“Berne A Swiss Community welcomes you”
Come with us on a voyage to the town of Berne. Walk with us through the parks and take a look at the impressive Muensterberg Clock Tower. Next to the tower is a colourful monument known as the ‘Cantonal Tree’, on it are various plaques, each one proudly representing the different Cantons of Switzerland. Noticeably however one of them is in the American colours and that’s because this Berne is not in Switzerland! No, no, it is in fact over 7,000km away, far beyond the Atlantic Ocean and deep in the Midwest of the U.S.A. Welcome to Berne, Indiana!
In the main park you can see a monument dated back to 1852, which was when Berne was founded by its Swiss forefathers. Berne, Indiana is a close-knit community of just over 4,000 inhabitants. Here, your next door neighbours carry family names such as Baumgartner, Eicher, Liechti and Lehmann to name just a few. Sounds pretty Swiss right?
You can take the Swiss out of Switzerland but you can’t take the Swiss out of them.
Make no mistake, this is a town where the Swiss heritage still lives on. Especially amongst the older generations. Luckily, we at Language Exchange Switzerland were able to get access to audio recordings from the remaining Swiss German speakers who still live there. Speaking in Bärn Deutsch from the Emmental region, they give you a clear feeling of their cultural identity, which remains very Swiss-like to this day. A common theme that you will hear in the recordings revolves around the importance of food preparation, as well as raising and growing their own food. Specifically the importance of cooking together. All of which you can’t argue are not strong cultural traits that exist within Switzerland today. These people are so Swiss that they still eat many Swiss dishes and one of them is Rösti., which you will hear about in the recordings linked at the end of the post.
Preserving the culture
All of the above information comes to us because of one woman’s work: Gretta Yoder Owen, who is a descendant of those Swiss who emigrated to Berne. Gretta carried out a Masters thesis in 2010 with the goal to capture through audio sample the remaining speakers of Swiss German. The idea was so that the recordings could be preserved for future generations. Now, we at Language Exchange Switzerland have a mission for these audio samples to be shared and distributed by you the listener across social media in Switzerland. In doing so you will help to raise awareness for this often untold story.
A Language on the verge of extinction
Sadly out of the 19 interviewees, Gretta has informed us that quite a few have already passed away and that within a short period of time the language will be completely extinct. Nevertheless, the people of Berne remain motivated to stick to their roots. This is why they have set up a Swiss Heritage Centre who’s mission is “to spark and sustain an interest in the Swiss and Christian heritage of Berne”. There you can take tours and visit their museum in order to extend your knowledge on this unique community. You can learn more about the Swiss Heritage Centre by clicking here.
A symbol of legacy
As you read above the people of Berne have even went so far as to build a close replica of the Muensterberg Clock Tower. The Chairman of this project Mr. Keith Reinhard gives us an insight into the projects inspiration, “What you learn in Berne is not only worth celebrating, it’s worth preserving in a way that uniquely reflects our Swiss heritage. The Values brought here by our founding fathers were an important part of my own growing up in Berne and i’m proud to see those values still guide me today”. You can learn more and even offer some welcomed support to this project by clicking here.
Finally, we leave you with a link to the four different audio files which are available on the Language Exchange Switzerland YouTube channel by clicking here. Please do feel free to comment and let us know what is your reaction? How does their Swiss German sound to you? And are you curious to learn more about this community? By you commenting it helps us to know that the work going into this project was worthwhile. It will also motivate us to release some more of the Swiss German recordings which we have on file.
One last thing, we are looking for volunteers to translate this text into German. Please feel free to contact us. It will greatly help in spreading the story of the Swiss descendants from Berne, Indiana.