Swiss History in Action: The Open Air Museum of Ballenberg
May 12, 2013 was another rainy day and I was originally planning to go biking that day. But with the bad weather I decided to switch my schedule around and visit the Open Air Museum of Ballenberg. Located near Brienz, this museum has a collection of more than 100 original buildings from all over Switzerland that were set up here. I was looking forward to exploring Switzerland’s Alpine architecture first hand and started my stroll into this huge outdoor museum. The first building I visited was a rural patrician villa from the 1860s that houses an exhibition on traditional Swiss costumes and musical instruments.
The Ballenberg Open Air Museum features houses from all regions of Switzerland. This collection of houses is from the Bernese Midlands, many of which were built in the 1600s and 1700s. Not only can visitors admire the actual buildings, they can also have a look at the furniture, observe historic interpreters as they work on crafts and have a look at various gardens that are designed in the traditional Swiss style.
Although it was raining, a visit to the Ballenberg Open Air Museum turned out to be a good activity. Children in particular enjoy the many farm animals that live here, and a visit to Ballenberg provides a great opportunity to learn more about traditional Swiss farm life over the past few centuries.
In the section dedicated to Switzerland’s Ticino region, I was particularly fascinated by the goats that were peering down at me from their enclosure. I realized that they are particularly nosy creatures, and they followed my every move and kept their eyes glued on me. When other visitors arrived, they did the same to them. They seemed to enjoy keeping watch from their lofty viewpoint. Funny animals…
To provide an enjoyable hospitality experience to its visitors, the Ballenberg Open Air Museum also has several restaurants housed in historic buildings that have been reconstructed on the grounds. A mother pig was taking a much needed rest and a curious goat checked out the visitors. There were several groups of local Swiss people who had come here for a picnic, and some of them were roasting bread over an open fire. The rainy weather did not deter them in the least….
At the Ballenberg Museum, visitors can enjoy a diverse experience in addition to strolling past the historic homes and buildings. They can take a carriage ride, or watch some pottery being made or various other arts and crafts. Historic interpreters bring ancient crafts tradition to life. Museum guests can also visit a small chapel that was brought here from Switzerland’s French-speaking Valais region.
I walked all the way from Ballenberg’s western entrance to its eastern entrance where there is a gift shop, a restaurant and a chocolate shop. Located on the lower level of Gasthof Wilerhorn (a local restaurant), chocolate lovers can enjoy home-made chocolate bars in flavours such as orange, hazelnuts, milk or dark chocolate as well as the “Ballenbergerli”, made of a delicate praline filling on a meringue base, covered in dark and white chocolate.
I started to make my way back towards the west entrance and stopped at a collection of half-timbered houses from the East Midlands of Switzerland which feature an impressive wine grower’s house from Richterswil. There is also a nice pond on the way back to the west entrance with picnic facilities.
For lunch, I went to the Restaurant “Alter Bären” (“Old Bear”) which was built in the 19th century and transported here from the Bernese Midlands. This building was moved from its original location because of the construction of a new post office, and it has found an appropriate home here. I was joined by Cecile Grossmann from the Ballenberg administrative team and we enjoyed a great lunch together: a healthy mixed salad and mushroom Rösti, the famous Swiss version of hash browns, accompanied by a glass of Rivella, a special Swiss soft drink.
Then it was on to my next stop: Meiringen, a tiny village with a big connection to Sherlock Holmes.