Fiction comes alive in Heidiland, Switzerland

Heidiland, Switzerland
Heidiland, Switzerland

A short trip to Maienfield is the highlight of a holiday in Switzerland. Just a few hours away from Zurich, Maienfield is where fiction comes alive. It’s the place that gave the picturesque setting for Johanna Spyri’s much-loved classic, Heidi (published in 1880). This classic has been translated into 50 major languages and cinematized in motion picture as well as animation. The book has since then represented the imag of idyllic beautiful Switzerland. Maienfield town is situated on the eastern side of Rhine Valley at an elevation of around 500 meters at the food of Falkin Mountains. The town today is often referred to as “Heidiland” and is extremely popular amongst tourists. A tiny hamlet has been named “Heididorf” or Heidi’s Villagem which is where Heidi and her grandfather used to spend their winters in the story. The name “Heidi Alp” has been given to a small mountain hut where they used to spend the summer.

The story goes in such a way that orphan Heidi, first raised by her aunt Dete after her parents’ death, moves to live with her paternal grandfather at the tender age of 6. Her grandfather doesn’t get along well with the other villagers and lives in seclusion. His nickname is Uncle Alp. Being a little resentful at Heidi’s arrival, he later grows affectionate towards her due to her cheery attitude and intelligence. Other inhabitants of the mountain grow fond of Hedid soon and she befriends Peter (goatherd), his mother and his blind maternal grandmother. After three years of living with her grandfather, Heidi’s aunt then takes her to Frankfurt to work as lady companion to a wealthy girl child named Clara (regarded as invalid). Heidi’s friendliness, simplicity and delights in all small funny mishaps charms Clara. The housekeeper at Clara’s house doesn’t like Heidi and her behavior much and places several restrictions on her. Soon afterwards, Heidi becomes terribly homesick and grows pale. As a distraction from her sickness she started to learn how to read and write, her motivation being to read to Peter’s blind grandmother. Clara’s grandmother visits them and teaches Heidi than one can always find relief from misery by praying. After a few months, the household is brought near hysteria by appearance of ghost walking around at night, who is not a ghost by Heidi sleepwalking. Due to this the doctor suggested for Heidi’s return to avoid further serious illness. Heidi teaches her grandfather the power of prayer, who then ends his seclusion from the rest of the people around. She exchanges letters with Clara. Later, Clara’s doctor suggests her to visit Heidi because the fresh mountain air and wholesome companionship would be beneficial for her. Upon her arrival to spend a wonderful summer with Heidi, she gets much stronger on goat’s milk and fresh air. Peter grew more and more jealous of their friendship, pushes Clara’s empty wheelchair down the mountain and later feels very guilty and confesses it. With her wheelchair gone, Clara attempts to walk and gradually she succeeds. Everyone is amazed to see her walk and her family promises to provide permanent care for Heidi, if her grandfather is no longer around to look after her.

The story of Heidi and Clara is very sweet and Peter’s role who acted out of jealousy is not all that negative because his little act actually pushed Clara to try to walk. So in the end his little act of jealousy was benficial. The views and atmosphere in Maienfield explains very well why it was chosen as the setting of Heidiland. For a lot of people in the world, a summer get away to  get fresh air could do wonders, just like it did for Clara.

Anjali Gaur is a Researcher living in Pavia, Italy. She studied biomedical sciences in Australia and the UK. Her current work involves research on ‘Red Blood Cell Ageing” funded by the European Commission. Prior to this she worked in Hong Kong and Sweden, where she developed ‘Phage Display Antibodies’.

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