Dr Maximilian Oscar Bircher-Benner
During the early 20th century Switzerland was not just an alpine paradise for skiers and adventure seekers, but also for patients seeking retreats and cures in the fresh mountain air.
Sanatoriums could be found throughout the Alps, and one of the most famous belonged to Dr. Maximilian Oskar Bircher-Benner, the creator of Birchermüesli.
In Dr Bircher-Benner's Sanatorium, high on the Zürichberg, your daily routine would have looked something like this:
Wake up at 6am
Walk around the clinic before breakfast
Three daily meals consisting of raw vegetables and a small dessert
Absolutely NO coffee, chocolate, tobacco, or alcohol
All manner of physical training
As much fresh air as possible
Hydrotherapy (mostly cold showers) and sun treatments
Bedtime at 9 pm (lights out by 9:30)
And to precede every meal, Dr. Bircher's Müesli.
Müesli means 'little mush' in German, and this combination of grated, mushed apple, oats, condensed milk, lemon juice, and nuts embodied Dr Bircher's nutritional ideas about the importance of raw food in the treatment of disease.
As a young man, Dr Bircher suffered from jaundice and thought that his consumption of raw apples had helped to cure him of his condition. He experimented with raw food diets in his clinic and on himself and eschewed the idea of animal proteins, preferring vegetarianism.
The daily routine in the Sanatorium was a strict form of Ordnungstherapie, or a structured way of life meant to create balance and harmony in the patients, a key, he saw, to better health. Bircher had many famous guests at his clinic, including Herman Hesse, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Thomas Mann, who famously called the clinic a "hygenisches Zuchthaus", or kind of health jail.
Raw foodism, like other food trends, seems to fade in and out of popularity, but Dr Bircher's Müesli, is something that has crept into the common culinary pantheon. Although the müesli you find today is a departure from Dr Bircher's refreshing apple mush, it is still embodies his ideas of health and nutrition.
A Birchermüesli for every occasion:
A great resource for the history of Bircher-Benner, his original recipe and his influence on the medical community written by Eberhard Wolff of the University of Zürich can be found here: http://www.zora.uzh.ch/40410/1/Wolff_Bircher-Benner.pdf