Every fourth Monday in November, Bern awakens to the sounds and smells of the traditional Onion Market.
The market booths extend from the train station down the side streets all the way into the heart of the old city. The main action is located between the station and the Bundeshausplatz square. But the streets of Bern will blossom into a giant open air market as far as the Münster Cathedral.
Every year, farmers from the surrounding region sell about 5 tons of onions on this day.
Needless to say, this is by far the largest farmer's market in Bern. Apart from onions, items such as garlic, cheese, homemade produce, jams, dried sausages and breads are for sale.
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. The best time to truly enjoy the market is in the hours before 6 AM. Before the crowds arrive, there is a mystical, hushed atmosphere in the old town.
Once the majority of visitors arrive, some by train and other by the busloads, 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.
Onions are arranged into long tresses, held together with straw and decorated with dried flowers.
About the history of the Onion Market in Bern
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 1400s. 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-speaking 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 for onions. The Onion Market in Bern was born.
So, it is only by happy chance that the Onion Market in Bern was born. Curiously enough, Zibelemärit is a holiday in the Canton of Fribourg, but not in the city of Bern!
Must-try: Zibelekuchen onion pie
To keep visitors warm, the stalls will be hawking plenty of mulled wine - even this early in the day. Apart from garlic bread, the real star of the day is the Zibelekuchen onion pie.
There is barely another place and time where onion pie tastes as delicious as during Zibelemärit in Bern... This delicacy is made of sweet onion, characteristic cheese, salty bacon, and a bit of muscat.
As you will see, it is very popular among everyone: it is not uncommon that 12'000 slices of onion pie are sold in a single day! Onions also happen to have impressive health benefits as they are considered anti-inflammatory antioxidants.
Next level: Zibeleschwümme river swim
For the truly brave, the traditional Zibeleschwümme (Onion Swim) takes place on the Sunday prior to the market. This tradition dates back to 1986 and usually attracts about 100 swimmers.
At 2:15 PM at the Schönausteg, swimmers can immerse themselves in the bitterly cold River Aare. Water temperatures might be anywhere between 6° to 10°C. As part of the Zibeleschwümme, they will proceed to swim a distance of 350 meters.
Why they do it remains a mystery. Only people who have signed up a month earlier with the lifeguard association are eligible to participate. You and I are welcome to watch, and who knows? Maybe the following year, we too, will take the plunge!
What weather conditions to expect during the Onion Market in Bern? I almost 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 make it to Bern from most Swiss towns by 6:30 AM.
All the details about the Onion Market in Bern are summarized for you below: