Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Ballenberg Trip: New Problems, Old solutions

EPFL organized a welcome trip for new doctoral students this weekend (3rd October) to Ballenberg Museum. Ballenberg is a small village at about 120 Kms from Lausanne. The museum was about old Swiss houses, ranging from 17th century to the modern 19th century houses. Thanks to EPFL for organizing a guided tour, otherwise it becomes sometimes pretty boring. I have been to a few museum trips before, but could not enjoy due to this problem. It was a big open air museum. The beauty was that these houses were not some small models of the old houses, they were real houses. They are disassemble piece by piece and then reassemble it again in the same way in the museum to keep it closest to the original. They have collected many such houses, which are going to be destroyed for some new construction. It takes a lot of efforts and investment. But, it is worth, for it gives an idea of the old culture and tradition and ways of living. I noticed some very beautiful facts and information which I am sharing below:

Superstition: Superstitions have been domniating the human life for the time ancient. The examples of that can be found in these housed as well. The people in the olden days used to sleep half seated because they thought that if they lie while sleeping, lightening God may fall on their chest and they will be dead in the morning. Therefore, the length of their beds were really small, almost half of their body height. Many of us might be laughing but still we beleive in many such superstitions.

Festivals: May be they used to enjoy present day festival, like Christmas, but they were not the biggest and most enjoyed ones. One of the biggest festival for them was laundry or washing the cloths. They used to collect their cloths round the year and wash them once in a year. It was not a 1-2 hours job as of now, rather it used to be a long process of 2-3 weeks. This was the time for all the neighbours to get together and the time for the children to have better food compared to rest of the year. So they enjoyed their work as festivals.

Insurance: There was no house insurance or personal insurance in the olden days, as we have in the modern age. It was very difficult to recover from a natural disaster or some accident. But they have other kind of insurances sources. E.g. if somebody's house got destroyed due to fire or some other accident, the people in the neighbouring villages used to come and donate some wood so that he can reconstruct it as soon as possible. Therefore, human relationship was one of the biggest insurance company of that age, which is bankrupted now :).

Technical development: Due to cold weather of the Europe, they used to have indoor kitchens. Chimneys in the kitchen came around 19th century. Due to no outlet of smoke, the house was full of smoke all the time. Therefore, they had lung problems and average life expectancy of that time was around 40-45 years. But, they did not have any complaint for this because life was like that only. There is one more important fact related to chimney construction. When the chimneys came into existence, the problem was the material for constructing it. The guide told that there used to be a special tree which was cut on 31st March after sunset and this wood, cut on this special time, did not burn in the fire. I did not believe it as many of you may not be able to, but it is true.

Tradition: Unlike today's inheritance tradition, the youngest son used to inherit all the property and poor ones had to find a new place for their living. There has always been a difference between old and poor which was clearly visible in their houses as well. While poor used to make their houses of mud using wooden frames to save the wood, the rich houses were fully made of wood and had facilities like toilet, store room etc.

Intelligence: They used to make low height roofs (less than their average height) so that the volume of the room is less, which can save the fuel to keep the room warm. Nothing coming from the farm was wasted. E.g. the animal flesh was used as food. Remaining, bones were dried in open and used as fertilizer in the fields.

If you are interested to have a look of the museum in pictures, you can visit this link.


  1. nice and informative repertoire...actually, these trips are meaningful only with prior information or with some guide.

  2. this report is very informative......many people goinng for the tour but few of them only reconz problems what the people facing there and ur the one of them who realise the problem and giving the positve solution