SWITZERLAND is a small country, but its 22 cantons offer a bewildering assortment of delights: Alps and green lakes, sensational shopping, and superb winter sports. In the tourist's haste to sample the pleasures of the luxurious towns and great winter resorts he may miss the northeast corner of Switzerland, less spoiled than others and less expensive, too, particularly at its heart in the green hills and toy villages of Appenzell canton.
St. Gallen just outside of Appenzell canton (St. Gallen canton surrounds Appenzell) is the only northeastern town of any size (79,000). Internationally known for its fine linen and embroideries, St. Gallen is equally famous for its medieval heritage. It was founded in 612 by St. Gallus, an Irish monk; his cell became the Abbey of St. Gallen, a major cultural center of Europe in the Middle Ages. The abbey was secularized in the 19th century, but its baroque cathedral and library (Stiftsbibliothek) are still three-star attractions. The Stiftsbibliothek is one of the most exquisite rococo rooms in Europe. It also contains one of the world's finest collections of manuscripts, including the oldest book in German, the Codex Abrogans (ca. 770).
St. Gallen has excellent restaurants and a number of four- and three-star as well as lesser hotels, so it makes a comfortable base for exploring northeastern Switzerland. Only a few miles north, Lake Constance (the Bodensee) has ferries that cross from Rorschach to quaint Austrian villages on the north shore, or one can sail from Romanshorn through the Untersee to the Rhine and the picturesque villages of Stein am Rhein or Schaffhausen and the Rhine falls.
Appenzell canton is also within easy reach. During the Counter-Reformation this canton was split into two districts. Ausserrhoden is more populous and Protestant. Innerrhoden is mountainous and Catholic. Almost any corner of either district can be explored from St. Gallen in a half-day's excursion either by car or public transportation. The latter may involve a narrow-gauge railway, the red mountain trolley of Switzerland, or the yellow postal bus.
One of the primary reasons for visiting Appenzell is the Landsgemeinde, an open-air voting ceremony, a survival of direct democracy.
Originally the Landsgemeinde was common to all cantons. Swiss cantons still preserve some autonomy, but in most the direct vote has been replaced by representation. The Landsgemeinde survives only in the mountain cantons of Appenzell, Glarus, and Underwalden. In these cantons citizens meet to vote by a show of hands on election of canton officials, budgets, tax proposals, and other questions affecting the community. It is a process not unlike the New England town meeting.
The Landsgemeinde of Appenzell village, capital of Innerrhoden, is held on the last Sunday of April, a beautiful time of year to see this countryside. The rolling meadows, groomed like lawns, are at their greenest; the pear trees are in bloom, while snow still crowns Santis, the jagged summit of the Alpstein. Cowbells call attention to the black and white cows grazing on the velvety hummocks.
Due to the isolation of the region, the past is still present in Appenzell folklore, customs, and costumes. It is also the best place in Switzerland to look for embroidery, baroque jewelry, Biedermeier chests, and primitive art, including painted milk buckets and the molds for the thin honey cakes called tirggel.
The Appenzellers have the highest per-capita incomes in Switzerland. However, like his Yankee counterpart the Appenzeller is thrifty and spends sparingly, except on his daughter's dowry, which traditionally includes gold jewelry, fine woolen blankets, and linen sheets, as well as some of the famous embroidery. He may even keep his money in a sock instead of a bank. Perhaps it is this parsimoniousness and conservatism that makes him the butt of many a Swiss joke.
For the Landsgemeinde Appenzell is hung with colorful flags and pennants. An upright black bear, symbol of the monastery of St. Gallen, is still the canton's emblem. Even without these bright banners the village would be picturesque. The church has an exterior fresco of St. Mauritius, while inside it boasts splendidly carved pews. The houses are gaily painted and bonneted with bracket gabling. The shops of the Hauptgasse (main street) are hung with wrought-iron lions, horses, wreaths, and other gilded emblems. In the bakery shop we spied cakes decorated with sugar cowmen in traditional yellow breeches and scarlet jackets.
We had been advised that the most comfortable way to see the ceremony was to make a reservation for lunch in the Santis hotel. The procession begins at the church but ends in the square before the hotel. The restaurant was crowded, but most of the diners were Swiss. While we ate white asparagus and ham, followed by veal in cream, we could watch the electors assembling in the square, the men dressed soberly, many carrying handsome ancestral swords, symbols of their right to vote. We saw no yellow breeches or scarlet vests in this crowd. We also saw women only on the outskirts. Swiss women were given the right to vote on Federal matters in 1971. The Cantons of Glarus and Underwalden have now allowed women to participate in the Landsgemeinde. However, in Appenzell they still are not allowed to vote on cantonal or communal matters.
When the hour of the ceremony approached, the proprietor of the hotel took us upstairs to an empty bedroom whose balcony made a perfect viewing stand. A band of fifes and drums and a color guard precede magistrates who are robed in long black gowns, except for the bailiff who always wears the canton colors, half black and half white.
The visiting spectator is overwhelmed by the pageantry. The voters are intensely serious, and the sight of all those upraised hands is indeed impressive. We were interested to learn that many of the young, rejecting the anonymity of the modern state, are strong advocates of preserving this form of direct democracy.
When the new magistrates have been elected and votes taken on cantonal matters, the ceremony ends with a solemn vow between the voters and the newly elected Landaman (chief magistrate). He vows that he will be faithful to the people who have elected him, and the electors in turn swear an oath of allegiance to the new chief of the canton.
St. Gallen is 52 miles east of Zurich (1 1/2 hours by electric train). St. Gallen also has easy rail connections both with Rorschach and Romanshorn on the Bodensee (Lake Constance).
St. Gallen has four four-star hotels: Hecht, Im/Portner, Metropol, and Walhalla. Prices vary roughly between $50 and $70 for a double room. St. Gallen also has five three-star hotels: Continental, Dom Garni, Ekkehard, Jagerhof, and Sonne. Prices vary between $40 and $50 for a double.
The village of Appenzell is 12 miles south of St. Gallen (one-half hour by narrow gauge railway).
In spite of these excellent accommodations, you might enjoy staying at the three-star Hecht or Santis in Appenzell ($23 to $33 for a double room) or the two-star Kronen in Trogen. Room in the latter costs only $11. All three of these hotels have the charm of country inns.
If you need further information, Werner Boos, director of the Tourist Office of Northeastern Switzerland in St. Gallen, is extremely friendly and helpful.