Schwingen is the Swiss adaptation of wrestling and the national sport of the Swiss Confederation. The sport is deeply rooted in the region of Bern and the canton’s biggest tournament – “Bernisch-Kantonales Schwingfest” (Bern’s Cantonal Festival) – attracts a great deal of attention from the population.
Sawdust, «Zwilchhosen» (wrestling breeches) and the traditional edelweiss shirt are essential parts of a Swiss wrestling tournament. The best wrestlers are called «Böse» («the Wicked»). For the match in the arena, two of the Wicked have to face each other. The sport is regarded as THE Swiss national sport, even before Hornussen (a Swiss version of baseball) and Steinstossen (a Swiss version of stone put). All the athletes regularly compete in tournaments. The best participants receive a wreath of oak leaves and can call themselves Kranzschwinger:innen («wreath wrestlers»).
There are three tournaments of great national importance: the Eidgenössische Schwingfest (Swiss Wrestling Festival) takes place every three years, the Unspunnen Festival and the Kilchberger Schwinget every six years. The athlete who triumphs at all three festivals in the course of their career wins the so-called «Schwinger Grand Slam». So far, only two of the Wicked have ever achieved this: Jörg Abderhalden from the Toggenburg and Christian «Chrigu» Stucki from Bern.
The history of women’s Schwingen is somewhat younger than the men’s sport. The first women’s festival took place in Aeschi near Spiez, but not until 1980. However, the women’s section of the national sport is currently experiencing a huge boom. More and more girls and young women are opting for Schwingen – the youth section currently accounts for two thirds of the members of the Eidgenössische Frauenschwingverband (the women’s association). Contrary to the men, the women’s Schwingerkönigin (the wrestling queen) is determined annually. Bern comes out on top here as well: Diana Fankhauser, Angela Riesen and Melissa Klossner are among the best and they are all from Bern.
Future women’s competitions
A tradition in the canton of Bern
Schwingen is firmly rooted in the canton of Bern. That’s hardly surprising, given that the first historical mention of it is on the Unspunnenmatte in Interlaken and dates back to 1805. However, we can assume that the beginnings of the Swiss national sport go back much further and that an essential part of its history took place in the canton of Bern.
Schwingen gained much of its popularity in Bern because of the many strong wrestlers from the region: Curdin Orlik, Matthias Glarner, Kilian Wenger, Matthias Sempach, Adrian Walther and Fabian Staudenmann are just some of the talented athletes that compete for the Bernisch-Kantonalen Schwingerverband (the canton’s association). With such a high density of top talent, it’s no surprise that Bernese wrestlers triumph time and time again at nationwide festivals. For example, from 2010 to 2019, the title of Schwingerkönig (the wrestling king) was held by one of the Wicked from Bern.
A living tradition
One of the highlights of the Bernese wrestling calendar is Bern’s yearly cantonal festival. The cantonal champion is crowned at this event, which attracts several thousand spectators every year. For example, in 2022 in Thun, over 10,000 wrestling fans gathered to see the Wicked in action.
Visiting Bern’s Cantonal Festival or even one of the smaller wrestling festivals is definitely worth it if you’re interested in sports, traditions, and folk festivals. At a wrestling festival, you can experience this living tradition first-hand. Here is an overview of the ones in the region of Bern.
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