Wednesday began with a scenic drive through the Brunigassstrasse with twisting roads, numerous tunnels, breathtaking views of valleys, green hillsides, waterfalls and lakes. Arriving at the Ballenberg Open Air Museum, the North American tourists were guided through only a handful of the 100 examples of regional buildings in Switzerland. Next it was off to the town of Faulensee for a short cruise on Lake Thun where sights included the stunning Alpine range and hillside vineyards. After arriving in Thun, the group enjoyed a visit to Thun Castle built between 1180 and 1199. Guides, Monica Naef and Elizabeth Metter provided expert descriptions of the priceless tapestries among other items in the Museum.
Every six years or so the Association has, with the aid of the Swiss Schürch group, taken a tour of sites that are connected to our family heritage in Switzerland, the Alsace and Germany. There have been three, the latest of which took place in September 2013, for nine days.
Heritage Tour 2013
Cousins gathered in Liberty International Airport, New Jersey for their overnight flight to Zurich. Upon arrival were met by the tour guide Hildrun Mathies, whom we had on the 2007 tour. After checking in to the hotel a walking tour of Zurich was next. The tour included Zurich’s Limmat River area through the narrow streets and passages of the Altstadt or Old Town, as well as historic Fraumunster and Grossmunster churches. Located at the northern end of Lake Zurich, the town has been inhabited for as long as 2,000 years.The following day the group headed off first to the Täuferhöhle Anabaptist Cave at Homestead Holenstein near Baretswil where they were met by adjacent farm-owners Jurg and Barbara Schoch-Jenni. After a long, sometimes-steep hike to the cave there was a brief worship service where early Anabaptists held secret services under a sometimes cascading waterfall. Then it was off to the lovely town of Lucern along Lake Lucern where all were impressed with the plethora of frescos on numerous buildings, especially those of the guilds, and in the covered bridge. Swans on the lake completed the picturesque view.
Moving ever closer to Sumiswald, the next day began by visiting the delightful town of Langnau. Time was spent at the Langnau Mennonite Church, the oldest continuously operating Mennonite church in the world. The congregation has about 300 members and still maintains a well-hidden baptismal fount under the floor of the pulpit. The still hidden baptismal honours the secret baptism Anabaptists had to maintain in the past. The group enjoyed walking through the large tidy cemetery and seeing familiar names of current living European and North American Mennonites. A visit to the Culture Museum, the oldest building in the region with exhibition space in 26 rooms, provided a look at an extensive collection of Alt-Langnau ceramic and Flüehli glass. After lunch, the bus continued to the homestead of preacher Hans Haslibacher, last Anabaptist martyr to be beheaded in Bern on October 20, 1571. The Haslibacher family has owned the farm for 15 generations.
Arriving in the Sumiswald area, the group spent the next four nights at the ridge-top Hotel-Restaurant Luderenalp with its magnificent views of valleys and mountains on both sides with the longest log bench in the world made from a single tree. The famous Swiss cowbells of cattle grazing the nearby hills nightly serenaded those with rooms on the south side of the hotel. Dinner was a banquet at the famous Gasthof zum Kreuz, Sumiswald. Originally built as early as 1664, the building is one of the largest wooden structures in the region.
Friday, October 4, was a key day for the tour as Canadian and American Schürchs first hiked to the ruins of Grunenberg Castle, near Melchnau, where Hans Schürch and his heirs were released from serfdom on September 27, 1544. Franz Schürch and Christian Ickler provided an extensive explanation of the castle’s history.
The next stop was the Affoltern Show Dairy, Affoltern to witness the process of Emmental cheese making. Lunch at the dairy – delicious fried potatoes (rössti), ham, cheese, and fried egg – or cheese fondue – was accompanied by spontaneous entertainment from Walter Schürch. After lunch the group divided among three rössli (horse drawn) wagons for a leisurely trip through the woods outside Weier and up the roadway to visit Upper and Lower Schürchtanne.
Upper Schürchtanne is the region’s oldest Schürch ancestral property, having been given to Hans Schürch after he was freed from serfdom in 1544 but dates at least from 1425. The homestead is associated with codes C, E, H and N, having been the birthplace of Caspar Schürch who married Margaret Trüssel. Hosts included Hans and Elsabeth Jost as well as Fritz Geissbühler at Upper Schürchtanne. Ida Kohler and daughter-in-law Susann Kohler hosted the tour at Lower Schürchtanne, which was sold off to Peter Stalder in the late 17th Century. Walking between the two farm properties, the group saw the field of herbs, which are sold to the Ricola Company.
At the end of the exhilarating bus trip down the narrow winding road, the tour arrived at the Schürch hometown of Sumiswald! First was a visit to the Sumiswald Reformed Church, where many Schürchs were either voluntarily or involuntarily baptized. According to guide René Schürch, the church was originally built between 1510 and 1512 only to be destroyed by fire in 1730. Following was a brief stop at the site of the Schürch Homestead Tannhuser. The day also involved a walk through the woods to the Taufer Cemetery at Eierwald. The secret location, said to be the final resting place for many Schürchs among other Anabaptists, was necessary as the Swiss authorities forbad marked graves in cemeteries unless baptized according to the Reformed Church dictates. Sadly, the remote location is entirely unmarked and clearly seen better days as Mother Nature is reasserting her dominance.
The next stop was the homestead of Hans Schürch at Oberer Steg that was was built in the year 1806 by Hans Schürch, 1781-1860, and Maria Ryser. Isaac Schürch, the father of Hans Schürch, and Hans Schürch, his grandfather, were both born and raised at Tannhuser. The farm Oberer Steg was used by the Schürch family to grow tobacco during the first half of the nineteenth century. However, this business failed in bankruptcy, and the farm was lost to the family in 1853.
Overlooking the lovely Schonegg Valley, Fritz and Esther Egli, current owners, hosted their North American visitors to a delicious outdoor lunch. The treats included some popular homemade Swiss pastries with the recipe shared with tour member Robin Kenagy. Esther graciously opened her home so the visitors could walk through a typical Swiss Emmental house. The master bedroom featured a unique décor of dozens of cowbells proudly won by Fritz in cattle shows through the years. As the case with all the hosts, the tour was warmly welcomed.