Trusera Waters and Muehlebach Wurst

Cited for the first time in the 15th century, the Trusera brought water for centuries from the Milibach in the Rappen valley to irrigate land at lower altitudes. In recent decades, the channel had fallen into a sad state of disrepair and was no longer being used. From 2006, however, in great part because the regional Landschaftspark Binntal took it on as its first major project, the water way was revived and restored, so water now rushes through it again. The system is fascinating, and well worth walking along, especially since it runs through a scenic, almost magical area on the forested flank of the mountain above Ernen.

Interesting, too, are the various constructs designed for directing the flow. There are the modern pipes and industrial vats in the lower terrain, but more striking along the way are the descending wooden trestles and the hollowed-out tree limbs that represent hours of hard manual labor. Occasional back-ups occur, given the natural debris of seedpods and soft gravel. While I was underway, I came across a man diligently picking out modest amounts of clogged leaves and sticks from the channel with a small 6-tined rake. From far down the path, I had spotted a long-eared wild hare watching the man, too, but keeping a safe distance from him. As soon as the poor hare got one glimpse of me, though, he dashed into the underbrush.

The easy Trusera stroll to the nearby town of Mühlebach takes about 2 hours; it starts from the Am Wasen bus stop, the first stop up into the Binn valley from Ernen.  By some lucky fluke, I ran into a duo of Alphorn players just as I started out. They were practicing to play at a wedding the following Saturday, so gave me a private concert of 4-5 solemn tunes. Gaiety is not the alphorn’s middle name, I find, nevertheless, it set my course for more of the unexpected. The farther you walk, namely, the more you see “faces and figures” along the way: tree trunks or brush that look uncannily like human sentinels, or show expression, albeit in the rough. I had a ball recording them, and making up suitable titles: “A Case of Disarray,” “The Three Graces,” “Is that a Pistol in your Pocket?” “Seriously Down and Out,” “A Little Fanfare,” among them.
As the path wound alongside underbrush and flora, the clear water made a sweet sound accompaniment, and a robust wooden bench overlooking the valley at the halfway mark made a nice resting place. Taking note of the woods fragrances as I came towards the village, though, I was suddenly struck by the distinctive smell of grilled sausages: someone having a picnic in the woods, perhaps?

But no, crossing the bridge into Mühlebach, tents had been set up, a good-spirited crew was busy turning Würste over the coals, and others were serving up tables with sausage, beer, soft drinks and cheese raclette. Again, just by chance, I’d stumbled across the annual celebration of the town’s Backhaus (baking oven house), where 15 or 20 townspeople had also dropped by to bake rye bread in an ancient oven. I’d have to come back for lunch!

First, though, I wanted to see the town’s 15th and 16th century houses. Having been spared destruction by fire, the Mühlebach settlement likely has the oldest wood-framed houses in Switzerland. Some two dozen dwellings had plaques dating them, several, to as early as the mid-15th century, even before Columbus discovered America. Others had huge, flat stone roundels on the corner posts to keep vermin away from their larders. Many of the solid, dark wooden houses also had carefully tended gardens and neatly stacked woodpiles. Steeped in history, they were a sobering reminder of times when among the townspeople, a sausage on a grill and a chunk of house-baked bread might have been the very definition of well fed. That said, once back at the fête and with a cold bottle of Feldschlösschen beer in hand, the Wurst and the home-baked rye from the old Backhaus still went down very well.

Ernen, 21 July 2015, by Sarah Batschelet*