At a petrol station near my home one morning, filling up before a drive into Zurich, I was approached by an interesting looking individual. He was probably late 40's or early 50's, had long hair and appeared to be slightly eccentric. Now, to an Englishman, being called eccentric is usually a badge of honour, but most of my non-Swiss friends here would agree, that eccentricity is not a trait that is usually held proudly amongst the locals. It may be, in fact it really is, a stereotypical picture but it exists non the less.
René Wiedmers, for that is his name, asked me if I could give him a lift to somewhere that I didn't recognise, after some to and fro discussion it turned out to be near Glarus, not far off the A3 autobahn on the way to Zurich, so of course, I agreed.
We entered the A3 and he started babbling away in very strong Swiss German, I managed to get him to slow down but I was not sure he even understood what I meant when I asked him if he could speak High German. He did though, from somewhere, come up with a few words of English so we finally did manage to understand each other, to a degree.
I finally understood that he was the Swiss champion Speed Yodeller, and very proud too was he of his title. He was heading to a Swiss Air Force base where he was planning to have the frequency of his speed yodelling compared to that of a fighter jet taking off. At least I think that was what he was trying to tell me. His in vehicle demonstration of his art persuaded me that he did indeed have a skill of sorts, but because of the risk of causing a major accident, I persuaded him that one demonstration was enough.
He pulled a presentation folder out from his rucksack and proceeded to show me photographs and news clippings of him, my new celebrity friend. He then pulled out his mobile phone and seemed to be searching for a number which he then dialed. He promptly handed me the phone and asked me to speak to someone on the other end, an American, "who doesn't speak German" he explained. The thought of having to try to translate whilst driving had me worried but after the phone at the other end rang for 15 or so times I handed the phone back and explained that there was no-one home. "Yes, I've been phoning his office every morning for 2 weeks and he's never there". I thought that was strange and asked if he was sure he had the correct number and if so, did he have any other numbers. "No, this is the only number I have, it's his office in Chicago"
It took quite some time for me to explain that 10.00 am in Switzerland was very early morning, maybe 2 or 3am, in Chicago. By the look on his face it was clear that he didn't believe me or had no understanding of time zones but I finally persuaded him to get an English speaking person to call in the evening.... "Maybe he works the night shift" I explained to help get over this time problem.
Before I had time to ask why he wanted to speak to someone in Chicago he explained. "Next year is the World Championship for Speed Yodellers and it's being held in the states. While I am there I want to have the frequency of my Speed Yodelling measured against an American Air Force fighter jet. Some American Speed Yodellers will also be there on the same day doing the same thing". I was really beginning to enjoy this encounter, but he then started on his big sell. From the same presentation folder he handed me fliers about the event with logos from major companies and media organisations emblazoned on them. He was looking for sponsorship for the cost of the trip and thought it would be a great opportunity for my company to be mentioned on a CNN documentary about the event. If I helped with the cost of his flight over there I would be mentioned all over the states! He did though finally agree that US media coverage on CNN was not likely to be of much commercial interest to a cheesemonger in Switzerland.
We finally pulled off the autobahn at Glarus and headed cross country towards the air base. We took a few wrong turns down country lanes until we finally arrived at the deserted barbed wire gates to one of the quieter side entrances to which he had been told to report. It seemed that from nowhere, all of a sudden, a group of heavily armed Air Force and Military Police personal had surrounded the British Cheese Centre van, wondering no doubt if the invasion had finally started.
René emerged from the van and it was immediately clear that he was known and by the bear hugs and back slapping that followed, that this Swiss celebratory had a big fan base amongst the military types in Canton Glarus. I was given a fully "saluted" farewell from the Military Police and an exuberant wave from René as I drove away to sell some cheese.
I never did hear if he made it to Chicago, I keep an eye out for International Speed Yodelling events but haven't come across any yet. My wife did mention that one evening she was watching the German TV Supertalent show, and a Swiss chap called René and answering my friends description had an opportunity to showcase his particular skill to a wider audience . He was dressed in a Swiss flag decorated ski suit and was wearing skis and proceeded to do a "Ski Dance" on stage whilst yodelling at high speed and juggling tennis rackets. She didn't watch until the end of the show, but she doesn't think that he won a prize.
© Michael Jones, January 2017
Article in 20Minuten and a link to a Swiss TV appearance.