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In Central Switzerland, surrounded by impressive mountains and located at the shores of Lake Lucerne, lies a small, inconspicuous meadow called the Rütli, where in 1291 Switzerland was founded by exactly nine fingers. The three representatives of the Cantons of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden (today Nid- and Obwalden) Arnold von Melchtal, Walter Fürst and Werner Stauffacher each raised three fingers in an oath and promised solemnly to sharpen their pitchforks and light the torches and to chase the Habsburg occupiers out of the country for good. Well, in principle it could have occurred just like that, but most of the Swiss founding myth surrounding the oath on the Rütli is clouded in legends and further diluted by Schillers work Wilhelm (I refuse to say William) Tell. In any case, the little patch of grass is so inconspicuous, that federal councillor Ueli Maurer once called it “only a meadow with some cow shit” when he didn’t feel like hiking up there for the celebrations on the national holiday, and with his statement, caused a minor scandal.
Maurer is not the only one in Switzerland that lacks a certain pride concerning the Rütli. Most Swiss seem to care rather little about the founding place of Switzerland and there is probably no other country, that lets a place of such huge national importance be shit on by cows and makes it only accessible by boat.
I decide to take advantage of a beautiful summer day to get an idea of said cow pasture and I board one of the historic steamboats in Lucerne. Had it not been so crowded on the boat – apparently I wasn’t the only one with the idea – the 2-hour crossing would have surely been more pleasant. At least the various groups of hikers, tourists and other curious folk supply me with an endless source of entertainment, one group especially so: one guy is actually wearing some type of cow udder on his head and an elderly lady has made herself a hat out of playing cards. The whole group is dressed in traditional clothes and bright red shirts with the Swiss cross on it, wave beer bottles and flags around and stumble over themselves, other passengers and almost over board. Slowly but surely my mood, which took a bit of a dive when I was ushered on the ship with hundreds of other people, is improving.
Two hours and a sunburn later, the steamboat approaches a small pier with a wooden hut. Despite how crowded the ship is, barely 30 people disembark and make their way up to the famous meadow. The silence is only broken by the minute-long shrill temper tantrum of a small toddler, who is getting dragged up the steep trail by a frustrated mother, small arms and legs lashing out. I overtake the power struggle and a few head-shaking retirees and trudge resolutely uphill.
A few people wander rather lackluster over the green grass area, posing in front of a flag pole or picnic in the shade of some trees. There doesn’t seem to be any cow dung. I feel somehow disappointed, although I do not know what I had expected. Was I hoping for an alphorn concert and yodeling women in ancient costumes, while flag-wavers demonstrate their art against the backdrop of dark mountains? The breathtaking nature is in fact the most impressive feature of the Rütli. The meadow is nestled in between high mountains and dark fir trees and below, the sparkling blue waters of Lake Lucerne glitter in the sun. It is quiet, no busloads of tourist disturb the peaceful image and the serenity of the mountain backdrop, no one takes photos with iPads and most visitors are locals who wander briefly across the meadow and eventually end up for a cold beer in the Rütlibeiz.