Flag throwing is a Swiss tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages. // © Switzerland Tourism
The city of Bern, Switzerland’s capital, is a place in which the traditional and the modern have somehow managed to meld together almost seamlessly — not always an easy accomplishment for an ancient city. Bern offers some of the best aspects of modernity (such as a great public transportation system and luxurious hotels), but it remains committed to preserving its old-world charm and connections to tradition.
I got to experience Bern's old-world charm firsthand on a recent tour of the historical city, when I was introduced to the Swiss tradition of flag throwing. The custom was traditionally practiced by urban guilds, starting in the Middle Ages. Nowadays, flag throwing usually takes place at folklore festivals, and is comprised of a series of up to 99 different regulated swings of the flag.
Right in the middle of the cobblestone street, a fully-costumed flag thrower demonstrated his expertise, and even taught some members of our group the basic moves. Though he did not speak English, he still managed to teach us the proper way to swing the flag above our heads, rolling and unrolling the cloth around the pole to create different effects. As much fun as it was to participate, the real treat was watching him perform his craft, executing a number of skilled tricks that sent the flag soaring high into the air and right back into his outstretched hand.
While seeing flag throwing performed in Bern’s streets is not the typical way visitors experience the art, it’s worth attending a festival or event to see this mesmerizing folkloric spectacle.