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Isolated from St. Gallen by a ridge of green hills, Appenzell is one of Switzerland's quieter regions. Fellow Swiss think of its people as hillbillies, citing their quirky sense of humor and old-fashioned costumes. The city of St. Gallen melts away into undulating hills spotted with doe-eyed cows, a steep-pastured, isolated verdure reminiscent of the Ozarks. Prim, symmetrical cottages inevitably show rows of windows facing the valley. Named Appenzell after the Latin abbatis cella (abbey cell), the region served as a sort of colony to the St. Gallen abbey, and its tradition of fine embroidery dates from those early days. The perfect chance to see this embroidery is during a local festival, such as the Alpfahrten, when cows are herded up or down the mountains. Women's hair is coiffed in tulle, and their dresses have intricate embroidery and lace, often with an edelweiss motif; men wear embroidered red vests and suspenders decorated with edelweiss or cow figures. These traditional costumes are taken very seriously; they can cost thousands of francs, but in this case, pride supersedes economy.
The town of Appenzell blends some of the best and worst of the region, offering tourists a concentrated and somewhat self-conscious sampling of the culture. Its streets are lined with bright-painted homes, bakeries full of Birnebrot (pear bread) and souvenir Biber (almond and honey cakes), and shops full of machine-made embroidery. Appenzell seems to watch the tourists warily and gets on with its life while profiting from the attention. Its Landsgemeindeplatz in the town center is the site of the famous open-air elections (until 1991, for men only), which take place the last Sunday in April. Embroidery is big business here, but it's rare to find handmade examples of the local art; though women still do fine work at home, it's generally reserved for gifts or heirlooms. Instead, large factories have sprung up in Appenzell country, and famous fine-cotton handkerchiefs sold in specialty shops around the world are made by machine here at the Dörig, Alba, and Lehner plants.
Appenzell at a Glance
Elsewhere in Eastern Switzerland
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