Early this morning I visited the onion market in Bern.
The festivities usually begin at four am. Although the official start time isn't until six, by four the farmers have already set up their wares throughout the streets of Bern, from the train station to the old town. By five the streets are filled with visitors and Bernese alike, steaming cups of Glühwein and slices of onion tart in hand. Onions as far as the eye can see—braided onions, onion figurines, onion pie, onion sausages, onion soup...
The real challenge of the market isn't squeezing through the crowds or hunting for the best braided onion. It's avoiding a confetti attack.
Young people are armed with bags of the stuff and take every opportunity to literally throw it in your face.
Your best defense is to keep your mouth closed at all times. As soon as you yawn, laugh, or attempt to take a bite of Zibelechueche, you might get a face full of confetti. The streets are covered in it, and if it rains or snows it forms a slimy brown mess that covers your shoes. There are trails of confetti into the entrance of every shop in the city. When you take your jacket off at home, little pieces of confetti swirl to the ground. You might find some in your underwear, or in the shower drain, surely on the bottom of your shoes...
It's best to avoid the market at 4pm, when the massive confetti battle, or Konfettischlacht, is held. This marks the official end of the festivities, but parties often continue into the wee hours.
However, its more recent history lies in the mid nineteenth century where it is connected with the Martinstag (11 November) celebrations. Farmers would sell their late harvest and the city dwellers would stock up for the winter. All varieties of produce were sold and there are records of the prices of everything, except onions. Instead it was up to the customer to barter with the farmer for a fair price. The prices in the morning tended to be cheaper than in the afternoon when the stocks were running low, which explains why the market typically started so early.
I'm not sure what would happen if you tried to barter for your onions today. You might get a mouthful of confetti.
Make your own onion tart with this recipe.