Swiss Tour IV – Käse, Museums and Wollelade

As well as the wonderful local architecture and the delightful Museum Appenzell, there is another historical textile treat outside of the main village, the Appenzeller Volkskunde-Museum, which also affords you the opportunity to enjoy the local, rolling hills and scenery. This is the folk museum dedicated to the local working culture and heritage.

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Right next door to this charming museum is also the Appenzeller cheese factory, where you can see the cheese making process and explore the world of all things cheese. If you don’t speak German, bring a phone with a QR code reader and you can get translations of all the signs. However, if you have no QR code reader and don’t speak German, that is still no barrier to enjoying the box of free samples you get on entry or exploring the incredibly interactive exhibits. You get a very cute drawstring back and mysterious key on entry which turns out to be important later…

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Appenzeller cheese – very creatively called Appenzeller – might not quite be the best of the Swiss hard cheeses (that honour should go to Gruyère in my opinion) but the museum is maybe just under an hour of fun and I have to admit begrudgingly that the Appenzeller Extra-Würzig was a pleasant surprise. There’s also a restaurant and extensive gift shop on site and the whole place stinks wonderfully of cheese.

Back at the Folk Museum, I had many more delightful surprises in store. The idea of the folk museums, rather than housing grand paintings by the artistic masters of the age, is to capture something of the lives and traditions of the ordinary people in the region. Being Switzerland of course there are plenty of the iconic cow bells (which apparently ring at 100 Db?!), which as much as being a practical way of locating roaming beasts, are something of a status symbol too. For the Hérens cows, a rather aggressive horned breed that are involved in the traditional cow fighting that occurs ever year, getting the big bell means being ‘Queen’ of the herd and getting to lead the procession up and down the mountain.

Appenzell, due to its different geography from other Swiss regions, is very famous for his herbs that grow particularly well in the lush meadowland. This is why Appezeller cheese contains so many, and one of the local drinks (also called Appenzeller or Appenzeller Alpenbitter… are you noticing a theme yet?) contains 42 different herbs to make a grappa-like liquor to cut through the stupor of a heavy cheese-laden meal. The museum shows a little about the drink and the history of such herbs in medicine, including some beautiful grimoire-style books on just how to use them.

Before I get to the textiles, I will just mention the upstairs gallery which is dedicated to paintings of the Poya. Apparently the reason that the entire country is overflowing with paintings of cows going up mountains is not just because of the cultural significance of the event, but because they provided an inventory of the herd and could be a sign of prosperity. Given that many were painted (and I think sold wherever possible) by the farmers themselves many of such paintings are…. naïve to put it kindly. There is an impressively well organised collection of them here though!

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The ground floor of the museum though has a few really excellent pieces, including the types of hand embroidery machine (not an oxymoron honest) that you can also see in St Gallen and some Jacquard-style weaving looms. However, the looms here aren’t quite as typical as you might think on first inspection. If you look a little closer, they have an extra mechanism for another row of bobbins (you can see this in the second row of the photos above).

This is something really special to the Appenzell region and allows the weaver to create dotted patterns with a nightmarish trail of threads along the back. I’ve included a few photos of the backs of these fabrics, on which all the additional threads need to be cut and cleaned, which is why there have been some specific tools for the job created to do just that. They had some modern items for sale in this style and I couldn’t resist a gorgeous Kartoffelsack (potato sack) which is far too precious to be used for potatoes – or maybe I just don’t appreciate potatoes enough!

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As well as the machines which you can see being demonstrated, there are lots of lovely linens with hand and machine embroidery and the beautiful, thick lacework that you see often in Switzerland. I loved the poya depicted in delicate whitework but one thing that I particularly enjoyed about this museum, as I don’t think I have seen them so commonly elsewhere, was all the patterns and prickings for the textile work. You can also see some of the machinery for creating the weaving charts and some beautifully calligraphic old letters associated with the then-flourishing textile trade.

Without a car it might not be the easiest museum to get to from the central village, but it is a very special one. I didn’t know much about Switzerland’s long history of badge-making, which came about from the development of early machine embroidery and it’s amazing how contemporary some of these pieces still feel. There are also a lot of guides around who can tell you a bit more about the exhibits, though this isn’t the most English-speaking friendly place.

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If you’ve been through both of Appenzell’s delightful museums and are feeling inspired to do a bit of creating of your own, close to the centre of the village (and actually en route to the Alpenbitter brewery) is an adorable wool shop Wollelade. Lang and Lana Grossa are two big name brands they stock but it’s a very cute store absolutely crammed with wools, linens and all things furry. They seem to be relatively active in terms of organising events so definitely worth a visit!

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