Old heroic stories such as those of Wilhelm Tell melded together the diverse groupings of the Helvetic Society.
Old heroic stories such as those of Wilhelm Tell melded together the diverse groupings of the Helvetic Society. Swiss National Museum

Coming together over a drink

How a “Chilbi” brought the quarrelling and hostile factions of the old Confederation round the table again…

Schweizerisches Nationalmuseum

Schweizerisches Nationalmuseum

The Swiss National Museum is Switzerland’s most visited museum of cultural history.

In 1762, a group of upper class young men decided to formalise their hitherto loose circle of friends. As the “Helvetic Society” they decided to organise an annual get-together in the fashionable seaside resort of Schinznach. The purpose of this Society was to transcend the entrenched denominational rift within the Confederation and give fresh impetus to the awareness of a shared Swiss identity. In Schinznach, Catholics and members of the Reformed Church could get together for a few days, cultivate informal friendships and celebrate their love of freedom. Today we would call it a forum for dialogue. Over the next few decades, what had begun as a small “philosophical meet-up” grew into a major event. Somewhat ironically, towards the end of the 18th century a loyal member referred to the assemblies as “Patriotenchilbi”, a kind of church fair for patriots. It wasn’t just representatives of the aristocracy who came to socialise at these events; the elites of the up-and-coming tributary towns also made an appearance. But linguistic rifts were filled in as well, because French-speaking representatives were also welcome in Schinznach.
Table centrepiece with a drinking glass for the festivities of the Helvetic Society. Made by Alexander Trippel, 1780.
Table centrepiece with a drinking glass for the festivities of the Helvetic Society. Made by Alexander Trippel, 1780. Swiss National Museum
In addition to patriotic speeches, the focus of these meetings was on singing, eating and drinking together. The songs invoked a sense of community and referenced a heroic historical narrative, and the cups were refilled again and again. The “Tellenbecher”, a piece by Schaffhausen sculptor Alexander Trippel, became a symbol invoking a Switzerland that looked back on its past with pride and faced the future with confidence and optimism. From 1780 the event was held in Olten, and later in Aarau. With the establishment of the modern Federal state in 1848, the objective of the Helvetic Society seemed to have finally been achieved. The Society was dissolved soon afterwards. Shortly before the outbreak of World War I, another group of young men recalled the spirit of the Schinznach movement. The internal rifts had deepened again, and suddenly the country’s long-term future was no longer quite so clear. The “New Helvetic Society” still exists today and, among other things, was heavily involved in the founding of the ASO (Organisation of the Swiss Abroad) and campaigned in 1920 for Switzerland’s accession to the League of Nations.

1 Object – 1 Story

Under the title “1 Object – 1 Story”, objects from the collection of the Swiss National Museum are presented in a loose order. The emphasis is less on the technical data of the exhibits and more on their stories. Through these stories the cups, swords and photographs spring to life and give us a hint of what earlier generations have experienced.

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Address & contact
Swiss National Museum
Landesmuseum Zürich
Museumstrasse 2
P.O. Box
8021 Zurich
info@nationalmuseum.ch

Design: dreipol   |  Realisation: whatwedo
Swiss National Museum

Three museums – the National Museum Zurich, the Castle of Prangins and the Forum of Swiss History Schwyz – as well as the collections centre in Affoltern am Albis – are united under the umbrella of the Swiss National Museum (SNM).