The Adventures of Switzerland’s Most Famous Stone

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Never mind it’s a duplicate. Photo: Patrick Frauchiger/flickr

Fans of yodeling, dancing and schwingen got their money’s worth last Sunday at Switzerland’s biggest celebration of traditional culture, the Unspunnen festival. If the sight of men wrestling in lederhosen isn’t exciting enough for you, the festival showcases another pearl of entertainment: stone throwing. No less than 83kg of massive granite has to be shifted by each competitor, the further the better.

The first Unspunnen festival was held in 1805. Napoleon had just invaded Switzerland, and the event – and the ‘Unspunnen Stone’ with it – became a symbol of Swiss unity. But it was not until 1984 that the stone rose to international fame, when it was abducted by a group of Bélier activists – part of quiet Switzerland’s very own separatist movement.



Britain has the Queen, France has its republic, Italy has Michelangelo’s David and Switzerland has its stone. Imogen Foulkes, BBC

Following the creation of the canton of Jura in 1979, Jurassian separatists fought for political reunification with the South of Jura, which had opted to remain in the canton of Berne. Some of the more radical French-speaking Jurassian nationalists even wanted their own state, which, unlike Switzerland, would be a member of the EU.

After 17 years of life as a political hostage, the stone was returned in 2001 in a well-orchestrated media stunt. Wrapped as a bonbon, it was handed over to Shawne Borer-Fielding – probably Switzerland’s most controversial celebrity at the time. A glossy German magazine had published photos of the former Miss Texas posing as a scantily clad, pistol-shooting cowgirl – nothing out of the ordinary, it seems, unless of course you are married to the Swiss Ambassador to Germany.

The returned stone was identified as genuine, but to the horror of Swiss Euro-skeptics, the Bélier movement had carefully carved the 12 European stars in it. Their demands were now literally written in stone.

The carving had cost the stone 2.3kg, and it could no longer be used for the competition. Instead, it became the main attraction of Unspunnen’s 200-year anniversary exhibition– until it was stolen again, in plain daylight. To this day, its whereabouts remain unknown. Its duplicate, meanwhile, is kept on a marble plinth in the counter hall of – where else would it be safe enough? – a Swiss bank.


Valerie joined the ISN in April 2011. She holds a master's degree in political science from Leiden University. Valerie previously worked for an information and communication technology consultancy and served as Voter Education Officer and Political Affairs Officer for the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste. She speaks German, English, French and Bahasa

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