The Bern Onion Market or Zwiebelmarkt is infamous, at least in this area of Switzerland. Of course, we had never heard of it, but we had been told we had to check it out. I wasn’t exactly sure what could be so great about an onion market that takes place on a Monday from 6am – 6pm. But, I packed up the boys, picked Emily up at school and headed to the train station.
As the kids and I got off the train in Bern, we noticed confetti all over the floor of the platform, and throughout the train station. When we stepped off the escalator into the streets of Bern, they were covered with confetti as far as I could see. I was still taking it in and trying to figure out which way to go when a total stranger came up and threw confetti all over us. Once we were covered, we started to join in the fun, scooping confetti off the street and throwing it at each other, and anyone else who seemed willing. (Though we later learned that using street confetti is frowned upon, and we bought a bag of fresh confetti).
The market itself consists of thousands of stands throughout the streets of Bern’s old town. The majority of them sell — you guessed it — onions. But not just any old onions. Perfectly proportioned yellow and red onions that have been tied together with dried flowers into hanging decorations. They come in any size you could want, from tiny ones made with the smallest bulbs to huge ones hanging over 5 feet tall. Some were made into wreaths. The kids even got little onion pins.
Besides onions, you could also buy necklaces made out of breath mints wrapped in colorful plastic wrap, festival items like confetti and squeaky hammers, seasonal baked goods like magenbrot, and food stands selling onion cakes and glühwein (Swiss mulled wine), among many other things. Emily opted for a blue mint necklace, while James chose a confetti gun, and of course I had to buy a small bunch of onions.
The streets were crammed with people, and we walked around getting bonked with toy hammers and covered in confetti. It is said that this is the one day when Bern, a city that is thought of as reserved and a little uptight, lets off some steam and goes a little crazy. I realized it would be too difficult to try to eat downtown with all the crowds and three young kids, so we made our way back to the train station and headed home for dinner.
When it was time for bed, and I was getting Henry into his pajamas, I took off his diaper and it was filled with confetti! We did our best to shake off as much as we could, but it keeps turning up in pockets, purses, hoods. We can now say that we have experienced the phenomenon that is the Berner Zwiebelmarkt.