The development of marksmanship in Switzerland
Swiss marksmanship is based on traditions that go back centuries. The training with bows and arrows, as well as with crossbows and spears, served in particular for hunting and defence. Until the middle of the 15th century, the crossbow was the dominant firearm.
The growth of the cities was accompanied by the strengthening of border protection. Against the backdrop of the Old Zurich War (1440–1450) and the Burgundian Wars (1474–1477), organised shooting experienced an upswing from the middle of the 15th century. With a view to external defence, the founding of shooting societies was generously supported by the authorities, with donations and the granting of privileges.
But target shooting also provided an opportunity to meet and strengthen neighbourly alliances. As early as 1378, Solothurn invited the "gemein Schjssgsellen" [common shooting fellows] of various Confederate towns to a joint competition. If other participants, so-called "free invitees", were also invited, the festivities became a so-called "free shooting". Marksmen also travelled abroad, for example to Munich in 1485 or Vienna in 1563.
The Swiss Shooting Association
When the revolution broke out in Paris in 1789, unrest and uprisings also followed in Switzerland. In 1798, the Helvetic Republic replaced the old Confederation. Napoleon Bonaparte's Act of Mediation restored the old cantonal system in 1803. After Napoleon's defeat in the Russian campaign (1812) and his exile, the pre-revolutionary authorities took power at the end of 1813 and the old constitutions with their social and political inequalities were reinstated.
No shooting festivals took place during this political turmoil. It was not until the Congress of Vienna in 1815 and the establishment of Swiss neutrality that order was restored. With the awareness of having a free fatherland, new shooting societies were formed throughout the country.
First ideas to unite the marksmen into a federal association emerged in Aarau in 1820. On 6 March 1824, the Aarau Shooting Society invited all known shooting societies in Switzerland to found a Federal Shooting Association (today’s swissshooting). The first Federal Shooting Festival took place in Aarau from 7 to 12 June 1824.
The Swiss Shooting Museum
In 1885, the 31st Federal Shooting Festival took place in Bern. In the aftermath of the festival, the organisers decided to set up a "Schützenstube" [Shooters Cabinet] with the purpose of collecting shooting trophies, displaying them and preserving them for posterity.
The collections were housed in the so-called Haller-Haus in the City of Berne. In 1894 they were moved to the newly built Historical Museum of Berne. In 1904 the Swiss Shooting Association took over the patronage of the "Schützenstube" and in 1914 it became the Swiss Shooting Museum.
In 1937, the delegates' meeting of the Swiss Shooting Association decided to build a new museum at Bernastrasse 5. It began operating at its present location as early as 1939. In 2007 the museum was transferred to a non-profit foundation.
Tour of the Collections
The mural painting by the Bernese artist Friedrich Traffelet (1897–1954) depicts voluntary shooting in Switzerland. The flag bearer, the "Gruyère Senn" and the armed worker stand centrally and embody the Swiss Shooting Association. To the right, a white-haired veteran marksman points out the Swiss flag to two young marksmen. The group is flanked by two soldiers on each side. They symbolise border protection. Some of the figures represent members of the building committee for the new museum building.
To the right of the entrance, four sculptures of shooting personalities are mounted on the façade. They were made by the Bernese sculptor Walter Linck (1903-1975), who destroyed almost all his work in 1943 and from then on worked only with metal.
In the entrance hall there are further mural paintings by Traffelet. On the left of the door is a marksman from 1824 with a flintlock rifle and on the right a uniformed marksman from 1856 with a percussion rifle.
The carved archive cabinet of the Bernese Cantonal Shooting Association from 1899 was manufactured in the "Schnitzlerschule Brienz" [woodcarving school in Brienz]. It is crowned by a crossbowman standing on a bear. The centrepiece is a crossbow, a flintlock and a repeating rifle from 1889 as well as a revolver "Model 1882". The depiction of common ammunition and an arrow completes the pictorial weaponry.
On the right-hand side of the cabinet is the old stone entrance to the house of the "zun Schützen" [To the Marksman] Society from 1605, which stood at Marktgasse in the City. The society was founded in the first half of the 15th century and dissolved in 1799.
Along the staircase the development of weapons from the arrow bow, cross-bow, handgun, matchlock and wheel lock rifles, flint and percussion rifles and breech-loaders to the modern assault rifle is shown. Among them are also the most common ordnance weapons of the Swiss Army, which are also used by sport shooters in competitions. A curiosity is the "Model 57" assault rifle. This special model shoots around corners and was made for a film.
Old marksmen's targets are hung on the wall. Such wooden targets have been used since the 16th century for special occasions such as weddings or anniversaries. It was not until the founding of the Swiss Shooting Association and the holding of the Federal Shooting Festivals that uniform target images were created.
1ST Floor: Hall of Fame
The so-called hall of fame on the first floor offers space for temporary exhibitions.
ALL IN GOOD TIME
A Tour d'Horizon through the Collections
1st Floor: Great Hall
In the display case at the end of the staircase is the legendary Swiss freedom fighter "Wilhelm Tell". The model for the bronze statue comes from the Swiss sculptor Richard Kissling (1848–1919), who created the large Tell monument in Altdorf between 1882 and 1895.
In the wall showcase is St. Sebastian, also known as "Baschi". The patron saint, also of marksmen, was riddled with arrows in Rome in 288 at the behest of Emperor Diocletian when he professed Christianity. The larger figure probably dates from the 16th or 17th century, the smaller figure is somewhat younger and served as an offertory. The silver-gilt cup of the German Emperor Wilhelm II (1859–1941) in the same display case was an honourary gift to the Federal Shooting Festival in Bern in 1910 [currently on display in the special exhibition].
Weapons were also given as gifts to the winners at shooting festivals. In the table showcases in the front part of the room on the right-hand side, so-called splendour or decorative weapons are exhibited, some with inlays of bone and horn. Other weapons bear witness to the high quality of Bernese gunsmithing in the 18th century by Franz Ulrich and Christian Schenk.
In the Great Hall, the development of the Federal Shooting Festival from 1824 to the present day is shown. The graphics document an important part of cultural history.
In 1829, the Federal Shooting Festival took place in Fribourg. All women were categorically forbidden to enter the festival grounds. It was less strict in Lucerne in 1832, when a 14-year-old woman, Aloysia Meyer, was represented for the first time. A shooters' pocket watch was produced for the first time for the 1836 Federal Shooting Festival in Lausanne. The gold watch came from the La Chaux-de-Fonds School of Horology. At the 1838 Federal Shooting Festival in St. Gallen, 10’888 participants drank 68’400 bottles of wine within 8 days. It was not quite as much fun in Stans in 1861. The church and the Council of the Canton of Nidwalden wanted to ban the festival because of moral dangers. On appeal, the Swiss Federal Council decided that a shooting society could no more be banned from shooting than a singing society could be banned from singing.
At the back of the hall is the large silver cup that King William III of the Netherlands (1817–1890) had made as a gift for the Federal Shooting Festival in Lausanne in 1876. The showpiece depicts the Battle of Murten on one side and the Battle of Sempach with the legendary Winkelried on the other. It weighs 12 kg and four workers spent a whole year creating it.
On the back wall hangs the so-called "central flag" of the Swiss Shooting Association from 1857. Fragments of what was presumably the first flag from 1824 were found in the cantonal armoury in Aarau and entered the collections in 1939. For conservational reasons, they remain in the depot.
The coins and thalers as well as the pocket watches of several Federal Shooting Festivals are in display cases at the back and on the window side.
In the front part of the hall on the left-hand side is a selection of sporting pistols. Some of them are custom-made for athletes.
Along the staircase to the first floor is the weapons collection of Dr. Reinhold Günther from Freiburg (1863–1919).
Hanging from the ceiling are some of the almost 300 flags that various societies and associations have entrusted to the museum.
2nd Floor: Great Hall
In this room are the showcases of the cantonal shooting associations in alphabetical order.
The wall showcase is about Swiss shooting traditions abroad. The small exhibition was designed in collaboration with guests.
The showcases along the central aisle contain gifts and donations from well-known shooters. What the world champion and Olympic winner Konrad Stäheli (1866–1931) from St. Gallen, depicted as a life-size figure, achieved in international competitions can hardly be surpassed.
From 1952, air rifle shooting was offered as a children's attraction in the fashion shops of "Kleider Frey" (1909 to the mid-1990s). Since 1989, one of the three air rifle ranges has been in the museum.
The figure on the back wall is the so-called "Gatteranni". The name derives from the former meeting location of the Bernese Reismusketen Shooting Society, the "Gatterkeller" in the City of Berne, where "Gatteranni" served. In 1852, the establishment was demolished. By fidgeting merrily, "Gatteranni" indicates the hit to the lucky shooter.
In the hexagonal display case on the left are prizes won by Swiss marksmen at international competitions. These include a silver horse on marble, a gift from the Argentine President Perón for 1st prize in the 1947 "Stutzer-Competition" in Stockholm, a Sèvres vase for 1st place with small-calibre shooting in the 1950 Franco-Suisse Match in Paris, as well as the silver oil transport ship and the 4-piece tea service for 1st place with the army rifle kneeling and with the match pistol in 1937 in Helsinki.
There were also live prizes to be won in Helsinki in 1937. The fur in the wall display case once belonged to the bear cub that the Swiss athletes Albert Salzmann, Marius Ciocco, Emil Grünig, Karl Zimmermann and Otto Horber received for 1st place in the army rifle match in Helsinki in 1937. Its name - AMEKO - is composed of the first letters of the winners' first names. The bear lived in Zurich Zoo until 1942. After it had to be put to sleep, its fur was donated to the 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