It’s common knowledge that Holmes and Moriarty fell to their deaths by the Reichenbach falls; most people also know that the falls are in Switzerland. But few Sherlock fans could place them on a map and fewer still have been there.
The Reichenbach Falls are a short, brisk walk from the centre of Meiringen in the canton of Bern, just off Lake Brienz. This is the eastern lake of a two-lake system in the middle of which lies the town of Interlaken (“between lakes”).
Apart from the Sherlock connection, Meiringen is also famous as the birthplace of meringue, created there in 1600 by the Italian confectioner Gasparini. As you walk around, the little snowball sweets pop up everywhere, sometimes larger than you’d expect.
But the big money spinner is Sherlock: the old Anglican church in, yes, Conan Doyle Place, that catered for 19th-century English holidaymakers and was famously visited by Queen Mary in 1903, now hosts the Sherlock Holmes museum. It is flanked by a Sherlock statue and a giant chess game.
The museum, amusingly, treats the Sherlock myth as fact, displaying objects that might have belonged to the fictional character; it has an architect’s drawing of the 221B building for instance and displays a copy of the Turner watercolour: The Great Falls of the Reichenbach (1804).
The biggest coup though is the recreation of the Sherlock Holmes’ study with immaculate attention to detail. It’s untidy, as befits the pad of two bachelors: Holmes’s Stradivarius on the floor, teacups and plates uncleared, the Times newspaper abandoned half-opened, and the detective’s Inverness cape thrown nonchalantly over a chair.
Mrs Hudson’s choice wallpaper is dark and sensible, a good choice for the room of two notoriously heavy smokers. Horses are heard galloping outside and the room is illuminated by two broad bay windows as described in “Study in Scarlet”. Between the windows hang arms brought by Watson from the Afghan war. A gas chandelier is suspended in the centre. A fireplace, oil lamps and an 18C bureau /dresser complete the picture.
The museum also contains a snippet from a London newspaper reporting on Swiss ban on Sherlock Holmes: “Our Geneva correspondent says that the Swiss Federal Railway Company lately issued an order prohibiting at their station bookstalls of all novels of the detective type” and that “the authorities in several towns have followed the example set by the Swiss Federal Railway Company“.
It seems the success of Sherlock Holmes spawned cheap and nasty imitation copies, which is why the Swiss newspapers, while sympathising with Conan Doyle, agreed that “the evils of poisonous literature have resulted in so many crimes in recent years among the Swiss youth that very drastic measures are imperative.” Don’t you just love moral panics?
But I digress..
After a pilgrimage to the bank that occupies what should have been 221B Baker Street, the Reichenbach falls are a must for Sherlock fans. Although you can climb to the bottom of the cascade, most visitors take the funicular for the short ascent. You cannot fail to notice the Holmes Monument by the station erected on 25 June 1957 by the Norwegian Explorers of Minnesota (still meeting 4-6 times a year in the Minneapolis-St Paul area) and the Sherlock Holmes Society in London.
The ride up to the bottom of the cascades is steep and incredibly narrow. Once there, you can pose in a Sherlock cardboard cut-out or walk up a plank staircase to the top; a rather strenuous but doable ten minutes.
The Falls themselves are disappointing in spectacle (6/10) and much smaller than they seem in photos, but they have two distinguishing features.
When the water is low in the summer, the falls pass through a hole in the rock, forming a near-symmetrical, quite pleasing curve that slopes left than right, as if the stream wants to defy the laws of gravity and pass itself like a thread through the eye of a needle.
The other odd feature is that the black silt from the Reichenbach settles at the bottom like liquid concrete. As there is hardly any froth, it looks like the cascades are descending into the innards of the Earth.
Finally a tip: if you are visiting, do it in the morning. The falls face east so you are shooting against the sun if you are photographing them in the afternoon.
I wish someone told me that beforehand ..