Text: Werner Matt
Translation: John Christensen

Dairy farmers were referred to as “Swiss”

Punkt 7: Dairy farmers were referred to as “Swiss

The “Rotes Haus” – the Red House - is one of the most famous landmarks of Dornbirn and represents the pride of the citizens in what was once the biggest village in the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy. The coat of arms on the left-hand side of the gable of the house, which was built in 1639, shows a fir. It represents the name Michael Danner (Tanne is German for fir), who, according to tradition, was a Swiss immigrant from the Appenzell region. At the time there was a wave of immigration from Switzerland to Vorarlberg. In the 16th century people began producing hard cheese in Switzerland. After the Thirty Years’ War Swiss dairy farmers introduced this procedure in the Vorarlberg Alps. Therefore dairy farmers were often referred to as “Swiss“. Several surnames, such as Bischofberger, Manser, Broger or Innauer, as well as Vorarlberg Alps Cheese, which is today as popular as ever, still remind us of their Swiss origins. The “Staufenschweizer”, a mythical figure from the mountains of Dornbirn, which is based on a historical figure, became famous:

Quote 1: The Legend of the Staufenschweizer (roughly: the Swiss from the Staufen Alp) THE SWISS ON THE STAUFEN ALP The Staufenschweizer was capable of more than ordinary men and people still tell peculiar tales about him. When the French came into the land, they wanted to conquer the Staufen Alp and the mountain on which it was located. When they got up there, the Swiss was busy building a barn. They were shocked when they saw him put a big, heavy wooden beam over his knees and snap it like a twig. Filled with fear, they fled and never returned to the Staufen Alp. A farmer in Rudach had a beautiful daughter, whom the Staufenschweizer was wooing, but the farmer wouldn’t give them his blessing. The Staufenschweizer said: “You will soon be glad to give me your daughter!” and then left. When the farmer entered his stable the next morning, all the cows were tied together, they had stopped eating and their milk was red. When they tried to feed the cat with the red milk, a serpent shot out of the ground, as thick as an arm and as long as a broomstick. It took a sip of the milk and hissed: “Save me, pour holy water down my throat!” The farmer realized the serpent had the voice of his grandfather, who had passed away years earlier. Frightened, he ran back into the house to tell what had happened. – After several days the Staufenschweizer returned and the farmer promised him his daughter, if only he would free him of the evil spirits. He banned the ghosts and married the daughter. This was during mowing season. The meadow was mown and the hay was dry and ready to be gathered in. Black clouds appeared and the time was running out. The Staufenschweizer just smiled, took out a whip and lashed it across the hay. The hay rose up and flew, as if carried by the wind, into the barn, and it stacked itself up into the nicest haystack.

Foto: Tamer Barbaros

Im Giebelfeld des Roten Hauses ist links die Tanne als Wappen der Familie Danner, rechts der Löwe der Familie Rhomberg zu sehen. Original Stadtarchiv Dornbirn, Foto Günter König

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