Heidi lives: Ambassador for perennial values

Heidi lives: Ambassador for perennial values - Traditions

„Heidi, your world are the mountains“, is how the song in the well-known (Japanese!) animated series of 1974 goes. Heidi is one of Switzerland’s, or more precisely Graubünden’s, most famous exports. But there is still some dispute as to which mountains the successful ambassador actually comes from.

The Alm Uncle (Alpöhi), Peter the goatherd, Fräulein Rottenmeier, disabled Clara and of course Heidi. Everyone knows the protagonists of the „Heidi“ books. Johanna Spyri’s story of the mountain girl who wins  the hearts of the wide world – or at least the residents of Frankfurt – and her gnarled grandfather thanks to her rustic charm, is one of the world’s most successful children’s stories. Both volumes of the Heidi novel saw success on a global scale within a few years of their initial publication in the early 1880s. The „Heidi“ books  were translated into over50 languages. „Heidi“ is read all over the globe and many film or television adaptations are widely known. This makes Heidi a brand ambassador par excellence, something which Graubünden has long since recognised. However there are still varying opinions today about where Heidi really came from, from the Bündner Herrschaft or perhaps from the area around St. Moritz?

Heidi moves house
„From the old and pleasantly situated village of Maienfeld, a footpath winds through green and shady meadows  to the foot of the mountains which on this side look down from their stern and lofty heights upon the valley  below. [...] On a clear and sunny morning in June two figures might be seen climbing the narrow mountain path;  one, a tall strong-looking girl, the other a child whom she was leading by the hand [...].“ This is how the story of  Heidi begins as she is brought to the Alm Uncle, who is her grandfather, by her Aunt Dete. This makes it clear  that Heidi was born close to Maienfeld, in the Bündner Herrschaft.

«Because I would a thousand times rather be with grandfather on the mountain than anywhere else in the world.»

But the famous „Heidi“ film of 1952, which starred Elsbeth Sigmund as Heidi and Heinrich Gretler as the Alm  Uncle, has her growing up further to the south. By this time the architecture of Maienfeld had changed too much which was why the area around Bergün was chosen as a location. Finally there was the successful television series of 1978 with Katia Polletin (an Austrian) as Heidi and Graubünden’s own Stefan Arpagaus as Peter the goatherd. This was filmed in Upper Engadin, in the area around the sophisticated resort of St. Moritz. After this the battle for Switzerland’s most famous brand ambassador was on.

Heidi – a success story

Heidi – a success story

Both children’s books “Heidi’s Years of Wandering and Learning” and “Heidi Makes Use of What she has Learned”, written by Johanna Spyri between 1880 and 1881, are among the best-known children’s books in the world. With her Heidi books, Johanna Spyri created a romantic, ideal and typical image of Switzerland that is still widely held today.

A region borrows Heidi
„First come, first served.“ Hanspeter Danuser, the resourceful director of tourism for St. Moritz and also a  joint initiator in the relaunch of the Glacier Express and RhB’s application for UNESCO World Heritage Status, latched on to the success of the television series filmed in his area and had the term „Heidiland“ registered  as a trademark in 1979. But the brand name struggled to gain acceptance in St. Moritz. This was perhaps  because the tranquil, innocent image of Heidi the Alpine girl did not really match the sophistication of St.  Moritz. That remains open to question. However Danuser’s efforts were not in vain. St. Moritz has been  marketing the brand  name „Heidiland“ since 1985 and has licensed it to Mövenpick since 1989 as well as to a motorway service station  which bears the name near Maienfeld, and to „Heidiland Tourism“ since 1997.

Goat Peter as he was then

Goat Peter as he was then

Stefan Arpagaus from Graubünden, who was Goat Peter in the 1978 Heidi series – which was also made into a film – became a TV star. Today, the 45-year old lives in Einsiedeln, works for an international sports goods manufacturer, is happily married and has two sons.

The controversial point here is that the area which borrows its name from Heidi has relatively little to do  with the origin of the mountain girl. The holiday region „Heidiland“ in fact stretches down the whole Walensee, from Weesen via Walenstadt and Sargans down to Bad Ragaz and Maienfeld, where the literary source tells us Heidi’s area actually starts. Heidiland Tourism makes a conscious effort to include more than  Heidi as a literary figure, although the Heidi village at Maienfeld with the Heidi house is definitely linked to the book. It also markets the wider ranging „Heidi myth“ which permits the integration of further associations and thus offers into the „Heidiland“ concept. Values such as friendship, security and a sense of home are  central for product design and marketing. This clearly appeals to the Swiss, Germans and Dutch in particular as they top the statistics for overnight stays in Heidiland. In this way Heidi lives on – with new adaptations and interpretations, as in Japan where Heidi continues to be a great success up to this day – but still remains what she always was: an ambassador who speaks up for values like nature and friendship.

Simple, natural, cute: Heidi in Japan
Japan’s relationship with Heidi is a very special one. Heidi is more popular in Japan than perhaps anywhere  else on the planet. The literary figure we know so well has however been subject to intensive adaptation and transformation. Removed from the novel presentation and the well-known film adaptations, to the Japanese Heidi represents a cultural concept of simplicity, innocence and cuteness. Japan had a considerable impact  on the global image of Heidi with the animated series „Heidi“ from 1974 which added typical elements of animated culture to Heidi’s character. The creators Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki travelled to Switzerland  and the area around Maienfeld in order to shape the landscape in the series as realistically as possible. They emphasised an internationally comprehensible style of drawing which dissolved the boundaries of the „Heidi“  story and made it into a parable independent of time and place. They made Heidi international. Even today Heidi remains a symbol of childlike innocence and pure nature, satisfying the Japanese longing for blue skies, snow-capped mountains, green meadows, mountain creatures and purity. The contrast between urban Frankfurt and the Alps described in „Heidi“ reflects a conflict which Japan was also experiencing: the rapid, widespread industrialisation and modernisation of a country which aligns itself tightly to the spirits of nature due to its religious background of Shintoism and Buddhism.