There's a lake in Switzerland, near the Alps, called the Blue Lake. The name fits because the water is crystal clear and when there are no clouds in the sky, the water is crystal clear blue. It's used to breed rainbow trout that are eaten in restaurants around the country.
In the past, here had been problems with the fish developing diseases over the winter and infecting the new fish in the spring. As a precaution, the lake is 'shocked' every year with an electrical current, effectively killing any remaining fish. But before this is done, they open the lake for fishing for a few weeks. People of all ages come to fish.
For years, a group of men from Oberwil have been getting together for a day of fishing, eating, drinking and having fun. In 2001, not long after I had come to stay in Oberwil, I was invited to join them. I was hesitant. Not only was I unsure of what the day involved or how I would communicate without being able to speak their language, but I wasn't a man. Herbert reassured me that everything would be okay and told me to go and have a good time.
We started the day by meeting at the Dorfläderli, the small store in our village, at 6:30am for coffee and croissants. Two vans had been organized for transportation, along with two drivers who had agreed to abstain from alcohol. For the rest of us, the drinking started on the one and a half hour trip to the lake. Many had brought flasks of schnapps. (Not the same thing as schnapps in the states, such as peppermint or root beer schnapps, but just as potent. It's an alcohol made by distilling fermented fruit and it's very, very good.) Herbert knew about events like this fishing trip and had helped me be well prepared by giving me two flasks - one with Williams, a pear schnapps, and one with Vieille-prune, made with prunes and then aged. It didn't take much to convince me that the schnapps would help keep me warm on that chilly fall morning. What I didn't know, at that point, was that the day would end after midnight with drinks at the Bären Restaurant back in Oberwil and that there would be drinking all along the way. I maintained though, and had a really great time.
The only problem I had that day involved food, and not drinks. For lunch, there had been a menu on the wall of the restaurant and everyone was ordering one of two dishes from it. In my limited German, I understood that one was a spaghetti dish, prepared in the chef's own way. I wasn't sure what that was and the macaroni dish with ham and cheese sounded better. I ordered it. When we were served, the spaghetti dish looked great and I commented on it. One of the guys asked me if I wanted to try a bite. I did. The pasta was a bit chewier than I was used to, but I liked it and nodded my head and smiled when someone asked me if I liked it. Then I noticed that everyone was watching me and laughing. I stopped chewing and my throat froze when they told me that it was cow's stomach. Someone jokingly asked if I wanted a napkin so that I could spit it out. I did.
Since that day, I asked one of the men why they had invited me. He told me that it was simple. It was because I asked a lot of questions about everything, which told them that I was interested in their culture and because they thought I would enjoy doing something new. I stuck with my inquisitive personality and asked why was I the only woman to go? The answer to that question is not as clear to me, but it has something to do with the military. Almost every male in Switzerland is trained in the Swiss Army when they are a young man. For most, it only involves the initial training and two weeks of service every year. As they get older, they need to go and show that their equipment is in good order.
Some of the men in Oberwil used to go as a group and then make a day of it. They would stop in places such as an Army surplus store, but mostly they went to a series of bars and restaurants. After a certain age, they no longer needed to show their equipment and decided to fish instead. They've gone every year since. The group has expanded to include their sons, their sons-in-law and their friends. I was told that I am now included as a part of the group because I had been in the Army in the States. I felt honored, but had to bite my tongue because they would never understand that a former U. S. Marine doesn't feel much association with the group called the U. S. Army. Instead of pointing out the difference, I thanked them for considering me.
I've gone on both of the trips in the two years since that first year in 2001 and have come to look forward to it for months in advance.
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|1 - A view of the Alps from one side of the Blue Lake.||2 - This photo of the lake was taken on a different day, earlier in the summer, when Herbert and I had taken our friend Ken there.||3 - This trout, just waiting to nibble on a piece of sweet corn. There were so many fish, that it really did seem like shooting fish in a barrel.|
|4 - On one end of the lake is a submerged statue of a mermaid.||5 - This is a plaque next to the statue. It tells the story of a young girl who was found in the lake and how her tears over a lost love are what turned the lake blue. (Click to enlarge if you want to read it.)||6 - Sometimes the border of the lake is so crowded that it's hard to find a place where you can fish without being hit with a flying hook. Here, we had room to spread out.|
|7 - Fredu, looking like he's caught one.||8 - When you catch a fish, someone is always there with a net to help you bring it in.||9 - After the fish is caught, you're asked to be humane and hit the fish over the head. The sticks are provided by the lake association.|
|10 - There is a restaurant at the lake and they clean the fish and vacuum pack it for us. Here we are, outside the restaurant, waiting for everyone to finish fishing and for our own fish to be packed.||11 - Lunch is always at a small restaurant in Spiez, which is also a brewery. We sat at the bar and waited for our tables to be ready.||12 - One of two tables for lunch.|
|13 - The table I sat at... and the guys who laughed when I ate the 'spaghetti'.||14 - We stopped at a bar in Bern that's owned by this guy, a friend or relative of one of the guys in our group. I had to take a picture because I couldn't believe how much he resembled my father.||15 - Drinks at a bar in Deiterswil, owned by a friend of most of the guys.|
|16 - René, who's part of a yodeling group, sings wherever he goes. Here at the bar, he started singing and almost everyone joined in. From here, we went on to dinner and a kind of bowling game at a restaurant in Unterramseren before finishing the ‘fishing’ day at the Bären.|