If you imagine hornussen to be a fast paced sport, you would be mistaken. Hornussen is not devoid of action but it certainly is played sedately. Attack and defence are alternated between the teams and the emphasis is on team play. (If you’re interested in sports, here is another article on a traditional Swiss sport.)
Hornussen is a „geigniti“ (en.: suitable) sport for all age groups. This is mainly due to the fact that players determine their own breaking point as well as to the low costs involved and the simple „Reglä“ (en.: rules).
Hornussen – What are the origins of the game?
Hornussen developed from a pagan tradition. In the past, it was common to chase away evil spirits by setting wooden logs on fire and then batting them down into the valley. After a while, this tradition took hold in the valleys and turned into a team sport. As in every sport, the goal is to beat „dr Gägner“ (en.: the opponent). However, hornussen does not involve direct body contact, nor is it directly aggressive in any way.
The first written accounts of the game can be found in 16th and 17th century church records. One of the entries is about the consistory court in Lauperswil (Emmental) reprimanding hornussen players for having the audacity to play during catechism lessons. In his book „Uli der Knecht“, Jeremias Gotthelf gives a detailed account of of the game and its significance in the „buurige“ (en.: rustic) life in those days.
Hornussen quickly became a competitive sport; the first hornussen competition took place in Trub in 1655. In the 19th century, the gymnastics association successfully pushed for hornussen competitions to be part of the first National Swiss Wrestling Competition. The National Hornussen Association was founded in Burgdorf in 1902 and gained 24 hornussen associations with a total of around 600 players as members within the first year.
How is hornussen played?
In hornussen, it is all about the hornuss (nouss). The hornuss is a small black puck 32 to 62 mm in size with a weight of 78 g. The hornuss has a groove on both sides. Another piece of equipment needed to play hornussen is a launcher which is used as an „Abschlagvorrichtig“ (en.: flake appliance) and as a guiding track for the pole. The launcher is made out of two chrome tracks which makes it easy for both right and left handed players. The hornuss is placed on the front end of the launcher with a piece of clay. The diameter of the pole, wind conditions and batting technique determine the positioning of the nouss. The placer must have „gnaus Wüsse“ (en.: exact knowledge) about the batter, the batter’s technique and the equipment.
A screen is set up in front of the launcher to catch hornusses that are “badly” batted. The screen is to protect the opponent from difficult to see or low flying hornusses. Behind the launcher there is a green cloth to protect the spectators as well as to give the opponents a better view of the batter.
What other equipment is needed?
Obviously, a bat of sorts is needed to hit the hornuss. This bat is called a pole and can be made out of plastic, aluminium, fibre glas and/or carbon. A pole is two to three metres long and flexible. Each batter chooses his pole according to his height, batting technique, „Chraft“ (en.: strength) and the weight of the “Träf” (en.: similar to a racket). This is made out of maple or beech wood and is used to transfer the power to the hornuss. It is only by hitting the hornuss at a right angle, with great acceleration and good batting technique that the hornuss can be batted far into the opposing team’s field.
What is the goal of the game?
The goal is to bat the hornuss as far into the field as possible. If the hornuss flies 100 meters, a point is awarded; for every 10 meters more, another point is awarded. The points are awarded to the batter as well as to the team.
For fairness sake, the teams alternate between defending and batting. Per inning, each player bats two “Wertungsstreiche” (en.: assessment attempt), with a maximum of four tries.
Despite being an age old game, hornussen is still very popular in Switzerland. At first glance, it appears to be a cross between baseball and golf.
Long ago, it was probably single young farmers who played the sport. Today, many Swiss of every age are passionate players; the game is especially popular in the Swiss Plateau cantons of Berne, Aargau and Solothurn. The game does not cost much money to play and the players do not have to be at peak fitness. Each player can play at their own „Leischtigsvermöge“ (en.: performance capability).
The batting team has to hit the hornuss (similar to a puck) as far as possible into the opposing team’s field and the defending team must try and stop the hornuss as quickly as possible with a “Stecken” (en.: a stick), a shovel-like board.
Learn Swiss German
If you ever want to join in or even just watch a game of hornussen, you should understand all the terminology used in the game. www.learning-swiss-german.ch can teach you to understand Swiss German in no time. The many videos that are online will help you to understand and participate in the conversation around the game as well.
Geigniti – suitable
Reglä – rules
Dr Gägner – the opponent
Buurige – rustic
Abschlagvorrichtig – flake appliance
Gnaus Wüsse – exact knowledge
Chraft – strength
Leischtigsvermöge – performance capability