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August 27, 2010 > Aelpler Gruppe celebrates Swiss Heritage

Aelpler Gruppe celebrates Swiss Heritage

By Emma Victoria G. Blanco

They aren't the largest demographic in the Tri-City area, but the Swiss have definitely made an impact in this community. They have long observed and shared those traditions and their history with everyone. This year they celebrate the Tri-City Swiss Club's 85th Anniversary.

Over eight decades ago, Swiss people participated as a group dressed in Aelpler costumes at the Diamond Jubilee Parade in San Francisco. Afterward, they gathered at the Roesch (German) Hall and decided to meet as a group, and in 1925, the Aelpler Gruppe Swiss Club was formed. (The name derived from the Aelpler costumes they wore.) Urbanization of the Bay Area compelled many Swiss to move south toward the Tri-City area (formerly known as Washington Township) where they found more farmland and finally settled. Initial club meetings were held in Newark and because the increasing influx of Swiss immigrants called for more dances and celebrations, a hall to call their own became imperative. In 1934, Frank Fries, Sr. purchased five-acres (later paid for by the Aelpler Gruppe) of dairy and farmland on which Swiss Park was built.

Building Swiss Park became possible through the formation of a Park Committee, which collected contributions from Swiss members. The benefit of a $50 contribution was a Life Membership that entitled the member to free admission to all club dances and Schwingfests. For $30, a member received Life Membership and admission to dances only. Hence, the Life Membership of the Aelpler Gruppe came to be. More importantly, contributions, along with $800 loans from three members (Frank Durrer, Jacob Sutter, and Frank Marty) and a loan from the Wilhelm Tell Verein of Oakland, enabled the construction of the present-day Swiss Park. In 1947, the final payment was made and Swiss Club members saw their dream realized.

And so it was and so it is - the Swiss Park serves as restaurant, meeting hall and event facility for its members and the public alike. The restaurant has a full-service bar and serves both American and Swiss/German fare. The banquet hall and picnic grounds are available for rental use. Swiss events are continuously held at the facility, such as Swiss/German Landler music and dancing, Swiss Independence Day (celebrated around August 1st annually), the Fondue Dinner, Musicfests, Schwingfests (Swiss wrestling festival), and other social events that bring the Swiss together in friendship.

If you have yet to visit Swiss Park or take part in Swiss traditions such as the Schwingfest, then come to the Swiss Club's 85th celebration this Labor Day weekend. A Schwingfest is organized by matching wrestlers according to size and past performance for the initial round and during the tournament by points. A Schwinger (wrestler) can receive 9.25-10.00 points for a win (8.75-9.00 for a draw and 8.50-8.75 for a loss). Points are added after each round to re-match the wrestlers, and determine the final winners.

According to Margith Reichmuth, an Aelpler Gruppe Swiss Club member, "Swiss wrestling is very different from free-style wrestling. It is done outside in a large circle of sawdust with opponents each wearing short pants with belts. The goal is to take your partner down to the sawdust as cleanly as possible. It has been the Swiss National Sport long before soccer." "Schwingen" began in 1300, when cow herders in the Alps would participate in simple wrestling matches. The sport has since progressed into many holds, moves, and rules. Reichmuth added, "Wrestlers train all year for the chance to compete at the Tournament which then determines the year's Champion Wrestler. "

In addition to the Schwingfest, Reichmuth is also looking forward to a visiting group from Switzerland. "It links local Swiss with Swiss visiting from Switzerland," she said. "The connection between the two groups is strong and they quickly form new friendships with each other. The tour groups who have visited in the past have admired Aelpler Gruppe's efforts in the Bay Area to continue the culture of Switzerland. They are often astounded by how well second and third generation Swiss living in the Tri-City area still speak the language of Switzerland and carry on many of its other traditions."

Commemorating 85 years of Swiss tradition and heritage in the Bay Area is what will make Labor Day at Swiss Park so special. The celebration begins at 8 p.m. on Friday night (September 3), when a country-western band is scheduled to perform and entertain diners. Saturday's Schwingfest is the weekend's main event. All Schwingers (boys, juniors and seniors) are invited to sign up. A BBQ bratwurst (Schublig) lunch will be served at 1 p.m. (cost is $7) and a BBQ chicken dinner will be served at 6 p.m. (cost is $12). There will be an Alpen Parade and musical entertainment throughout the day and Ron Scheiber's Swiss Orchestra will play for the evening dance. Everyone is invited to Sunday's Outsiders Party and a chance to meet with members of the Swiss Tour Group. Continental breakfast starts at 10 a.m. and a steak dinner at 4 p.m. (cost is $15) concludes the weekend festivities.

Those interested in Swiss culture are welcome to join for an annual individual membership fee of $30. "Aelpler Gruppe Swiss Club offers a variety of events that appeal to a diverse membership," stated Reichmuth. The club has grown and evolved over the years, it has new visions, and continues to welcome all to enjoy and share in the celebration of its Swiss heritage.

85th Anniversary Celebration of the Swiss Club
Friday, September 3 - Sunday, September 5

Swiss Wrestling (Schwingfest) Tournament
Saturday, September 4
Schwinger sign-up at 10:30 a.m.
Event starts at 11:00 a.m.
Admission: $10 (includes dance and awards ceremony in the evening)
Free to children 18 years and under

Swiss Park
5911 Mowry Ave, Newark
(510) 793-6272

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