Republic revived

02/03/2014 in Media, officeholding and local government, Parish Research Today, Projects, The Alpine Territories

Bote der Urschweiz Front Page 3 02 14 CROPPED

Having planned the bicentenary ‘Gersau 2014’ celebrations for over two years, it was heartening to see the parish church of St Marcellus – site of the historic assembly which restored the independent republic on 2 February 1814 – packed solid for the commemorative Landsgemeinde exactly 200 years later (see the picture gallery on the project homepage). Following the Candlemas service (which included the blessing of St Blasius, protector against a range of diseases, administered to each parishioner) and an outdoor reception by the District Council (lubricated by a specially commissioned ‘Republic Wine’), the sounds of drummers – not to speak of a cannon salute – summoned the audience back inside. What director Roger Bürgler had prepared surprised everyone: Schiffmeister Balz, Gersau’s mythical resistance hero (impersonated by actor Stefan Camenzind, pictured above on the cover of today’s Bote der Urschweiz newspaper), emerged to challenge the congregation to think not just about the past, but also the future. One-by-one, he asked speakers to present their different takes on ‘freedom’: the district mayor, a Swiss MP, a refugee from military dictatorship in Turkey, a historian (who happened to be yours truly), a village jester and delegates from fellow peasant republics Dithmarschen and Gochsheim. In-between, on a giant screen, we saw video clips of Gersau’s dramatic landscape and appeals from current schoolchildren, punctuated by live performances from musicians, singers and – yes – a yodeling duet. Following a colourful procession, proceedings continued in the afternoon with a sold-out banquet, a couple of historical lectures and a full entertainment programme in the school hall. Judging from the media echo (cf. the  podcast report of Swiss National Radio SRF), the day was a great success and succeeded in getting people to engage with the aims of ‘Gersau 2014′.

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