Meiringen & Rosenlaui, Switzerland
Sherlock Holmes has disappeared twice. Once up his own backside during the incomprehensible season finale of the popular BBC series.
The other, more classically, over the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland in the ‘dying’ pages of Conan Doyle’s original book, ‘The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes’.
This chapter, ‘The Final Problem’, left little optimism as to Sherlock’s fate:
“An examination by experts leaves little doubt that a personal contest between the two men ended, as it could hardly fail, to end in such a situation, in their reeling over, locked in each other’s arms. Any attempt at recovering the bodies was absolutely hopeless…”
For readers, the hero of this passage was no doubt Sherlock Holmes. For Conan Doyle however, the hero was the phrase “little doubt”, which left just enough wiggle room for him to bring the character back to life years later to capitalise on his book’s initial success.
All of which brings me to my weekend in Switzerland. According to family folklore/legend, I was conceived somewhere in the more boring parts of the country (that’s saying something…), though had never returned to see it for myself.
In that time since my birth, i.e. some time during life, I had become a minor Sherlock Holmes fan, attracted to his cool observations, penchant for vice, deerstalker hat (of which I have owned two), and his side-kick, Tim from The Office. A trip to the storied setting for his death, was therefore something of a minor life mission for me.
To visit Reichenbach Falls in Meiringen today is to realise the enduring success of this literary character who was capable of solving even the hardest of problems. Not least of which, “Why should anyone visit Meiringen?”
The locals have made a decent stab at it. Sherlock’s famous slouched, pipe-smoking silhouette adorns several restaurants and hotels, purporting to be the Englischer Hof described in the final chapter.
The heavy opium-smoking might have been replaced by heavily taxed alcohol and cigarettes, but the general melancholy mood remains intact.
As for the Falls, “the torrent, swollen by the melting snow, plunges into a tremendous abyss”, wrote Conan Doyle.
Yet at first glimpse from just near the train staiton, I wondered why Conan Doyle had chosen some any of the taller and more impressive ones around.
The reason, as more contemporary authors, writing for Wikipedia noted, “A hydro-electric power company harnesses the flow of the Reichenbach Falls during certain times of year, reducing its flow.”
These days, had Holmes wanted to take a more genial way down the Falls than toppling over them, he could have taken a well-maintained trail under shady trees and past tiny paddocks, then hopped on an open-air funicular to the bottom. If that sounds boring for readers, it was only marginally better for tourists.
A true gem, however, can be found in the hamlet of Rosenlaui, which was the destination Holmes and Watson sought to visit before Holmes’ fateful decision to visit the “must-see” waterfall.
Indeed, from the hotel there is a glacier and several mountain walks up both sides of the valley.
Being a Sunday in early May when we visited, we passed several locals trekking down one of the steep rocky mountain trails.
They had just spent two days hiking and skiing the glacier, and I marvelled how they could walk down in ski boots what I could barely walk up in hiking shoes. And while I could try for myself and see, some mysteries are better left unsolved.