On the way there – or at the latest on the way back – from the Jungfraujoch-Top of Europe, we come to the Lauberhorn Village . For lovers of the fast skiing disciplines, this place name is connected with its own memories. If we let our gaze sweep over the valley bottom, we can see the highest located settlement. A place where James Bond made sure there was action. If our gaze sweeps down, our eyes meet today's Rivendell, the western entrance to the Jungfrau Region. None other than J.R.R. Tolkien and Johann Wolfgang v. Goethe have left traces here.
The cows like the view. Today, tourists from all over the world travel into the Lauterbrunnen Valley in order to experience the waterfalls and steep rock faces up close.
Relatively, we know the most about the Lötschen people from Lauterbrunnen.
The migrations from Valais are still going on – whenever FC Sion plays for the cup in Bern. That's when the Wal(li)ser come in droves to the canton of Bern. The Valais also like to inhabit the Bernese Oberland on public holidays.
Thanks to the parish records, we can work out how many people were born and died in a parish. According to the books from 1714 to 1914, in the Lötschental, more precisely in Kippel, around 1,200 more people were born than died. Strange. So we come to the conclusion that during those 200 years, the locals just migrated, predominantly into the Lauterbrunnen Valley in the Bernese Oberland.
At the end of the middle-ages, the Walser inhabited the Lauterbrunnen Valley from today's canton Wallis. The Walser found a crossing at the so-called Lötschenlücke
The Walser were said to prefer elevated terraces and valley floors – they must have been taken aback when they crossed the Lötschenlücke and entered the Lauterbrunnen Valley: The valley filled their requirements perfectly...
The peculiarity of almost all Walser settlements are their geographical positions on the highest terraces and in the back valley areas, closed off from the lower settlement areas by gorges, impassable valleys or arduous climbs. What place would be more suitable than Mürren?
In the past, the valley floor was sparsely populated. Only those parts in the trough valley which were protected from floods were desirable. The summer floods of the Lütschine had almost the whole valley floor by the hair. The Lütschine was constantly raging through various parts of the valley floor.
Far away from civilisation in the isolation of the rear valley floor or on elevated terraces, the mountain people lived their own purely self-sufficient lives.
Living proof of this has been preserved up to now. There were not enough residents of the valley in Lauterbrunnen to want to build their own farming community. Today, they still belong to the three farming communities Wengen, Mürren or Gimmelwald each one belonging to the farming community of the location they left.
With the improvement of the path conditions on the hillsides and on the valley floor, and the embankment of the Lütschine, the front and rear valley floor became more populated.
This Lauterbrunnen has something mystical about it – particularly when clouds of fog surround it. The question of the village and valley community names is just as interesting: There are no less than four meanings.
We can interpret the first two syllables («lauter») to mean «light» or «clear» both from the colloquial and from High German.
We can make the connection with the adverbs «nothing but» «exceptionally» or «merely».
«Z’vordrist uf der hejen Fluoh, da isch luuter», according to a saying in the local dialect. «Luuter» here gets the meaning of a staggering depth. That's right, not many streams fall from a «luuterren» (staggering) edge of a rock face.
As good as the first three explanations might sound, they are: wrong. What a shame, they would have fit so well.
The streams which together build the Luterbach, have their origins in the strikingly «clear» sources. These surface rise directly next to each other and the water is (who'd have thought it) always clear – even during storms or when there is a lot of snowmelt and the water in the other streams is cloudy.
Locations where the water is taken are characterised by its constant clearness and «integrity». These had to be differentiated from the neighbouring sources. In order to make this difference obvious, a more common name was used: spring.
So, it's not surprising that houses popped up around such «clear springs», which then became the centre of a settlement. In our case, this was the Ey and the elevated Wytimatten.
Analogue to the name designation in the Alemannic area, in the valley inhabitants' description it can only be referring to these «luuterren springs». The name would usually be used for the settlement and then used for the whole valley. Which proves that the Lauterbrunnen Valley was a place for constant and good-quality water supply (and of course still is).
The two last syllables of the valley and place name («brunnen») appear multiple times – solely with the meaning «source». «Das Brunni» in Wengen or the «Schmadribrunnen» high up between the Moraine of the Breithorn and Schmadri Glacier confirm this.
So, that's the bit about the valley community names out of the way. The place name is «in claro fonte», in all the old documents, which means as much as «to the bright source». Fons, (fontis, nominativ, singular) is translated in classic Latin as source or origin. The Latin in the documents has little similarity with classical Latin and is much more a translation of the existing German expressions.
The name «in claro fonte» was used for the first time to our knowledge in the second volume of the «Fontes rerum bernensium» on 2nd of October 1240. It was referred to as «Hellbrunn» (bright source) at first and at the beginning of the 19th century even as «Schönbrunn» (pretty source).
In the Interlaken document book 110a from the 17th century, the name (like in earlier documents) was correctly translated as «Luterbrunnen» according to the colloquial language.
If we look from Lauterbrunnen up to the ice giants, we can see the largest village in the valley. Known with the name: Wengen.
Wengen is the largest village in the Lauterbrunnen Valley and is situated at 1,274 metres above sea level. The place name was mentioned in a bill of sale from the year 1268 as «on the mountain of Wengen».
Swiss musician, singer, composer and publisher, on Wengen
Wengen is the plural form of «Wang». We immediately think of our red cheeks (particularly in winter) – in our dialect the expression «Wangen» still means a feature of the face.
The meaning of the word is also present in the landscape descriptions. «Wang» more or less means a steep slope.
In the plural form, «Wang» takes on the ablaut. In other words, the «a» is turned into «e». The place name is derived from this.
In the documents, the place name is seen as «uf Wengen» or «uf dem Berg Wengen». So the assumption is that the name was given by observers on the valley floor. From this perspective, the term «auf dem Wengen» fits perfectly.
The highest, constantly populated settlement in the canton is 1,650 metres above sea level and has the name: Mürren.
Montem Murren (in 1257 for the first time), Murron, Murn, Mürn, Murne, Myrrhen and Mürren.
We derive the meaning of «Spisse» from the Latin adjective «spissus, spissa, spissum» meaning «crowded together». In other words, Mürren is a strictly divided settlement area.
On the valley floor, a stream (Spissbach) bears the same name.
The village is situated on a mural crown on the 700 to 800 metre high rock face.
The name can obviously be derived from the Latin «murus» for wall.
The influence of the Walser in Mürren can not be denied. And in the dialect there are several parallels.
on the question of what he could remember best about his stay in Mürren
The name is a sign. The Roman poets were right of course. When thinking of Wengen, Mürren and Lauterbrunnen, this can definitely be believed – without going red.
Photos: Jungfrau Region, Jungfraubahnen
Story: André Wellig
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