Finding Heidi

Heidi is probably the most popular Swiss girl ever.  If you want to find out what’s behind the story of the happy orphan girl who wins over everyone’s heart, you will need to visit two places in Switzerland: Hirzel in Kanton Zurich and Maienfeld in Kanton Graubuenden. Heidi was translated into more than 50 languages and is as popular as ever, especially with little girls. The book sold over 50 million copies and last Christmas, a new Heidi movie was released, which took Switzerland by storm.

Most children will probably remember the Japanese Heidi cartoon series on TV. I think everyone wanted to be Heidi’s friend. She was definitely my hero – apart from Pipi Longstocking. I loved seeing how she and her friend Peter played together with their goats in the lovely Swiss mountains and all these scary adventures….. Now, that I am writing this, I realize that I am actually living a little bit of the Heidi dream. I live in Switzerland and together with my husband  – Peter – we like to spend our free time in the mountains. However, we don’t own any goats … yet. I guess Heidi must have had a lasting impression on me.

Since I am still on crutches and, therefore, my walking range is limited, we visited the tiny village Hirzel, which is not too far from Zurich, to find out what’s behind this ever popular story. Hirzel is a cosy place where the Heidi author Johanna Spyri was born and raised.  The collage added to this blog post shows various impressions of the village and its surroundings as well as a portrait of Johanna Spyri. I was surprised to learn that the Heidi book dates back to 1880. Actually, Johanna Spyri lived from 1827 to 1901.  This means that the book was published 136 years ago. That is quite a long time!

Johanna’s family home still exists.  You cannot visit it, because it is just a regular house where people live, but it looks very nice from the outside. The cosy little Spyri museum is housed in the old building in the middle of the village where Johanna went to school. It is said that Johanna, when she moved to Zurich, was homesick. She was longing for the freedom and the open countryside that she was used to growing up. Still today you can feel it. You can see kids running around playing outside. Actually, the day that we went there was a group of children sledding down a tiny hill in the village. Lots of laughing and screaming was going on.

After Johanna gave birth to her son, she fell into a deep depression. She was a smart and well-educated woman, but society was extremely conservative at that time. Women were more or less mothers and a lovely decoration to their husband. This was not fulfilling for Johanna at all. However, her remedy to overcome the depression was writing children’s books. This was back in 1880 when the Heidi novel was written.

You can visit the Spyri museum every Sunday between 2 and 4pm, except for public holidays. This is the only time when it is open. The village offers spectacular mountain views, has a few restaurants and a cafe that offers yummy homemade cakes. But that’s about it. It is a really nice stop when you are in the area, or when you want to combine it with a nice, scenery road trip from Zurich to Lucerne.

We plan to visit the other Heidi location – the Heidi village in Maienfeld – later in spring. The village is a two stage visit. You first visit the museum where the first movie was filmed back in the 1950ies and afterwards you walk up to the Alp where Heidi and her grandfather lived in the movie. This is now a very simple restaurant, where you can have local food and take in the stunning views.


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