a simple monastery at the highest point of the pass, and so the hospice was founded.

Modern Day Monks

Nice to see the modern-day monks (clerics) enjoying a tasty meal with wine

By providing shelter, food and a bed for the night the hospice vanquished the perils of the frightening, seemingly infernal, mountain world outside. Exhausted travellers and victims of bandits knew that they would be safe as soon as they reached its doors. For this Bernard was widely revered, and in 1123 eventually made a saint.

In addition to the story of Barry and the hospice high up on the pass the exhibition moved on to tell about the real dangers of avalanches today and to dispute the exaggerated stories of Barry. Even the best trained and strongest St Bernard dog could not have carried a child on his back as the story is told. But dogs still do important work in the field even today.

Barry Book

The Story of Barry

Finally, we could listen to the shocking stories told by the fortunate survivors of avalanches; as a clock ticked away the number of minutes that are needed in order to achieve a successful rescue. The chance of survival declines dramatically after just 15 minutes.

Around 70% of avalanche victims survive if the remaining members of their party manage to dig them out straightaway. This is only possible if everyone is carrying a detector device and knows how to use it. If an external rescue party is required the survival rate drops to 30%.”




Miladys Grand Tour and August Summing-Up

After Cornwall and Port Eliot Festival I returned home briefly on 28 July, made excursions to Manchester, Jervaulx and Scarborough and on 12 August set off on a Swiss adventure with a foray into Italy only returning last Thursday 21 August.

Here are links to a couple of my posts over at Lynne’s blog Dovegreyreader

Not my post but here is my entry for the Port Eliot Flower and Fodder Show Tea Cosy Competition:
On 11 August I re-opened My Swiss Diary  briefly and a further Swiss Post will follow here shortly. Meanwhile I can show you a few photos of the places visited in Italy :

The View

The View from the house at Luino (Lake Maggiore)

The Pool

The Ecological Swimming Pool


Il campanile (1585-1774) Varese

Art Deco Varese

Art Nouveau in Varese

Varese Art Deco

Art Nouveau Varese

Cannobio Market

Arriving in Canobbio on Lake Maggiore for the Sunday Market


Slow Train to Switzerland: One Tour, Two Trips, 150 Years and a World of Change Apart

It’s my birthday and I have received some lovely gifts including this book :

Slow train

You may remember that last summer I spent a month in Switzerland and posted each day about my experiences here.

I still haven’t read Bewes’s ‘Swisswatching’ [below] but I think ‘Slow Train’ will jump the queue as I’m a seasoned traveller on Swiss trains and I remember there was feature about Miss Jemima’s diary on the website and in the Financial Times around the time that I made my trip. I see there is now a fancy app. to accompany anyone wishing to emulate Miss J and D Bewes.

Swiss Watching

It was the tour that changed the way we travel. In the summer of 1863 seven people left London on a train that would take them on a thrilling adventure across the Alps. They were The Junior United Alpine Club and members of Thomas Cook’s first Conducted Tour of Switzerland. For them it was an exciting novelty: for us the birth of mass tourism and it started with the Swiss.” [From the fly -leaf of Slow Train to Switzerland]

Bewes followed in the footsteps of this group and is able to do so because one member, Miss Jemima from Yorkshire kept a diary that was lost for decades but survived as a unique record a historic tour.

Alpines Museum

Reading about this I’m remembering my very disappointing visit to The Swiss Alpine Museum in Bern last February. I had expected to be able to see displays and dioramas illustrating the history of alpinism with particular reference to Switzerland (and including, of course, the British contribution) through books, maps, photographs, hotels, transport, clothes and footwear, transport, personalities, and other displays and artefacts. What I was presented with was a series of enlarged photographs and a heap of broken skis. My disappointment was so great that I  wrote to the Museum Director and here is part of his response :

“We decided to start up a new concept dealing much more with contemporary issues for people who like to face the reality of the alps. “Intensive care stations” is an example of this new approach … The reality of the alps today is packed with debates and very discursive issues, so our museum concept tries to shape a platform for contemporary themes around mountains.”

It was nice to get a personal response and good luck to them but I still felt cheated of my 12 Swiss francs entry fee!


Actually, this small display of Swiss products featuring mountains was quite interesting but this was small compensation to me!

The Wandering Walsers

Wondering what to do in Liechtenstein besides visiting the Postage Stamp Museum in the capital Vaduz I read the following lines in the Liechtenstein section of my Rough Guide to Switzerland :

… pretty TRIESENBERG, perched on a sunny hillside above the Rhine [is] best known as the adopted home of a community of Walser people, who left their homes in [Canton] Wallis (German-speaking Valais) in the thirteenth century to spread across central Europe. Many of the houses are wooden chalets built in the Walser style. The modern, well-presented Walser Heimatmuseum documents Walser history and culture.”

Walsers in Switzerland

The spread of Walsers in Switzerland

Walsers in Eastern Switzerland

The Distribution of  Walsers in eastern Switzerland, Liechtenstein and western Austria

Key to maps

Key to Above Two Maps

1. German-speaking Valais : original homeland

2. Settled by Walsers

3. Settled in the past by Walsers (nowadays have a different dialect)

I had heard of this resettlement of the Walliser folk in other areas of Graubünden during my stay (St Antonien and near Davos) but was very surprised to see a map at the museum showing the extent of the diaspora.

There’s also a 400 year-old Walser house preserved in Triesenberg and open to the public occasionally. It wasn’t open on the day of my visit.

Walser House

The Walser House in Triesenberg

If I find myself with a few hours to spare next time I’m in Liechtenstein I’ll give the Walser Sagen Weg walk a go.

Walser Leaflets

Heidi’s Years of Learning and Travel

After our morning at the dramatic Tamina Gorge and fascinating Bad Pfäfers Museum we returned by Schluchtenbus to Bad Ragaz town centre for a lunch in the sunny main square – a Swiss speciality cheese and onion tart with salad. We then caught a local post bus  to Maienfeld just a few miles away.

Heidi in German

Agnes’s Version of Heidi : Lehr- und Wanderjahre

Maienfeld was the inspiration to Joanna Spyri for her Heidi books; the first of which had the same title as this post. From the train and bus station it’s just a few steps to the Heidi Shop and Wine Bar [Maienfeld is in a significant Swiss wine-growing region]. The shop stocks every kind of souvenir thinkable with a Heidi connection and is surprisingly kitsch for Switzerland. There is also, naturally, a wide choice of Heidi titles and editions in various languages. This region “Heidiland” is relentlessly marketed throughout the area and throughout Switzerland in general and overseas.

Heidi shop (and wine bar)

The Heidi Shop and Wine Bar

Heidis for sale

Various Heidi titles for sale

Original marketing

Original Heidi Marketing Logo

Today's marketing

Today’s Logo Version

We took the route marked uphill towards the Heidi House and Johanna Spyri Museum. It’s a quiet road and track and steepish in places with no-one else about.

Heidi Way

The Heidi Way is in this direction

This way to Heidi House

The quiet track up to Dörfli

So we were surprised as we neared the house to see crowds of people. On our alternative route back to Maienfeld we passed a big bus and car park from where the nations of the world had emerged with just a short, level path to the ‘village’ – Dörfli, in the books, but now renamed Heididorf.

Arabic signs

Signs in Arabic?

Heidi House

Arriving at the Heidi House

Heidi House illustration

Heidi House illustration from Agnes’s book

Not so much interested in all things ‘Heidi’ Susanne and I wanted to visit the Johanna Spyri Museum housed above (another) Heidi Gift Shop. There’s another Spyri Museum at her birthplace in Hirzel near Zurich. They must have any and all artefacts relating to her as there was very little here, near Maienfeld. Mostly, the museum consisted of information panels, a large collection of old and foreign editions of ‘Heidi‘ and video loops of extracts from Heidi movies made during the last century.

Heidi editions

Heidi editions in the Spyri Museum

Johanna Spyri reminds me of Louisa M. Alcott who is famous for her Little Women books but has written and done so much more that is generally not known to the world at large. Spyri was born in 1827 and died in Zurich in 1901. Heidi was first published in Germany in 1879 and was a huge success. It is reputed to be the most-translated book in the world after the Bible and the Koran. But Spyri wrote much more besides and this is otherwise glossed over at the Dörfli Museum although there is a full list of these titles there are no actual examples; just a wall full of old and foreign editions of Heidi.

Peter's goats

Descendants of Peter’s Goats? (from the museum window)

After the Spyri Museum and a quick walk around the exterior of the reputed Heidi House we decided to forego the longer walks up to the Heidi Alp and returned on foot to Maienfeld and by train to Schiers.

Further walking if you have the time and energy

Further Hiking Opportunities in Heidiland if you have the time and the energy

“To be here is glorious” : The Tamina Gorge in Bad Ragaz

Bad Ragaz is famous for its hot springs and the other Friday I met a good friend who is Swiss at the town’s station and we took the special “Schluchtenbus” (Schlucht = Gorge) to the source of these springs and the dramatic gorge itself a few kilometres out of town.

Altes bad Pfäffers

Alten Bad Pfäffers

There’s a small charge for turnstile entry into the Gorge itself where you walk along a narrow footpath – alongside the torrent of a stream and being dripped on from above – to the source of the hot springs itself.

Tamina Gorge

The Gorge

I think the gorge and spring are in happy coincidence with each other since the thermal waters seem to be independent of the rushing stream waters. It was only afterwards that we discovered the supply of free to loan rain capes.


The springs were discovered in about 1240 by two hunters. The monks of the nearby Monastery of Pfäfers recognised the healing powers of the thermal waters. The reputation of the spa spread far and wide and became internationally known and were visited over the centuries by many famous people : Hans Christian Andersen, Joanna Spyri, Thomas Mann to name some of the literary visitors.

Spyri and Mann

Altes [old] Bad Pfäfers is the former monastery on the site and is now a restaurant, meeting rooms, museum and exhibition centre.


The Original Bath in the Museum


Exhibition about Paracelsus

As former visitor, the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke said, “Hiersein ist herrlich” [To be here is glorious]

Do you know Schellen-ursli?

S U sign

Schellen Ursli is the children’s storybook character created in 1945 by Alois Carigiet and drawings of him and his adventures are to be found in all formats in the Engadine area of Switzerland. It kind of reminded me of the Alsatian artist Hansi whose pictures were in every postcard rack, gift shop and home wares store throughout the area.

S U cards 1

S U cards 2

S U cards 3

S U Picture

Last Saturday on our way home from St Moritz and Sils Maria we took a detour into the Lower Engadine Valley to the small Alpine village of Guarda that was the former home of Carigiet. As in Bergün its houses are a wonderful selection of Engadinian art in themselves. There’s a Schellen-ursli path but we didn’t have time for that.

S U Way

It came as no surprise to me later to read the village has been awarded prizes and distinctions for its beauty. Nor to read on posters throughout the village that a film company was about to shoot some scenes here – it is so authentic.

Guarda Street

Inn in Guarda

An Inn in Guarda : Note the Romansch language is predominant here

House in Guarda

A House in Guarda

Pretty window

Pretty Window

Another house

Another Guarda House – there were so many!