No, the cuckoo clock does not originally come from Switzerland. It’s a
Bavarian Black Forest way of telling time. However, if you really have to have one, then Interlaken is positively chiming with them and is home to "the only genuine Swiss Cuckoo Clock in the world."
Lötscher clocks are made of linden wood, are carved in Brienz and assembled in Zürich. They also cost. So if you have the money and want your home to take on a real Alpine flair, then make sure you buy the real thing!
For lesser mortals, there are smaller cuckoo clocks available and if you have very little room in your bags, then there is the fridge magnet cuckoo clock, too! Keep in mind though that a cheap clock will set you back about CHF 50.-, a small Lötscher starts at CHF 180.- So if your budget will stretch that far, a "cheap" Lötscher is still a better buy...
Holzschnitzereien Albert Schild AG (Bahnhofstrasse 19) carries a lovely selection of souvenirs, all extolling some “Swissness” but lacking the kitsch. Elegant Karlen felt bags, attractively packaged, organic soaps and edelweiss shirts sit comfortably next to a room of wonderful wooden children’s toys. It’s a store for the whole family.
Similar to the humorous history lesson about the Swiss Army Knife, there is an equally interesting story about the Wenger and Victorinox brands. The question is: "Which one is the real deal?" Simply put, both of them are.
It's called The Compromise of 1908:
"The company from which Wenger emerged had been a supplier to the Swiss Army as early as 1893, and its sister-company, Victorinox, since 1890. Wenger is in the French-speaking Jura region and its competitor is in the German-speaking canton of Schwyz. To avoid friction between the two cantons, the Swiss Government decided in 1908 to use each supplier for half of its requirements. So Victorinox can lay claim to being the 'original', Wenger can state its Swiss Army Knives are 'genuine'. In any case, both have been manufacturing Swiss Army Knives for over 100 years and both must meet identical specifications defined by the Swiss Army."
Some of the Victorinox knives are quite ridiculous with literally hundreds of attachments, but a simple one with only 12 tools is usually enough for most people. A basic knife costs around CHF 15.-, and Swiss Knife Center (Höheweg 125) stocks the full range of Victorinox and Wenger knives.
Perhaps less popular in these politically correct times, nothing represents Swiss mountain life better than "Schnapps". Schnapps is drunk the length and breadth of the country, with every region boasting its own specialty.
In the Berner Oberland region, Pflümli and Kirsch are popular (plums and cherries respectively) but you will also find it made from apples, pears, herbs and potatoes. As varied as the landscape, every place has its own brew.
This high percentage alcohol is also added to coffee to make the lethal "Kafi Fertig" (finished coffee, but whether it finishes the coffee off or you is matter of perspective) and is often drunk during the cold, dark days of winter. It is also popular with half frozen skiers at the après ski bars on the slopes.
The Swiss Mountain Market has a selection of schnapps in minibar size - nicely packaged and easy to carry! You can also sample them before you buy...
Delicate paper-cutting pictures, called "Scherenschnitt" (or "Schärischnitt") are available at the stylish Heimatwerk store (next to Restaurant des Alpes, Höheweg 115).
The craze for these pictures started in the 18th century when the fashionable folks had their portraits cut to grace their salon walls. Over time, the art form developed and the country people made it their own, cutting out scenes from their daily lives in astonishingly intricate detail. When buying Scherenschnitt, ask first if the picture is genuinely hand-made or if it is laser cut.
Embroidery is another craft that has taken a downwards turn in this modern world – who has the time anymore? The Embroidery House on Höheweg will change your mind. Beautiful napkins, table cloths and handkerchiefs can make a perfect gift and add a dash of prettiness to any home.
Chocolate is, and remains, the undefeated contender in the souvenir war. But what is good chocolate and what isn't? Plenty of stores sell "genuine Swiss chocolate", but what makes the difference is quality.
The large box with a gaudy picture of Matterhorn on it might seem like a good deal but the chocolate isn't respectable. If you have the time, visit the Schuh Chocolate Show (CHF 14.80 entrance fee, including a chocolate voucher, every day at 5 PM and 6 PM) on Höheweg or Swiss Chocolate Chalet (Höheweg 95), which specializes in hand made Ballenberg chocolate - some of the best in the country.
Merkur Confiserie (Bahnhofstrasse 5) sells fresh Läderach chocolate in large slabs and in 21 sinful flavors. It costs CHF 6.50 for 100 grams, but you can sample the chocolate before you buy it, and Merkur will gift wrap your purchase for free! If this is too much for your senses and you just want a bar of chocolate, go to Coop. Any of the hundred or so Lindt or Callier varieties should set you free. If all else fails, there is still Toberlone!
Last but not least, the humble Swiss watch. Interlaken has plenty of watch shops, and even if you can't afford a CHF 8000.- Tag Heuer, it's still fun to look. Go to Kirchhofer and Bucherer on Höheweg for the genuine Swiss watch experience.
Another option is Swatch. A cheap one will set you back CHF 50.- and these come in a variety of colors and designs. Nor are all Swatches cheap – the heftier steel band ones can cost as much CHF 500.- and look like luxury watches. They also do a line of children's watches which make fun gifts for little people. Swatch is the most popular brand in Switzerland and there is certainly no shame in going home with one (or two). Although there isn't a Swatch shop in Interlaken, plenty of stores sell them.
The Mad Cow is a new store in Interlaken (Jungfraustrasse 21) and though a lot of the merchandise is not particularly Swiss, it is fun. It's a gifting gone a little wild and full of special finds for the hip, younger traveler. The antler coat holders and monkey cuckoo clock are a blast!
For outdoor gifts, Interlaken is Swissness gone mad. Schaufelberger on the main street has everything you can think of (and some things you haven’t – cow print underwear, for example) and fits pretty much every budget. All the other souvenir shops stock more or less the same thing and they are not running out any time soon. Chalet Diana is close to Interlaken Ost and next to the usual t-shirts and mugs also has a selection of Christmas decorations and beer mugs. Yet it isn’t all magnets, weird t-shirts, plastic lighters and smiling cows. There are some stores which stock serious souvenirs.
The Swiss Mountain Market (Höheweg 133) specializes in regional produce and crafts. All you need for a picnic, from bread to cheese and meat. All you might want in order to keep warm, from woolly socks to hats. And belts to keep your pants up with stylish cow patterns... It's an eclectic mix of supermarket and souvenir store, and certainly worth a look! They also rent out e-bikes, so peddling in the mountains becomes a breeze.
Based in the Bernese Oberland, Eva covers local customs and hikes.
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