It is hard to find a prettier spot than Interlaken. Situated between two lovely lakes, surrounded by wooded heights, and lying but a few miles from the snowy Jungfrau, it is like a jewel richly set. From Lucerne over the Brunig, from Meiringen over the Grimsel come the travelers, passing on their way the Lake of Brienz, with the waterfall of the Giessbach, on its southern side.
From Berne over Lake Thun, from the Rhone Valley over the Gemmi or through the Simmenthal come the tourists, seeing as they come the white peaks of the Oberland. And Interlaken welcomes them all, and rests them for their closer relations with the High Alps by trips to the region of the Lauterbrunnen, Grindelwald, and Murren, and the great mountain plateaux looking down upon them. Interlaken is not a climbing center. Consequently mountaineering is little in evidence, conversation about ascents is seldom heard, and ice-axes, ropes, and nailed boots are seen more often in shop windows than in the streets.
Interlaken is not like some other Swiss towns. Berne, Geneva, Zurich, and Lucerne are places possessing notable churches, museums, and monuments of the past, having a social life of their own and being distinguished in some special way, as centers of culture and education. Interlaken, however, has little life apart from that made by the throngs of visitors who gather here in the summer. There is little to see except a group of old monastic buildings, and in Unterseen and else-where some fine old carved chalets, but none of these receives much attention.
The attraction, on what one may call the natural side, centers in the softly beautiful panorama of woods and meadows, green hills and snow peaks which opens to the eye, and on the social side in the busy little promenade and park of the Hoheweg, bordered with hotels, shops, and gardens. Here is ever a changing picture in the height of the season, in fact, quite kaleidoscopic as railways and steamboats at each end of Interlaken send their passengers to mingle in the passing crowd. All “sorts and conditions of men” are here, and representatives of antagonistic nations meet in friendly intercourse.
On the hotel terraces and in the little cafes and tea rooms, one hears a babel of voices, every nation of Europe seeming to speak in its own native tongue. Life goes easily. There is a gaiety in the little town that is infectious. It is a sort of busy idleness. “To trip or not to trip” is the question. If the affirmative, then a rush to the mountain trains and comfortable cabs. If the negative, then a turning to the shops, where pretty things worthy of Paris or London are seen side by side with Swiss carvings and Swiss embroidery and many little superficial souvenirs. As the con-tents of the shops are exhibited in the windows, so the character of the visitors is shown by the crowds, and the life of the place is seen in the constant ebb and flow of the people on the Hoheweg.
Interlaken is undoubtedly a tourist center, for few trips to Switzerland overlook or omit this delightful spot. Thousands come here, who never go any nearer the High Alps. They are quite content to sit on the benches of the Hoheweg, listening to the music and enjoying the view. There is a casino, most artistically planned, with plashing fountains, shady paths, and wonderful flower-beds. Here many persons pass the day, and, contrary to what one might expect, it is quiet and restful, lounging in that parklike garden.
For, notwithstanding “the madding crowd,” Interlaken is a little gem of a mountain town, with an undertone of repose and nobility, as if the spirit of the Alps asserted herself, reigning, as one might say, for all not ruling. And always smiling at the people, as it were, is the majestic Jungfrau, ever seeming close at hand, altho eight miles away. .
The pleasures of this little Swiss resort are exhaustless. The wooded hills of the Rugen give innumerable walks amid beautiful forests, with all their wealth of pine and larch and hardwood, their moss-clad rocks and waving ferns. In that pleasant shade hours may be passed close to nature. The lakes not only offer delightful water trips, but also charming excursions along the wooded shores, some-times high above the lakes, giving varying views of great beauty. While, ever as with beckoning fingers, the great peaks, snow-capped or rocksummitted, call one across the verdant meadows into the higher valleys of Kienthal, Lauterbrunnen, Grindelwald, and Kandersteg, to the terraced heights above or up amid the great wild passes.
Interlaken is, above all, a garden of green. Perhaps the unusual amount of rain which falls to the lot of this valley accounts for its verdure. In any event, park, woods, meadow, garden, even the mountain sides are green, a vari-colored green, and interspersed with an abundance of flowers. Nowhere is the eye offended by anything inartistic or unpicturesque, but, on the contrary, the charm is so comprehensive that the visitor looks from place to place, from this bit to that bit, and ever sees new beauty.
To complete all, to accentuate in the minds of some this impression of green, is the majestic Jungfrau. Other views may be grander and more magnificent, but no view of the Jungfrau can compare in loveliness to that from Interlaken. A great white glistening mass, far up above green meadows, green forests, and green mountains, rises this peak, a shining summit of white. Fitly named the Virgin, the Jungfrau gives her benediction to Interlaken, serenely smiling at the valley and at the town lying so quietly at her feetthe Jungfrau crowned with snow, Interlaken drest in green!
In the golden glory of the sun, in the silver shimmer of the moon, the Jungfrau beckons, the Jungfrau calls! “Come,” she seems to say, “come nearer ! Come up to the heights ! Come close to the running waters ! Come.” And that invitation falls on no unwilling ears, but in to the Grindelwald and to the Lauterbrunnen and up to Murren go those who love the majestic Jungfrau! What a wonderful trip this is ! It may shatter some ideals in being taken to such a height in a railway train, but even against one’s convictions as to the proper way of seeing a mountain, when all has been said, the fact remains that this trip is wonderful beyond words. There is a strangeness in taking a train which leaves a garden of green in the early morning and in a few hours later, after valley and pass and tunnel, puts one out on snow fields over 11,000 feet above the sea, where are seen vast stretches of white, almost level with the summit of the Jungfrau close at hand, and below, stretching for miles, on the one side the great Aletsch Glacier, and on the other side the green valleys enclosed by the everlasting hills !
The route is by way of Lauterbrunnen, Wengen, and the Scheidegg, and after skirting the Eiger Glacier going by tunnel into the very bowels of the mountain. At Eigerwand, Rotstock, and Eismeer are stations, great galleries blasted out of the rock, with corridors leading to openings from which one has marvelous views. Eismeer looks directly upon the huge sea of snow and ice, with immense masses of dazzling white so close as to make one reel with awe and astonishment. In fact, this view is really oppressive in its wild magnificence, so near and so grand is it. The Jungfraujoch is different. One is out in the open, so to speak; one walks over that vast plateau of snow over 11,000 feet high in the glorious sunlight, above most of the nearer peaks and looking down at a beautiful panorama. On one side of this plateau is the Jungfrau, on the other the Monch, either of which can be climbed from here in about three hours.
Yet the eye lingers longer in the direction of the Aletsch Glacier than anywhere else, this frozen river running for miles and turning to the right at the little green basin of water full of pieces of floating ice, called the Marjelen Lake, or See, at the foot of the Eggishorn, which is unique and lovely. Long ago it was formed in this corner of the glacier, and its blue waters are really melted snow, over which float icebergs shining in the sun. In such a position the lake underlaps the glacier for quite a distance, forming a low vaulted cavern in the ice. Every now and then one of these little bergs overbalances itself and turns over, the upper side then being a deep blue, and the lower side, which was formerly above, being a pure white.
Again turning toward the green valleys, one with the eye of an artist, who can perceive and differentiate varying shades of color, can not but admit that the Bernese Oberland is “par excellence” first. Even south of the Alps the verdure does not excel or even equal that to be seen here. There is something incomparably lovely about the Oberland valleys. It is indescribable, indefinable, for when one has exhausted the most extravagant terms of description, he feels that he has failed to picture the scene as he desired. Yet if one word should be chosen to convey the impression which the Oberland makes, the word would be “color” For whether one regards the snow summits as setting off the valleys, or the green meadows as setting off the peaks, it matters not, for the secret of their beauty lies in the richness and variety of the exquisite coloring wherein many wonderful shades of green predominate.