On November 23, 2018, (and always on the fourth Monday in November), Bern shall awaken to the sounds and smells of the traditional Onion Market.
From the railway station and down the side streets all the way into the heart of the old city. From the Houses of Parliament (Bundeshausplatz) as far as the Münster Cathedral, the streets of Bern will blossom into a giant open air market.
About 5 tons of onions will be for sale, attractively arranged into long tresses, held together with straw and decorated with dried flowers.
Apart from onions, items such as garlic, cheese, homemade produce, jams, dried sausages and breads are for sale! To keep visitors warm, there is plenty of mulled wine, onion pie and garlic bread too, and these are a "must-try" on this very special market day!
Although the official opening time is 6 AM, the market is ready for business from 4 AM. The soft, dim lights of the medieval streets give the market a special feeling - before the crowds arrive, when the atmosphere is hushed, the best time to truly enjoy the market is in the hours before 6 AM.
When the crowds arrive (and over the past few years, they have been arriving by the hundreds of busloads from as far away as northern Germany), the market takes on a carnival atmosphere. Next to the inevitable jostling, confetti fights are common, and children chase each other through the streets armed with plastic hammers - all in good fun.
Brightly wrapped strings of peppermint candy are the fashion of the day, and everyone - young and old - wears these sweet necklaces around their necks. Bands of costumed carnival musicians wind their way through the streets until late in the day.
Onion Market, or Zibelemärit, has been a part of the city's agenda for nearly 200 years, originally as a part of the much longer Martinimesse which dates back to the 1400's. Although the Martinimesse, which was a two week long autumn festival and farmers market ran its course and disappeared into the annals of time, the Onion Market remained.
From the 1850's, women from the French part of Switzerland, on their way to other markets, would arrive in Bern to sell their wares, mainly onions. Interestingly, on the Martinimesse, everything else was for sale, except onions.
So it is only by happy chance that the Onion Market was born. Curiously enough, Zibelemärit is a holiday in the Canton of Fribourg, but not in the city of Bern!
For the truly brave, the traditional Zibeleschwümme (Onion Swim) takes place on the Sunday before the market. At 2:15 PM at the Schönausteg, swimmers shall immerse themselves in the bitterly cold Aare river - with temperatures from anywhere between 6° - 10°C - and swim a distance of 350 m/0.2 mi.
Why they do it is not really known.
Only people who have signed up a month earlier with the lifeguard association are eligible to participate - but everyone is welcome to watch, and maybe next year, you too, will take the plunge!
And the weather? I forgot to tell you - the first snow of the year always falls on Onion Market, or so the locals say. Let's see if this year will be the same...
- Getting there by train: SBB offers special tickets and extra trains, and you can be in Bern from most major Swiss cities by 6:30 AM.
- Onion Market on MySwitzerland.com
Based in the Bernese Oberland, Eva covers local customs and hikes.
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