Jungfrau in cloud

Clouds, almost like lingerie on a quiet, sunny winter day–the level of mystery–what is really there that I can’t see? I want to see more.

Lord Byron saw it in storm and had quite a different take, documented in his poem, ‘Manfred‘.


The view south toward the Jungfrau massif from the Interlaken region. Real estate agents might call this the million dollar view.


Railing about what?

Once upon a time…and then it was yesterday…and you are reading this today.

In a land of mountain trains–funiculars, cable cars and narrow gauge cogwheel trains. They are slow and they get you high.

Why? Why get high?

I’ll let the following photos tell the story. You will be in the Bernese Highlands of the Jungfrau Region, the northern pre-mountains, above 2,000 meters in the Swiss Alps. Why build these mechanical contraptions to get high?

Here are the trains that get you high.


Passenger cars–note narrow gauge and cogwheel. Start at 600 meters, finish at 2,300 meters.


Passenger cars and engine–small and strong–electric power. 


Engine close up–attached in front of the engine is a cart for transporting goods and construction materials.


Once you are high…the air is thin, fresh, cool and the distances…magical.


Mountains–Eiger, Monch, Junfrau with the Mannlichen gipfel amidst the clouds in the foreground.


Paths to explore, paths for discovering.




Going deep in.


Can’t get enough.

Landrace Clouds

What are landrace clouds? I made it up. Combination of words to describe the reality of cloud appearance in my neighborhood.

My neighborhood. According to the Swiss National Meteorological office, my Swiss neighborhood is the Northern Alps, the north facing slopes of the northernmost range of Alps in Switzerland. Using more common tourist and environmentally friendly vocabulary, my neighborhood is in the Jungfrau Region of the Berner Oberland around Interlaken. I live in the north-facing drainage basin of the famous Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau mountain triumvirate.

Now all that aside, over my years of walking this neighborhood, I have noticed that barely observable, minimal fluctuations in temperature, humidity, pressure and wind create quite dramatic formation and dissolution of very low level clouds. Please do not confuse them with fog. For a patient viewer, a dance reveals itself. And where there is dance, there is music. Not in astronomical time, but in real time. See it. Feel it. Hear it. 

Unmistakeable to a person on foot.

So for me, landrace clouds are very specific, locally generated occurrences. That is my starting point. That is real. Then the fiction begins. I call it fiction because of the reality that what we call ‘fixed’ or ‘settled’ science is not really fixed or settled or permanent. I like working and writing on the edge of the fixed because every edge is fuzzy and invites exploration, as do these landrace cloud phenomena.

I ask myself, what really happens at the point where a cloud begins its formation in touch with the earth? My response is a bit alchemical, a bit old school. I theorise that point as the interaction of earth, air, water…kind of special already, no? But what about ether? What happens at the moment of generation and the final moment of dissolution?

So, I go hunting in my neighborhood for generation points of landrace clouds. Following are eleven images from recent forays.


1. Here is a generic shot of clouds in my neighborhood. Note the lake(water), the mountains(earth) and the sky(air). Note the cloud varieties.  Anybody sense the presence of ethereal?


2. Here is a closer view showing certain cloud interactions with the earth.


3. In this partially zoomed view, note the implied dynamics of the landrace cloud edges.


4. In this zoomed view it is clear to see the scale of the landscape and the recently generated landrace cloud.


5. And now the landrace cloud hunt begins–first person–on the ground–in your face.


6. I learned the landrace cloud dynamics first hand. They always move. Their edges always change. The harder I looked, the further away they were.


7. On another day, I learned that if I just stood still long enough, the landrace clouds came to me. But on this day no such luck.


8. Without the opportunity to be at the point of cloud generation, I had so satisfy the walk by appreciating such details as here.


9. Spring wild flowers in Alp pastures never cease to amaze.


10. But as I was looking for the landrace cloud points of generation, I saw this hut at the edge of the forest.


11. And at the peak of the roof,  protecting this hut, was…

All of the above represent a ‘typical’ walk in my neighborhood. And that is why fiction is just too close to fact. 

The clues, the journey…

…just a bite…

Someone prepared for the journey…er…or a long trip…


…with, along the way to autumn…pearls of the woods.

And, it is never twice the same. Never.

Listen to ‘Mys Alpli’

Edelwyss-Starnen sing the last verse of Mys Alpli. High in the Berner Oberland, an alp is a field, a pasture, a productive piece of mountain land where animals can be grazed. Thus in the background of this you can hear the bells of the sheep, goats and cows. Available at itunes.apple.com/us/artist/jodelg…rnen/id329166348

Mid July in the Berner Oberland Jungfrau Region–it is that time of year when the highest alps receive the animals for the ‘spring’ grasses.

I met a researcher in a Stubbe last week. He was researching linkages between humans and the landscape. He shared with me the following photos of yodelers.


Yodelers in the Jungfrau Region of the Berner Oberland in Switzerland–in the yodel, a human can hear and feel the landscape.


Yodelers demonstrate their respect for the landscape in all aspects of their lives–arts, crafts–and the richness of the detail recalls the richness of their feelings for the landscape. Stewards, custodians of the landscape–that is only the beginning in the Jungfrau Region of the Berner Oberland.


He noted that these yodelers are not hired professionals or foreign workers. They are humans whose families have lived in this landscape for centuries.

He posited that there are rootlets of some strange consistency that transcend the lifetimes of humans. Those rootlets, he said, were channels through which a music travels from the landscape through the voices of the yodelers.

Each verse of a song glorifies a different aspect of the relationship between humans and the landscape. And each chorus…well…the chorus is the landscape.

Interlaken: design & tourism

…Interlaken Jungfrau…

The yellow dots with black outlines are previously busy successful hotels that are empty, or rarely occupied, or struggling for a four or five-star rating

At the heart of a tremendous landscape. Interlaken.

In the Bernese Oberland region of the Swiss Alps, Interlaken is a 365day/year resort destination on the Aare River connecting two lakes at the confluence of four valleys.

Interlaken alone has more than 900,000 overnight stays/year. Tourism drives the economy. Landscape drives the tourism.

This place is all about design, why? Because this landscape exudes inspiration, it enables captivation. A guest can see it, breathe it, feel it, taste it and touch it. Landscape feeds design.

But change is inevitable. New design is required.

…mountain cure comfort…

The last of the great Interlaken-Jungfrau five-star resort destinations from the Victorian era. Take the airs. Take the views. Take the walks. Take the cures.

…take your pick…

This view of the Jungfrau from Interlaken across the Hohematte today has become nearly a touristic cliche. It was the original tourist attraction. Now it is only 10% of the landscape attractions accessible from Interlaken.

What is the inspirational magic that fills the air in this landscape? For two hundred years the greatest authors, composers and all humans have been captivated by this ethereal landscape beauty which has propelled them to design, compose, write, paint.

Great American writers have built on their experience in this landscape: Mark Twain, James Fenimore Cooper. And a partial list overwhelms: Haller, RousseauGoethe,(as inspired by the Staubbach in Lauterbrunnental), Byron, Mendelssohn, Schiller, AC. Doyle, Tolkien, Bierstadt, Caspar Wolf, Hodler, Calame, and pop ‘artists’ like James Bond, Clint Eastwood.

In the last century the Art Nouveau movement spurred deluxe hotel and town growth here.

The most practical and interconnected transportation and communication systems were overlain for easy access. Best in class convenience from the international airports of Zurich, Geneva and Bern via network of trains, trams and busses seamlessly linked to networks of bikes and pedestrians to all winter and summer recreation options including every xxx-treme sport. These put visiting humans into direct touch with the landscape.

Interwoven in all the above is the art of living in these inspirational landscapes. People who live here have translated their inspiration to trychler, yodeler, alphorn, sagen and scherrenschnitt.

Visitors gain access via Interlaken to sites having the UNESCO ‘international seal of approval’:

UNESCO Biosphere Entlebuch: An area of 400 square kilometres to demonstrate a balanced relationship between people and nature unfolds as a mystical world with pre-Alpine moorland and karst landscapes.

UNESCO World Heritage Jungfrau Aletsch: An overwhelming display of the Alps’ natural beauty covering over 800 square kilometres. At its heart lies the mighty rock massif of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau and the glacial landscape around the Great Aletsch Glacier. The Aletsch Glacier is 23km long, the longest glacier in the Alps.

So what’s the problem? The hotel, resort destination cycle has been bottoming as the visitor profile has changed. Nobody has grasped what is the 21st century successful tourism paradigm. Four and five star hotels are out of business. Other hotels from the Art Noveau era can not easily meet the 21st century energy savings regulations. And the visitor who 30 years ago would visit one or two weeks, now visits two or three days.

Recent tourism numbers and trends intrigue.

Berner Oberland Region = 12,000 beds; net occupancy rate 50%

Interlaken Region = 4,000 beds; net occupancy rate 64%

International Arrivals = Europe 50%, Asia 25%, Americas 15%, Africa 5%, Middle East 5%

Interlaken Region Arrivals = Swiss 45%, International 55%

In conclusion, this Interlaken landscape region has undeniable attraction to Swiss and every geographical segment of  international visitor. The annual visits are steady. The communication and transportation infrastructure is up to date and best in class; but the types of accommodations are not leading the way. The tradition of four and five star has all but disappeared–it struggles.

But there are committed private sector players whose future is based upon visitors’ feet on the landscape, regional transportation and watch consolidator. Both of them rely on successful, comfortable and convenient overnights.

Where does this landscape tourism go in the first half of the 21st century?

Airbnb, local holiday apartments, dormitory accomodations?

Are the traditional comforts of four and five star hospitality culture a memory, not suited to today’s green regulations, today’s pace of life, today’s constrained economics?

Or is there a new paradigm still undiscovered that matches and challenges this timeless inspirational landscape?

That is a question for designers, entrepreneurs and lovers of landscape.

…mountain magic…

For centuries, humans from this region have used the alphorn to express how this landscape inspires them.

…sweetest music you never heard…

Berner Oberland landscape and plants work their way into the finest corners of human inspiration, design and crafts.


Gentian blue, four species…but the color of lapis lazuli…implies the cultural wealth of millennia.

…taste the mountains…

The local brewery, with 700 yrs of history, sells its brew in two litre refillables–collectible graphic design, no?

…fresh water air

Lake steamers connect Interlaken to all towns and villages on the Thunersee and Brienzersee–fresh air carried on fresh water from the Grimsel Pass glaciers.


The arable land yields food for humans who respect that miracle in their crafts and architecture.

…music, always music…

Whether by jodeling, alphorns or tales…human connections with the landscape are easily accessible in this region.

…flying is too fast…

A visitor can access this landscape in every imaginable manner.

…take a gamble…

Human shelters for entertainment and education–the old and the new both sitting nicely in the landscape.

…up the valley…

Departing Interlaken from the Hohematte foreground in the direction of the Jungfrau begins an exceptional landscape design sequence of spaces experience working up through the valleys to Grindelwald or Lauterbrunnen.


This is a view across the Hohematte toward the Jungfrau. The Hohematte is a 14 hectare meadow in the center of town, first owned by the Augustinian Monastery, then by Bern and finally in the 1860s bought by a consortium of locals who have preserved it as a meadow in perpetuity.


Interlaken blends modern with tradition in many aspects of design, arts and crafts.


Ethnobotany–only the bravest of the climbers could find edelweiss–Leontopodium alpinum.

…two km straight up…

Network interfaces–urban quality interfaces at the foot of Eiger and Jungfrau. Convenient and awe inspiring.


For walkers the wayfinding is superb. Networks to networks–superb. Clear, crisp.

…water's edge…

In Interlaken, the Aare River connects the upstream Brienzersee to the Thunersee and continues as the largest tributary to the upper Rhine.

…and still the landscape inspires…

Churches tell the political and religious history–Catholic, Reformed–Austrians, French…via arts and crafts.

…idealized plants…

Art Nouveau craftsmanship inspired by the landscape.

Implied Basics

…snow basics…

In this photo is the loop of life. All the basics are there or implied. Tree yields wood for shelter. Tree implies arable soil and vegetation upon which all life subsists. Snow is the provision of water. That is all. The fuzzy bit is the uncertainty that all get automatically at the time of birth. But even with uncertainty the entire picture can indeed have balance, even though asymmetrical.

On 1May2016 an unexpected snow fell.

Sometimes sharp and crisp doesn’t tell the story. Fuzzy around the edges, that is real life. Between the door of birth and the door of death, uncertainty, that is the real day to day life.


First Snow–not quite


It’s that time of year for snow–mid-November, northern hemisphere, in highlands ski country, though the weather is not quite ready to play.

…but we can fix that…fire up the snow machines!

Mountains, civilized? Ha!


Mountains, civilized? Ha!
Not these behemoths!

Since written history and before, the Bernese Oberlands have frightened and inspired humans, including Goethe, Byron, Hesse, Mann, Strauss, Schiller, Mendelssohn, Doyle, Haller, Hodler, Savrasov, Koenig, Bierstadt, Wolf, Fearnley…the list goes on and on…and thousands of others who have followed their footsteps.

It is that human consensus which has inspired local people, evolving from agricultural dependency into the modern world, to build technically complex, electrically powered, narrow gauge cogwheel trains up the Bernese Oberlands mountain slopes to what is known today in the Swiss Alps as the Top of Europe.

So, now, humans climb these incredibly steep slopes, sitting on padded seats, with central heating, enjoying visual delights through floor to ceiling polarized glass windows–civilized access to the not nearly civilized mountains.

…what time…where…

Access–maybe just a tiny bit civilized.