When the scent of onion tarts and mulled wine wafts through the streets of Switzerland’s capital, the day of Bern’s traditional “Zibelemärit” (Onion Market) has come. Thousands of visitors get up early in the morning to stroll through the upper part of the Old City and enjoy the combination of farmer’s market and fair. The many food and goods stalls sell creatively braided onion strands, delicious onion tarts, wonderfully fragrant “Chnoblibrot” (garlic bread), steaming mulled wine and other warm beverages.
Here are our tips for all onion fans.
#1 The early bird catches the worm
Once a year, many Bern locals rise from their beds far earlier than usual: Although the Zibelemärit only officially opens at 6:00 a.m. and doesn’t close again until 6:00 p.m., locals stock up on their braids of onions from 4:00 a.m. As the day slowly wakes, you can stroll leisurely through the streets and admire the braids of onions in the still tranquil atmosphere. From 7:00 a.m., the lanes in the Old Town start to fill up.
#2 Travel by public transport
The Zibelemärit is unlike any other event in Switzerland. To enjoy the still idyllic market atmosphere in the early morning away from the crowds, you should ideally travel here by public transport. Even in the early hours of the morning, the trains laid on by SBB and BLS comfortably transport visitors to the Zibelemärit from every corner of Switzerland – without any traffic jams. If you’re staying in the city itself, the trams run from 5:00 a.m.
#3 It’s all about the onions
Farmers from the region bring some 50 tons of onions and garlic to the Swiss capital! Artistically braided onion braids, garlands, and figures in every conceivable design can be admired and purchased at more than 200 stalls: from giant, meter-long braids with white and red onions to arrangements with dried flowers and decorated mini-braids.
#4 Culinary delights
It’s all about onions in the kitchens too. Whether onion tart, onion soup, onion pizza, or sausage with onions – the restaurants in Bern’s Old Town offer an array of onion-based dishes. A warming mug of Glühwein is the perfect accompaniment. If you follow the scent of caramel, you’ll also find typical market treats such as roasted almonds, “Magenbrot” cookies, and cotton candy.
#5 Don’t forget your souvenirs
Most of what you’ll find at the Zibelemärit comprises onions in all forms and colors. And you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to buy a traditional, artistically plaited onion braid as a memento. However, the colored sweet onion chains are also popular souvenirs. If you’re looking for Christmas presents, you’ll also find typical market items like textiles, jewelry, ceramics, and toys.
#6 The Zibelemärit is a tradition that lives on
The Zibelemärit is on the list of Swiss traditions that are still followed today, officially making it one of Switzerland’s most important customs. There are many legends around the origins of the event. According to one, the first Zibelemärit was held in the 15th century as part of the “Martini Market”, where everything was sold – except onions. And so, a separate market for onions was created. Another folk story, however, says that the Zibelemärit dates back to Bern’s great fire of 1405. When 650 wooden houses burned down and 100 people were killed, the people of Freiburg hurried to help. As a sign of their gratitude, the Bernese allowed the people of Freiburg to sell their onions in Bern every autumn from then on.
#7 Onion swim
Every year since 1986, on the Sunday before the Zibelemärit, the Swiss Lifesaving Organization (SLRG) has organized the traditional “Zibeleschwümme” (onion swim) in the Aare river. Hundreds of stalwart Aare swimmers meet at the Schönausteg bridge, often amusingly clad in Santa’s hats or crocodile costumes, ready to swim the 350 meters to the famous Marzili pool. As the water temperature can be as low as 6 degrees, the onion swim is only suitable for very experienced swimmers. However, spectating is also great fun – and far warmer!
#8 Get your bearings
The Zibelemärit fills the main and side streets of the Upper Old Town as well as the Waisenhausplatz (Orphanage Square) and Bundesplatz (Parliament Square). Tram lines 6, 7, 8, and 9 plus bus line 12 between the Zytglogge (Clock Tower) and Bern main station are therefore interrupted for the day. If you’re travelling to the main station, you can catch bus lines 10 and 19 from the Zytglogge. The line 10 stop in the direction of Köniz Schliern can be found on Bundesgasse just before the Christoffelgasse junction.
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