The development of marksmanship in Switzerland
Swiss marksmanship is based on traditions that date back centuries. Training with the bow and arrow, as well as the crossbow and the spear, served to chase quarry, but also to defend against predators and occasionally
Although black gunpowder was already invented in the 14th Century, the crossbow was the dominant weapon up to the middle of the 15th Century. In the Burgundy Wars (1474 – 1477), only half the guards were equipped with hand-held firearms. In Switzerland, these were mentioned for the first time in 1377 (11 rifles in St. Gallen).
Up to the 17th Century, the crossbow was also considered a «noble» weapon. For training purposes but also for the amusement – principally on Sundays – it was shot for example at discs or wooden animal figures.
Several shooting competitions, such as the «Knabenschiessen» contest in Zurich, which was documented for the first time in the 15th Century, originate from those traditions.
Target shooting was practiced not only in rural areas but also in the cities, some of which had only just been founded. From the 14th Century, guilds and brotherhoods were founded there.
Target shooting offered an opportunity to meet and consolidate alliances between neighbours. In 1378, Solothurn invited the «gemein Schjss-gsellen» [common shooting fellows] from various federal locations. Even abroad, the riflemen travelled to participate in shooting events, for example in 1485 to Munich or in 1563 to Vienna.
The strengthening of the armed forces went hand in hand with the growth of the cities. Against the backdrop of the Old Zurich War and the Burgundian Wars, organised shooting experienced an upswing from the middle of the 15th Century. The endeavour to found further societies was generously supported by the authorities via donations and the granting of privileges with a view to external defence. During this time, the major rifle societies were founded, such as those in Berne, Basel and Geneva. In the Schaffhausen Council minutes in 1477, a shooting society was mentioned, which also accepted women as members.
Such societies are regarded as the forerunners of today's shooting clubs. For training purposes, the members met under their rifle master on the shooting range, later in club buildings on the upland shooting meadows. At organised competitions, riflemen from different locations met and if the festivities were extended to friends, so-called freely invited visitors, the festival became a so-called free shooting event.
The Swiss Shooting Association
In 1789, the revolution broke out in Paris. There was also unrest and uprisings in Switzerland. In 1798, the Helvetian Republic replaced the old Swiss Confederation, followed by several coups, and in 1803 the Mediation Act, a diktat of Napoleon Bonaparte, was adopted, which restored the old cantonal system. After Napoleon's defeat in the Russian campaign (1812) and his exile, the pre-revolutionary authorities took over power in Switzerland at the end of 1813, and the old constitutions, with their social and political inequalities, were reinstated.
In the turmoil of these times, there was no place for any shooting festivals or gatherings. It was not until 1815 that the Congress of Vienna restored orderly conditions in recognition of the Swiss Neutrality. With the awareness of having a free fatherland, new shooting societies were formed throughout the country.
The first ideas for the merger of the riflemen into a federal association were published in 1820. During the Cantonal Shooting Festival in Aarau in 1822, a proposal was made for the foundation of a Swiss National Shooting Association. In 1823 the following resolution was issued: «The first Federal Shooting Festival will take place at Aarau in 1824 and the Swiss National Shooting Association will be launched on this occasion [...].» On March 6, 1824, the Shooting Association of Aarau invited all known shooting clubs in Switzerland to establish the national shooting association.
The first Federal Shooting Festival in Aarau from 7 to 12 June 1824 therefore also brought with it the founding of the Swiss Shooting Association (swissshooting).
The Swiss Shooting Museum
The 31st Federal Shooting Festival took place in Berne in 1885. During this event the organisers decided to set up a so-called «Schützenstube» [Shooters’ Room]. Its purpose was to collect, display and preserve shooting trophies for posterity.
The ground floor of the so-called «Hallerhaus» at Inselgasse 5 (now Kochergasse) served as a venue. In 1894, the collections were relocated to the newly built Museum of History in Berne. In 1904, the Swiss Shooting Association took over the patronage of the Shooters’ Room and in 1914 the Shooting Museum was founded.
In 1937, the assembly of delegates of the Swiss Shooting Association decided to build a new museum building at Bernastrasse 5. The Swiss Shooting Museum began operating at its current location in 1939.
In 1987 and 1990, the museum was renovated inside and outside. The reconstruction of the second floor was completed in 2004.
Tour of the Collections
Voluntary shooting in Switzerland is depicted in a painting above the entrance by the Bernese artist Friedrich Traffelet (1897 – 1954). The standard bearer with the Gruyere alpine herdsman and a workman at his side, are central figures and embody as a group the Swiss people. On the right, a white-haired veteran rifleman points at the Swiss flag to remind a young shooter and a boy with a crossbow of their loyalty to the fatherland. The figures are flanked to the left and right by soldiers. They symbolise the protection of the border from outside incursions. Traffelet partly gave the figures the appearance of members of the construction committee for the new museum building.
Right of the entrance are four sculptures of rightful presidents of the Swiss Shooting Association on the façade. They were made by the Bernese sculptor Walter Linck (1903 – 1975), who in 1943 destroyed almost all his work at that time, and from then on worked only with metal.
There are other wall paintings by Traffelet. Left of the door you can see a rifleman from 1824 with a flintlock musket and another rifleman from 1856 with a uniform and a percussion gun.
The carved archive cabinet of the Cantonal Shooting Association of Bern of 1899 from the «Brienz woodcarving school» is particularly impressive. It is crowned by a crossbowman, standing on a bear. The centrepiece is a crossbow, a flintlock, and a repeating gun from 1889, as well as a «model 1882» revolver. A representation of the common ammunition and an arrow completes the small pictorial weaponry.
To the right of the cupboard is the old stone entrance to the society building «zun Schützen» [«to the rifleman»], constructed in 1605, which was located at Marktgasse 28 in the centre of Bern, where the «rifleman fountain», dating back to the year 1543, still stands today. The society was founded in the first half of the 15th Century and was dissolved in 1799.
Along the staircase, the development of the weapons is reproduced: from the bow, crossbow, hand pipe, fuse and wheel lock bushes, flint and percussion guns to the breech-loading rifles, right up to the modern assault rifle. From the flintlock musket of 1817 to today's assault rifle, there are also the most common ordinance weapons of the Swiss Army, which were also used at the shooting competitions by sports-shooters.
The assault rifle Mod. 57 is a curiosity. The custom-made product shoots around corners. It was specially made for a movie.
Old rifle discs are affixed to the wall along the ramp. Such discs have been used at special events, such as weddings and jubilees since the 16th Century. They are decorated with various scenes from everyday life. It was only after the founding of the Swiss Shooting Association and with the holding of federal honorary and free shooting competitions, that uniform disc images were created.
1st Floor: Hall of Fame
The so-called hall of fame on the first floor offers space for temporary exhibitions.
Weapons from the Collections, photographed by Hrvoje Pavelic
Extended until 6 september.
1st Floor: Great Hall
At the end of the staircase in the display case stands a patron of the riflemen: The legendary Swiss freedom fighter «William Tell». The bronze statue of Tell with son «Walterli» is by the Swiss sculptor Richard Kissling (1848 – 1919). He created the large Tell monument in Altdorf, between 1882 and 1895, and he also designed this statue in his image. Another patron saint of the riflemen is St. Sebastian, also known as «Baschi». He was shot by several arrows at the behest of the Emperor Diocletian in 288 in Rome when he confessed to Christianity. The figure of the martyr probably dates from the 16th or 17th Century.
The development of the Federal shooting festivals from 1824 to the present day is shown in the large hall. Particularly worthy of note are the pictures of the Federal Shooting Festivals, which document an important part of the cultural history almost in full.
In 1829 the Federal Shooting Festival took place in Fribourg. The clergy had categorically forbidden all women to enter the venue. It was less strict in 1832 in Lucerne. For the first time a riflewoman was present. It was 14-year-old Aloysia Meyer. For the Federal Shooting Festival in Lausanne in 1836, a shooting pocket watch was produced for the first time. The watch, made of gold, is a work of the watchmaker's school in La Chaux-de-Fonds. At the Federal Shooting Festival in 1838 in St. Gallen, 10’888 participants were present. A count has shown that they drank 68’400 bottles of wine over 8 days. It was not quite as amusing in 1861 in Stans. The priestly chapter and the district administrator of the Canton Nidwalden wanted to ban the festival due to moral dangers. For recourse, the Swiss Federal Council decided that it would be just as impossible to prohibit shooting for a shooting club as it would be to forbid «singing for a singing club».
In the table cabinets in the front part of the room on the right, precious antique weapons are displayed. The decorative weapons, some of which are permanent loans from the Museum of History in Berne, are decorated with inlaid bone and horn. The oldest of these dates from 1564. Other weapons testify to the high quality of the Bernese art of gun-making of the 18th Century by Franz Ulrich and Christian Schenk. Decorative weapons were sometimes given to the winners as honorary gifts at shooting festivals. On example is the richly decorated so-called «Martini-Stutzer» in the wall showcase. This type of weapon goes back to Friedrich Ritter von Martini (1833 –1897). After a construction period of only a few weeks he had the 1869 weapon ready for series production. The rifle very quickly became a bestseller. In the same showcase, other magnificent testimonials can be admired. Outstanding examples are the silver-gilded cup of the German Emperor Wilhelm II (1859-1941); a tribute to the Cantonal Shooting Festival in Berne in 1910 or the large silver cup, a gift by King William III of the Netherlands (1817 –1890) to the Federal Shooting Festival in Lausanne in 1876. The ornate trophy shows the Battle of Murten on one side and the Battle of Sempach with the legendary «Arnold von Winkelried» on the other side. It weighs 12 kg and four men worked on it for a whole year.
At the rear of the hall, you can find the coins of the Federal shooting festivals. The watches are presented in a display case on the left side of the hall. On the back wall, the flag from 1857 of the Swiss Shooting Association is exhibited. Fragments of probably the first flag from the founding year of 1824 were found in the cantonal armoury in Aarau and these went into the collections of the museum in 1939. Despite restoration measures it cannot be exhibited for conservational reasons.
There are two life-sized figures standing next to the showcases with the sports-weapons. The world champion in Lahti, Finland 2002, Marcel Bürge (b. 1972), is depicted in original sportswear with the appropriate weapon. It is a standard rifle from the Swiss company Bleiker, with which the shooter set the world record in the three-discipline contest individually (589 points) and in the team (1,744 points). Besides him stands Andrea Brühlmann (b. 1984) in her sportswear. She has also won several gold, silver and bronze medals at national and international competitions.
Along the stairs from the 1st to the 2nd floor, there is the typological collection of weapons, that once belonged to Dr Günther of Freiburg.
On the ceiling are some of the flags, which various clubs and associations have entrusted to the museum for storage.
2nd Floor: Great Hall
In this hall, you can find the showcases of the cantonal shooting associations (Aargau to Zurich), in alphabetical order.
In the showcases along the central aisle there are gifts and donations from well-known riflemen, who have bequeathed their collections to the Swiss Shooting Museum. What the World Champion and Olympic Champion Konrad Stäheli (1866 – 1931) from St. Gallen – his life-sized figure stands in this room – achieved in international competitions can hardly be surpassed. With his «Martini-Stutzer» he won 69 medals at world championships. Amongst many others, there is also the trophy. Also remarkable is the collection of the Bourquin-Perret family from Neuchâtel. It was put together for more than five generations from the middle of the 19th Century.
The «Kleider Frey shooting facility» was founded in 1952 as an attraction for the children of parents shopping in the fashion stores of «Kleider Frey». Since 1989, one of the three branches in the museum. The Frey clothing business was founded in 1909 in Wangen near Olten. It existed until the mid-nineties.
The figure on the back-wall is the so-called «Gatteranni». Its name comes from the former headquarters of the «Reismusketen-Schützengesell-schaft» (a noble shooting association of the city of Berne), the so-called
«Gatterkeller» at Nydeggstalden. «Gatteranni» once served there. In 1852, the establishment was demolished. The «Gatteranni» shows to the lucky marksman the successful hits with funny wriggling.
In the hexagonal showcase in the front part of the hall, many awards and trophies can be found that were won by Swiss riflemen at international matches. A silver horse on marble, a gift from Argentine President Perón as 1st prize at the a match in Stockholm in 1947, a Sèvres vase for 1st place for small-calibre at the Match Franco-Suisse in 1950 in Paris, as well as the silver oil transporter and four-piece tea service for 1st place for the army rifle (kneeling) or the match pistol in 1937 in Helsinki.
There were also living prizes to be won in Helsinki in 1937. The bear skin in the wall cabinet once belonged to the bear, which was received by the Swiss riflemen Albert Salzmann, Marius Ciocco, Emil Grünig, Karl Zimmermann and Otto Horber in Helsinki for 1st place in the army gun match. Its name – AMEKO – consists of the initial letters of the winners' first names. The bear lived at Zurich zoo until 1942. After he was put to sleep, his skin was given to the Swiss Shooting Museum.
Jean L. Martin, Historische Uhren der Schweiz, Lausanne 1997
Jean L. Martin, Schützenbecher der Schweiz, Lausanne 1983
Jürg Richter, Die Schützenjetons der Schweiz, Regenstauf 2005
Jürg Richter, Die Schützentaler und Schützenmedaillen der Schweiz, Regenstauf 2005
Schweizerischer Schützenverein (Hrsg.), 100 Jahre Schweizerisches Schützenmuseum 1885 – 1985, Frauenfeld 1985
Schweizerischer Schützenverein (Hrsg.), Schweizerisches Schützenmuseum Bern. Festschrift zur Einweihung am Sonntag den 26. November 1939, Bern 1939
Schweizerischen Schützenverein (Hrsg.), Schweizerischer Schützenverein 1824 – 1924. Gedenkschrift zum 100jährigen Jubiläum des Schweizerischen Schützenvereins 1824 – 1924, Bern and Zürich 1924