Iconic Swiss stone stolen ahead of stone-throwing competion
19:52 Saturday August 20th 2005
A man-sized stone revered by the Swiss as a cultural icon for a century was stolen today.
The Unspunnenstein, was taken from a hotel in Interlaken where it was on display before being used in a stone-hurling competition on September 3-4th.
The 184-pound stone is one of country's most cherished cultural objects and recalls a gathering called two centuries ago to reassert Switzerland's identity in the chaos of Napoleon's Europe.
While stone-throwing has its roots in the Middle Ages, competition above regional level began with the 1805 festival of Alpine herdsman at Unspunn, a grassy meadow near Interlaken in the Bernese Oberland.
The event, which was first re-enacted in 1905 and subsequently five times since, involves throwers lifting the boulder above their head, running and hurling, and taking care not to step over a board. Each competitor brings the stone back for the next one.
A hotel employee told police that she saw four men enter the hotel and steal the stone, adding that the thieves left behind a smaller stone marked with the emblem of the neighbouring canton of Jura.
The present Unspunnenstein, which dates from the second such contest in 1905, was stolen once before in 1984 by a separatist Jura youth organisation, but it was recovered in 2001.