Ballenberg Swiss Open-Air Museum

Welcome to the Schwingen festival. A unique energy fills the air accompanied by the sound of alphorns. With your “festival guide” in hand, you head straight to the wrestling ring rather than the grandstand. “Here you can try on the wrestling breeches yourself and feel what it's like to lift someone”, explains Mirjam Koring, who designed the new special exhibition at the Ballenberg Open-Air Museum on the subject of Schwingen (Swiss folk wrestling). As a non-Swiss native, she first had to familiarise herself with this very Swiss tradition. “I was in Berlin thinking to myself: what is it that makes Schwingen so unique and what is its relationship with Ballenberg?” The answer: it’s the breeches that are unique compared with any other type of wrestling in the world. Mirjam Koring puts the shorts at the centre of the exhibition and guides the audience through six areas based on different questions.

Switzerland’s toughest trousers 

So what comes next once you’ve hung up your breeches? The museum answers this question with items donated by Karl Meli, probably the greatest Swiss wrestler of all time. 

He was very successful from 1956 to 1978. Some of his records remain unbroken to this day. “In 2019, we received memorabilia from Karl Meli's estate and took this as an opportunity to put together a special exhibition about Schwingen”, explains Koring. Speaking of records, the world’s largest Schwingen breeches hang over the sawdust circle at the entrance. And what makes them the toughest trousers in Switzerland, or indeed anywhere, is the special Zwilch fabric and its manufacture. Here too, you can – in fact, you should – interact with the exhibit and try to tear the fabric: who is stronger? The exhibition also focuses on many other aspects of the traditional Swiss wrestling.

Making use of all your senses

The entire exhibition encourages you to interact with and experience the exhibits with all your senses. The experience is enhanced with sounds, videos and infographics. “It’s important for me to be able to tell stories about the objects and to enable visitors to access them with their hands, hearts and minds.” Mirjam Koring uses digital solutions with intentional restraint. “If the screen is more exciting than the object, that’s a missed opportunity.” Nothing can replace a real experience. This also applies to Schwingen, as Koring knows from her own experience: “I visited various wrestling festivals while in search of inspiration and was fascinated by the sense of calm. I really enjoyed the atmosphere and understood what people love about Schwingen.” Koring managed to capture the power and fascination of this living tradition and make it accessible in a variety of ways. If she were a wrestler, she’d be wearing a victor’s wreath for sure.

Mirjam Koring.

Mirjam Koring (1979*) grew up in Nürtingen near Stuttgart and is a trained stonemason and stone sculptor. She completed her studies in art history, education and cultural studies in 2013 and worked for several years at the Stadtmuseum Berlin. She has lived in Switzerland since 2021 and is Head of Exhibitions, Communication and Education at the Ballenberg Swiss Open-Air Museum. 

Obwalden History Museum

Evil spirits at the wrestling venues are held at bay with objects such as teeth or sacred symbols embedded in the walls. The spot is often marked by a tuft of hair, such as a billy goat’s beard. And what helps ward off Toggeli, the night spirit? We’re always fascinated by superstition, legends and all things mystical. The Obwalden History Museum has first-hand experience of this. “We are actively including the public in the redesign of our permanent exhibition”, explains museum director Pamina Sigrist. “Thanks to 420 returned questionnaires and a future workshop, we know what people in Obwalden are interested in and what is relevant to their lives.”

Sorting and creating reference points

The new permanent exhibition will focus on living environments. “In future, we want visitors to feel how an object has a direct connection to their lives. For example, a historic crate with the essentials for a summer in the Alps is very close to today’s trend towards minimalism. Pamina Sigrist wants to reorganise the permanent exhibition according to themes such as health, globalisation and community. The old box with a #lifehack for a minimalist lifestyle could represent sustainability in the future. 

In dialogue with the present

This allows old objects that are no longer meaningful to us to take on a new meaning. This includes the “Schandgeige”, a kind of wooden shackle for the neck and hands that was once used to punish “quarrelsome women”. The objects in the collection should always be in dialogue with the present. For example, how do we deal with anger today? Are angry female politicians perceived in the same way as their male colleagues? The collection remains the same, only the presentation of the objects is different – more accessible, more true to life, more digital. This is the case for the entire museum, Sigrist promises: “I want to create an open, lively building, where everyone feels at home. Our museum should be a resonating space that triggers something in people. The only way to do this is to create reference points to our own lives.” The unique collection makes this possible. For the current special exhibition “Hotel Vergissmeinnicht”, former museum director Klara Spichtig has opened up this treasure trove once again. In future, exhibits will be displayed in a way that builds a bridge to the present. This is very much in line with Pamina Sigrist’s philosophy: “I enjoy interacting with people and bringing them together with our collection. I see myself as a bridge builder.” The new permanent exhibition is due to open in 2026. New worlds will be opened up to the public.

Pamina Sigrist.

Pamina Sigrist (1980*) grew up in Obwalden and studied ethnology in Bern. Among other things, she worked for ten years at the Obwalden Office for Social Affairs. She has been director of the Obwalden History Museum since 2021. Pamina Sigrist lives with her family in Sarnen.

Nidwaldner Museum

The Nidwalden Museum focuses on how we shape our world. The special exhibition in the former salt warehouse in Stans demonstrates the possibilities and limits of our democracy. This can be experienced right at the start of the exhibition – at the impressive site of what was once the Nidwalden cantonal assembly until 1996. “You can stand at the lectern and imagine what it would be like to make your point in front of thousands of people”, explains museum director Carmen Stirnimann. The exhibition invites visitors to participate at most its stations and is therefore constantly changing. For example, visitors can answer four voting questions by placing stickers next to “Yes”, “No” or “Don’t know”. This includes questions such as: “Are you in favour of a voting age of 16?”

Anyone can give their opinion 

The exhibition is educational, entertaining and contemporary. It manages to make the abstract topic of democracy tangible. “The exhibition was prompted by the 175th anniversary of the Federal Constitution”, Carmen Stirnimann explains on the tour. “As well as looking back at the past, we mostly analyse our democracy today and give the public a voice.” You can also share your opinions at the large round table in the exhibition. Questions on the beer mats provide the basis for discussions. A card game developed especially for the exhibition shows that our lives are also shaped by a host of misconceptions. The idea is to find out whether something is a real law or an often repeated myth. Here’s an example: In Switzerland, you are not allowed to hang your laundry outside on Sundays. The official reason: it doesn't look nice. “We want to show in an amusing way what it can mean when everyone is allowed to have a say”, explains Carmen Stirnimann.

Three buildings to explore

What are the museum director’s personal opinions on political participation? “I always vote, that’s a matter of course for me. But I often run out of time and don’t post the envelope until voting Sunday”, admits Carmen Stirnimann. Getting actively involved and helping to shape the world is also an aspect of her everyday working life. The 43-year-old puts her heart and soul into the museum and its three buildings. These include the former salt warehouse, the Fürigen fortress and the Winkelriedhaus in Stans. Since the end of August, visitors have been able to explore the newly designed permanent art history exhibition with works from the collection. It’s the perfect place to recover from political debates.

Carmen Stirnimann.

Carmen Stirnimann (1980*) is a qualified primary school teacher. She studied folklore and ethnology at the University of Zurich. She has been director of the Nidwalden Museum since 2022. Before that, she worked for five years as curator of the collection and exhibitions at the Nidwalden Museum. Carmen Stirnimann lives with her family in Stans.

Paper edition of the magazine “hin und weg” – also available as a subscription.

This is an article from the magazine “hin und weg”. You can find the printed version at the train stations in Engelberg, Sarnen, Stans and Meiringen, in all Travel Centres, as well as on trains. We will also be happy to send the magazine to your home address. Send an e-mail to with the subject “Subscribe to hin und weg magazine” and include your postal address in the body text of the message.