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Basel border guards nab meat smugglers

Border guards in Basel arrested two men attempting to smuggle more than 300 kilograms of non-refrigerated meat into Switzerland in a van from Germany, Swiss customs administration officials said on Tuesday.

Basel border guards nab meat smugglers
Photo: Swiss customs administration

The men, two Somalis living in Switzerland, were caught with 151 kilograms of sausages, 110 kilograms of chicken legs, 57 kilograms of lamb and large quantities of poultry-burgers.

The meat was wrapped in plastic and packed into cardboard boxes, customs officials said.

The two men were checked at a small border crossing in Riehen, a municipality in the canton of Basel City, on December 7th, officials said.
 
Customs said the meat, which was spoiled, was destined for resale by a family farm business in German-speaking Switzerland.

One of the Somalis had earlier been caught smuggling cooking oil and wheat flour to the farm.

“The two detainees were surprised at being stopped because obviously they did not expect to be checked at this small crossing,” Patrick Gantenbein, of the Basel customs office said, according to a report from the Basler Zeitung newspaper.

It was not clear how many hours the meat had not been refrigerated.

But Gantenbein said “the meat was unappetizing . . . liquid was deposited in the bags”.

Customs destroyed the contraband.

Unrefrigerated transport of meat is banned in Switzerland because of the potential health hazards.

Customs said the Somalians faces charges and fines of several thousand francs.

Significant differences in the price of food in European countries and Switzerland have proved tempting to smugglers, particularly since the Swiss franc has risen in value against the euro.

And Basel appears to be one of the favorite points of entry.

In July, customs nabbed a Frenchman attempting to transport 1.4 tonnes of non-refrigerated beef from Holland across the border at Riehen in his Mercedes van.

In May, customs officials in Basel caught a man trying to carry 1.5 tonnes of ham and cheese across the border, also in a van.

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FESTIVALS

What you need to know about Switzerland’s Unspunnen, the world’s largest traditional festival

This celebration of Swiss rural culture will take over Interlaken from August 26th to September 3rd.

What you need to know about Switzerland’s Unspunnen, the world's largest traditional festival
Photo: Unspunnen festival
Unspunnen… I’m thinking wool, spinning, weaving. Am I close?
 
No. The event’s full title is the Swiss Wrestling, National Costume and Alpine Herdsmen’s Festival, but it’s known as Unspunnen because that’s the name of the meadow where the first festival took place.
 
Ah, so we’re talking classic Swiss rural pastimes?
 
Exactly. It’s Switzerland’s biggest and most prestigious rural festival, bringing together Alphorn players, flag throwers, Swiss wrestlers, choral singers, stone throwers, Hornussen competitors and herdsmen and women in traditional costumes. In short, it’s every Swiss rural tradition you can think of packed into one nine-day festival. And seeing as it’s only held once every decade or so – the last was in 2006 – it’s quite a big deal. This is only the tenth edition since the festival was founded over 200 years ago.
 
Photo: Unspunnen festival
 
So why was it founded?
 
The first Unspunnen was held way back in 1805, in a period of political turmoil in Switzerland, which had been ruled by the French from 1798 to 1803. Tensions between the cities and rural communities in the Bern area led four Bern residents to found a folk festival to try and foster good relations between the city dwellers and country folk.
 
Did it work? 
 
Partly. The first festival and a second one three years later were extremely popular (5,000 people attended in 1808) and sparked a tourism boom in the area. However they failed to ease political tensions. The third festival wasn’t held for another century, and it wasn’t until 1946 that it became a more regular thing. From the 1981 festival onwards, Unspunnen became a major national event and attracted tons of media coverage. It’s now considered the world’s largest traditional gathering, attracting 150,000 spectators.
 
 
So what’s new this time?
 
For the first time in the festival’s history it will be held for nine days encompassing two weekends. Each day is dedicated to a particular rural sport, such as alpine wrestling (Schwingen), alphorn playing, target shooting and Hornussen (a 17th century cross between cricket and golf). But what’s most associated with the Unspunnen is stone throwing. 
 
Photo: Unspunnen festival
 
Any old stone?
 
No, since you ask. The Unspunnen stone is a hefty 83.5kg, so throwing it any distance at all is quite a feat. The record is currently held by Markus Maire from the village of Plaffeien, who threw it an epic 3.89m. The stone has become a symbol of the festival and is considered a Swiss cultural treasure. It’s just a shame no one actually knows where it is.
 
How come?
 
The Unspunnen stone has quite a history – the original 1805 stone disappeared after the first festival, and a new one was made for the following event in 1808. That was stolen by Jura separatists from a museum in Interlaken in 1984, but then mysteriously reappeared in 2000. Then five years later it was stolen again from a hotel in Interlaken where it was being displayed ahead of that year’s festival (which was later postponed a year due to flooding). A substitute of the same weight is now used instead.
 
Photo: Unspunnen festival
 
Is it likely to mysteriously reappear again?
 
Who knows. The organizers say whoever took it is assured a warm welcome in Interlaken. “If you happen to drop by with the stone before the event starts, the president of the organizing committee will open a bottle of good wine so that you can both toast to a successful festival,” they said last year.
 
Lovely. I’d like to drop by myself – how do I do that? 
 
All ticketing and travel information is available on the festival’s website, unspunnenfest.ch
 
Photo: Unspunnen festival