Interlaken. Cool blue lakes frozen in time, awe-inspiring ice capped mountain tops, soft green pastures…listen…a lone cowbell can heard tinkling in the distance. Interlaken is a fairy tale city located in the center of the Bernese Oberland of Switzerland. It is located between the lakes Thun and Brienz and is in close proximity to three world famous peaks: Eiger, Moench and Jungfrau. Known as a resort town, Interlaken and its five surrounding villages are inhabited by roughly 20,000 people.
Interlaken officially became Scottsdale’s newest sister city on Oct. 7, 1999 in a program held at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. Scottsdale’s other sister cities include Alamos, Mexico; Cairns, Australia; and Kingston, Canada.
On Oct. 8, as a gift to Scottsdale, Interlaken officials dedicated a clock to be used at the McCormick-Stillman Railroad train station. The $5,000 clock, which is nearly 3-feet in diameter, is a unique reminder of friendship between the two cities and is also a testament to the importance that the Swiss place on time and precision.
On Oct. 9, Max Haechler, the Honorary Swiss Consul of Phoenix, held a festival at his home that featured members of Oberlanderchorli Interlaken, a traditional group of folklore musicians and dancers. Yodeling was in the air as guests ate meals of veal and raclette, a Swiss cheese specialty, among other dishes. 325 people attended the festival.
The most exciting development of the sister-city partnership is that 20 to 25 Scottsdale high school students will have the opportunity to participate in a student exchange program with Interlaken. At this point the exchange involves Saguaro High School and a community college in Interlaken called Gymnasium Interlaken. However, it is possible that other schools around the valley will participate in order to fill the 20 to 25 slots.
The Interlaken students will visit Scottsdale from Sept. 15 to Oct. 2, 2000 and then Scottsdale will visit Interlaken from Aug. 7 to Aug. 22, 2001. The parents of students will be entirely responsible for the foreign students in both Scottsdale and Interlaken, respectively. The only requirements for the exchange are that Valley students should be seniors at least 17 years of age. And their families must be willing to support the Swiss students arriving next year.
Haechler has made great efforts to make sure that the coupling of Scottsdale and Interlaken will be beneficial to both communities. As an honororary Swiss consul, Haechler represents Swiss interests in the entire state of Arizona. There are roughly 300 Swiss nationals living in Arizona and he deals with their issues and problems as they come up.
Haechler is subordinate to the Consulate General of Los Angeles office, which represents Southern California and the state of Arizona. There are six Consulate General offices in the U.S. in the following cities: New York, Chicago, Houston, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
As chairman of the Scottsdale Sister Cities Interlaken committee, Haechler has established counterparts in the two countries to communicate with each other and make sure that the relationship does not become dormant.
“If you do have a sister-city relationship, then I think you ought to make it work and continue the interests and let both cities and citizens of both cities benefit from (the relationship),” said Haechler.
So far Haechler has formed contacts in the following areas: government, a sister city association, public relations, the student exchange program, tourism, and the fire department. He is still looking for people to fill the “cultural” and “police” roles in his list of contacts.
“I don’t want just names, I want people who are really actually going to do some work and work on it. This is the only way to make this happen,” said Haechler. “So this way, you know, I have a guarantee that things keep going and it’s not just now we signed the declaration and lean back and don’t do anything like what happened with Cairns in Australia and in Alamos in Mexico. It’s just totally laying inactive, and I’m not very happy about it.”
Several other events are currently being planned between Scottsdale and Interlaken. A food festival exchange is being proposed, with fine Swiss hotels coming to Arizona for a “Swiss Week” and Arizona hotels traveling to Switzerland for a “Southwestern Week.” The Phoenician and the Gainey Hyatt Regency will likely participate in the festival if plans go through. Haechler will travel to Switzerland in March to hopefully get further commitments.
On the tourist side of things, a golf trip is being planned for Sept. 2000. Valley residents will have the opportunity to see several different regions of Switzerland, while golfing, hiking and sightseeing. The trip will be made open to the public, although most will shy away from the steep price tag of traveling abroad.
For college students a traveling art show is being planned. Still in the planning stages, the art show would probably be with ASU and a Swiss university and featuring the work of students.
(This article was originally published by Scottsdale Community College Campus News on Feb. 15, 2000. The article was written for an ‘Introduction to News Writing’ course. This one of my first articles and my first article based on an interview. Building on this course and experience I would later write for many other publications and eventually start my own writing website. The information in this article was accurate at the time of publication, with a few omissions to allow for more clarity. The image used is from a Scottsdale Rotary Club event in early 2020.
The sister-city relationship of Scottsdale with Interlaken was then brand new, of course. Today, Scottsdale has eight sister cities which you can learn more about at the City of Scottsdale Sister Cities portal and the Scottsdale Sister Cities Association. The Scottsdale Community College newspaper is today replaced by Northeast Valley News, an online publication.
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