When people ask me about my travel last year, there is one experience that is at the forefront of my memory and features heavily in my regaling – the time I watched a beard competition. This will go down in the history books of my memory.
A quaint 5000 year old city, the oldest in Switzerland, is an unsuspecting place to host a beard fest. Chur holds the Churer Fest annually, and part of this is the International Alpine Beard Competition. Holy hairy menfolk! I just had to go!
After a half hour drive on the autobahn with host-son, and an awkward wrong entry into a sly one-way lane, I parked up at my host’s parents. Grandad was to be my tour guide. He explained the architecture and importance of town features, as we wove through the people. I stopped at the elongated horns that sounded like didgeridoos, and stalled at the seven-piece family bands with little Johnny 5 year old, clacking spoons in time to the stretch of the accordion.
“Take a picture of this. Take a video of that.” Grandad pointed out.
I obliged. He obviously knew the town photography hotspots. We sliced through the crowds milling around performers, and then delved into some raclette for lunch.
After filling my belly with melted cheese, my host joined me to witness the competition in all of its beardy goodness. There were competitors milling around amid the gathering, dressed in their respective garb; from Bavarian lederhosen to an old American Western film styled bandit outfit. These were the original hipsters; with their beer bellies and bravado, all seeking to be kinged best ‘bard’. Ironically, the emcee, from a local radio station, was clean shaven.
Mid beard beauty contest, I turned and took a not so sneaky photo of wispy whiskers floating in the breeze. I was summoned to join in and have my picture with the 2009 beard champion. He was from Stuttgart and uttered only a sprinkling of English, but spoke with a mischievous smile highlighted by the protrusion of salt ‘n pepper fuzz above his eyes.
Through translation I learnt that this sheep farmer had dressed casually in jeans and a tee, to give the other competitors a chance. He clearly had the lengthiest beard that feathered at his hips. I got caught up in facial-hair-fever, and grabbed a handful to pose for a pic. In hindsight, it was probably highly insensitive and awfully touristy; but I could honestly wrap that chin-mane around my neck as a scarf!
Champ is adept at looking after his lengthy tuft. You’d think that it would be coarse and bristly, but it is kept silky soft with baby shampoo. At night he tucks it into the front of his tee, so that he doesn’t strangle himself in his sleep. In two years he has to chop it off, to give the up and coming beardists a chance; that, and the grandkids keep yanking on it (maybe a tourist or two).
To stand around and chat with Champ, learning the ins and outs of competitive bearding, it doesn’t appear like a real competition, but more man-pride and ego-points. The beardists nod and acknowledge each other, as they all know one another from doing the circuit together.
As the prizes were drawn, my mate didn’t win within the top three, but he did come back with a meat pack. I couldn’t fathom anything more apt than a bearded man gnawing at a hunk of cured meat, spraying crumbs all through the curls.
I had the most fabulous time that day, where I was beaming from the awesomeness of it all. It made me realise why I was travelling on a whim; to experience moments that I never knew were possible, or even existed. And for that, I am thankful and my memory bank is happily stocked up with stories.
There’s not too much left to report from Switzerland, but I do have a tale or two left to divulge. Until then, X