Considering that it is just a town where a fictional character didn’t actually die, Meiringen certainly makes the most of its singular literary connection
The fictional character was (or rather wasn’t) Sherlock Holmes and it was at the nearby Reichenbach Falls that he was believed, wrongly, to have fallen, fictionally, to his death in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s story The Adventure of the Final Problem, from The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.
Located in the East Bernese Oberland, Meiringen is half an hour away by train from the ski resort of Interlaken and, like almost everywhere in the country, is easily reached on the excellent railway system from either Geneva or Zurich.
Visually, it is yet another perfect example of picture postcard rural Switzerland, with painted wooden houses resembling giant cuckoo clocks and snow capped mountains rising in the background. This isn’t meant to sound cynical, but I’d been travelling around the country for a week and it is easy to become desensitised to the embarrassment of scenic riches which seem to be its stock in trade.
For a town with a population of fewer than 5,000, there is an abundance of accommodation. Holmes enthusiasts will probably aspire to either the Sherlock Holmes Hotel (www.sherlock.ch) or the Park Hotel du Sauvage; the latter being where Conan Doyle stayed during the visit which provided the inspiration for his means of killing off his by then cumbersome detective. It was also used as the model for the Englischer Hof, where Holmes and Watson lodge in the story. A considerably cheaper option is the Hasli Lodge, where I spent three nights at a total cost of around £120. All three are centrally located and within easy walking distance of the railway station.
This being Switzerland, bicycles can be hired from the station, and the bus terminus, from which it is possible to take a bus to the foot of the Falls. It took me less than half an hour to walk there, however, and this is a pleasant alternative on a good day for anyone who is even remotely fit. The steep, and in wet weather slippery, footpaths up the side of the waterfall require considerably more exertion and the adjacent funicular railway is a useful time and energy saving alternative.
From the top, “the torrent,” as described by Sir Arthur, “plunges into a tremendous abyss, from which the spray rolls up like the smoke from a burning house.” Falling into this “immense chasm” would result in almost certain death, but the “creaming, boiling pit of incalculable depth” didn’t appear to me to be quite as deep as the author suggested. I was unconvinced that recovering bodies from it would be out of the question. But only one, Professor Moriarty’s, would have been found and Holmes’ fate would have remained a mystery.
On the sheer rock face beside the footpath, a painted white cross denotes the exact spot where, according to the Sherlock Holmes Society of London, the final tussle between Holmes and Moriarty is meant to have taken place. Every year on May 4th, the anniversary of the famous but fictitious event, Society members come to Meiringen, dress in deerstalker hats and tweed capes, and re-enact it, although this presumably does not include one of them jumping into the waterfall.
Back in the town, I paid a visit to the Sherlock Holmes Museum, in the basement of the English Church. This contains various items of memorabilia and a replica of the Baker Street sitting room. While it’s an interesting way for enthusiasts to spend an hour, it is rather small and certainly doesn’t compare to its counterpart at the famous address in London. In Bahnhofstrasse outside, there is a statue of the man himself, resting on a rock, contemplatively smoking a pipe. You can have a photograph taken sitting in the vacant place beside him. In the souvenir shops, among the cuckoo clocks, triangular chocolate bars and pictures of Heidi yodelling in the mountains, there is also the unmistakeable image of Sherlock Holmes. I was almost surprised that they hadn’t renamed the town in his honour.
Home of the meringue
It was only while visiting Meiringen that I discovered that it has another claim to fame. It was there that the confection known as the meringue was first created, and consequently named, in the year 1600, by a local pastry chef called Gasparini. But there is no Meringue Museum or statue of him in the streets. And he, as far as I know, really existed.