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From Yodeling to Raclette Parties

It has often been said that there is really no such thing as Swiss music per se, just music in Switzerland performed by Swiss musicians. There is some validity to this view. Except for its alpine melodies and dance music, Switzerland has made only a modest contribution to the world's repertoire.

Yet, Switzerland has several excellent orchestras and opera companies. The Zurich Opera specializes in German-language productions, and the Grand Théatre de Genéve, the country's leading opera house, has a predominantly French-language repertoire. The Orchestre de la Suisse Romande is the country's best-known orchestra, and the respected Tonhalle Orchester of Zurich has a loyal following.

Local cultural entertainment is highlighted by the folk music and dancing of the alpine regions, which you can also see and hear in the big cities. These includeKuhreigen (round dances), yodeling performances, and a style of dance tunes known as Ländler, performed by small orchestras, whose members usually appear in regional costumes.

Switzerland's cities offer a variety of evening entertainment. In Zurich, the traditional stomping grounds for night owls lie around the Niederdorf, a neighborhood within Old Town known for its strip joints, bars, and music halls. There's even a red-light district. Most nightclubs, however, close at 2am, and many of them seem sterile and a bit boring. Geneva, too, despite its Calvinist traditions, has a sophisticated nightlife.

It might be more interesting, especially if you're a first-time visitor, to patronize some of the local folkloric places, where you can see and hear yodeling and dancing to alpine music.

Theater presentations tend to be in German or French, so unless you speak either language, these shows may not be for you.

Throughout the winter, the après-ski life in Switzerland's high-altitude resorts might best be described as vigorous, with raclette parties, beer drinking in rustic taverns, sleigh rides, and lots of music, much of it brought in by live groups from Great Britain, France, and Germany or from the United States.

Many after-dark rendezvous joints close down in summer. The Swiss prefer to drink outside, under the summer sky, perhaps in some beer garden, rather than being cooped up inside a deliberately darkened disco.

Hornussen, Schwingen & Waffenlaufen

For the majority of the Swiss, the sport of choice is walking, followed by swimming, and, only then, skiing. The Swiss are fond of some uniquely Swiss sports as well: Hornussen, Schwingen, and Waffenlaufen. And while these sports may not be seen in the Olympics, they do call for a certain amount of athletic prowess.

One of Switzerland's greatest writers, Jeremias Gotthelf, praised Hornuss in 1840. He wrote, "There is not any game which calls for as much strength, agility, and coordination between hand, foot, and eye as 'Hornuss.'" The sport was first practiced in the 17th century and stems from war games that had the objective of avoiding projectiles sent flying in the air. Today, Hornuss can be most accurately described as a cross between lacrosse and cricket. The whistling sound the disk makes as it flies through the air is similar to the sound of a hornet. The German word for hornet is Hornuss, hence the name of the game. The opposing team must try to stop the flying disk as quickly as possible with heavy wooden bats.

In the wrestling game Schwingen, strength counts above all. Two wrestlers, or Schwingers, face each other in the middle of a pit with the goal of grabbing the adversary's oversize shorts, to unbalance him, and bringing both his shoulders down to touch the ground. This sport of attack and defense was once a training technique for soldiers preparing for war.

One sport that exists exclusively in Switzerland is called Waffenlaufen. Runners in military uniform must carry a mountain rucksack to which a rifle is fixed. Together, the rucksack and rifle must not weigh less than 7.5 kilograms (17 lb.). Thus equipped, thousands of Swiss race along courses ranging from 26 to 28km (16-17 miles) each year.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.