The World Nature Forum Information and Visitor Center of the UNESCO World Heritage Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch is located in Naters, 5 mins away by foot from the train station of Brig. If you have already seen my previous 5 posts about the Aletsch Glacier (for example the three viewpoints within the Aletsch Arena, the UNESCO Panorama hiking path from Belalp to Riederalp ect.), you are probably already familiar with this Natural World Heritage property. However, it covers a total surface of 824 square kilometers and the access to some areas is very limited to normal travelers, so in order to truly understand this area, we have to rely on some scientific research works. Many thanks to the opening of the World Nature Forum in 2016, which is the core of the UNESCO World Heritage destination Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch, we are now given an opportunity not only to appreciate its beauty and diversity, but also to understand in a more profound way its uniqueness and cultural, scientific, educational values.
First of all, I’d like to tell you my own impression of this exhibition center. I have to say this is one of the most interactive exhibitions I’ve ever been to. The girl at the reception desk was super helpful and she explained to me clearly how I should visit the exhibition center to have fun and to make the most of it. The main exhibition is on the second floor and it is very well oriented. You just need to follow the blue lines on the info boards or on the floor and you will visit everything. There are a lot of interactive, themed games for children as well as adults to play and multimedia devices (such as tablets, movie screens etc.) and interactive models are literally everywhere. The designers of this exhibition certainly know how to apply modern technology and how to make full use of the space here to cover many more contents than those exhibition centers designed with more traditional methods. Trust me, here you can not only see or listen, but also smell, feel, and experience! What you should absolutely NOT miss are the “Exploration Section“, where you can become an explorer to measure, classify and experiment; an interactive screen featuring a game called “Time to Change” for up to six people located in a “traditional Swiss Chalet”; a water-themed competition area, where two or more participants can compete for who gets more correct answers to the questions related to water in Switzerland; the vintage ambassador carriage of the Jungfrau Railway and the panorama cinema which occupies a total area of 250 square meters featuring a huge screen of 100 km2. I’ll explain to you in detail in the third chapter how fun these highlights are and how rich in knowledge this exhibition is. I believe I enhanced my knowledge of this natural heritage property through interactive games and models and it is so much more fun than reading about it in books. All in all, I really had a great time here and I strongly recommend it to people who are interested in the Alps and in particular to families with children. Only by raising the awareness of our next or future generations of the beauty and values of this world heritage region will we be able to achieve the sustainable development of it.
In this post, I’m gonna firstly give you a brief introduction to the World Nature Forum as well as to the Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch region protected by the UNESCO. In the second chapter, I’m gonna provide you with some practical information concerning the opening hours, ticket prices of the exhibition and my personal tips about how to enjoy and make full use of this learning experience. In the third chapter I’ll give you a detailed explanation of the highlights that I found really interesting and impressive here. Now let’s get started!
1. World Nature Forum and the Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch Region
The Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch area has been listed in the UNESCO World Heritage list since 2001 due to its uniqueness, beauty and diversity. As commented by the UNESCO:
The extension of the natural World Heritage property of Jungfrau – Aletsch – Bietschhorn (first inscribed in 2001), expands the site to the east and west, bringing its surface area up to 82,400 ha., up from 53,900. The site provides an outstanding example of the formation of the High Alps, including the most glaciated part of the mountain range and the largest glacier in Eurasia. It features a wide diversity of ecosystems, including successional stages due particularly to the retreat of glaciers resulting from climate change. The site is of outstanding universal value both for its beauty and for the wealth of information it contains about the formation of mountains and glaciers, as well as ongoing climate change. It is also invaluable in terms of the ecological and biological processes it illustrates, notably through plan succession. Its impressive landscape has played an important role in European art, literature, mountaineering and alpine tourism.
少女峰–阿雷奇冰河–毕奇霍恩峰: 自然世界遗产少女峰–阿雷奇冰河–毕奇霍恩峰（最早于2001年被列入）从东部扩展到西部，面积从53 900公顷扩展到82 400公顷。该遗址为阿尔卑斯高山——包括山脉最受冰河作用的部分和欧亚大陆山脉最大的冰川——的形成提供了一个杰出的实例。它以生态系统多样性为特点，包括特别受气候变化冰川融化而形成的演替阶段。该遗址因景色秀美、而且包含山脉和冰川形成以及正在发生的气候变化方面的丰富知识而具有突出的全球价值。在它尤其通过植物演替所阐释的生态和生物过程方面，该遗址的价值无法衡量。其令人难忘的景观在欧洲艺术、文化、登山和阿尔卑斯山旅游中起着重要作用。
In order to protect this extraordinary natural heritage for our future generations and to promote sustainable development of this region, 23 municipalities including Fieschertal, Bettmeralp, Riederalp, Naters, Wiler, Kandersteg, Lauterbrunnen, Grindelwald and so on within the cantons of Bern and Valais together with the Swiss Federation have agreed to work in collaboration. The newly established World Nature Forum (WNF) will be the base camp of this commission and its Information and Visitor Center will help to provide visitors with necessary knowledge about this region and to raise their awareness of the importance of protecting it for its outstanding universal value. Now, let’s first of all learn some facts about this protected area.
- surface of the World Heritage area: 824 km2
- 23 municipalities in the cantons of Valais (15) and Bern (8) are involved
- Population of the World Heritage region: 40,000 inhabitants
- 20 tourism organizations
- 9 mountains over 4000 meters with Finsteraarhorn being the highest peak (4273m)
- around 50 mountains over 3500 meters
- the glaciers cover a total area of 350 km2
- the longest and largest glacier in the Alps, Aletsch Glacier (23 km)is located at the center of this protected area
- 88% of this area is without vegetation
- the Bernese Alps (Wetterhorn – Schreckhorn – Eiger – Mönch – Jungfrau – Gletscherhorn – Breithorn – Blüemlisalp) are considered the one of the most famous mountain ranges in the world
Having learnt how huge this area is, you should probably be able to imagine how difficult it is to manage and to protect it. In order to carry out this special mission more efficiently and systematically, the World Nature Forum was built on the Aletsch Campus in Naters and since the summer of 2016, it has opened its doors to all visitors who are interested in this region. The forum is fundamentally composed of three main columns, that is to say the Information and Visitor Center, the Study Center ( a research and teaching institution established in cooperation with national and international universities and research centers) and a platform for knowledge transfer on sustainable local development in the Upper Valais and the Bernese Alps areas. The Information and Visitor Center is undoubtedly the highlight for the general public because an attractive, innovative and interactive exhibition is held here. Now let’s take a look at the concept of it.
The title of this exhibition is “Dynamic in Space and Time” and it mainly focuses on the topics such as the impact of climate change on mountain areas and the interactions between natural, economic and cultural landscapes. Once finishing the visit, visitors should be able to realize and appreciate the global significance of the mountain areas as a releaser of natural resources, as economic space and as a recreation area. As I mentioned above, this exhibition is highly interactive, rich in knowledge and fun at the same time. You will find interactive models and games, multimedia devices, original artefacts almost everywhere on the second floor (the main exhibition floor). Therefore, it’s suitable for all kinds of visitors such as local people, families with kids, tourists, scholars, students, political decision makers and so on. In one word, anyone who wants to learn about and protect this region is welcome here.
As the former Swiss Federal Councillor said:
The essence of nature lets us ask the eternal question: What are we doing here? What are the time limits? What are the most important values? Nature is bouncing us back on our self! Sometimes the mountains may help to find answers. But even more important, they help us to confront the questions of life. The World Nature Forum in Naters will be a place of dialogue. As much as men had influenced nature, nature has made us to what we are. How do we deal with nature, a UNESCO World Heritage, in future? The outstanding value of the UNESCO World Heritage site Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch has to be protected for future generations. The World Nature Forum is an important step, therefore.
Can’t wait to visit the exhibition already? Be patient. Let’s take a look at some practical information such as opening hours and tickets prices first to make sure you will have a pleasant and smooth trip there.
2. Practical information
2.1 Opening hours
- Every Tuesday – Sunday: 10 am – 5 pm
- Closed on Mondays
2.2 Entrance fees
- Adults: CHF 18
- Apprentices/Students: CHF 15
- Children (6 – 16 years old): CHF 9
- Children (up to 6 years old ): free entrance
- Families: CHF 42
- Groups: CHF 15 per person
- School Classes: CHF 5 per child and free entrance for teachers
- Free entrance for Swiss Museum Pass holders and Raiffeisen members
If you have more questions concerning the discounts or guided tours, please click here to visit the official website of the World Nature Forum or contact relevant staff by phone: +41 279245276 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please keep in mind that the World Nature Forum is located in the Alestch Campus in Naters and is only 5 mins away by foot from the train station of Brig. Once you get off the train, you just need to walk towards the direction of Naters and once you leave the train station you will see obvious marks on the streets telling you how to reach the visitor center (exhibition center) of the forum. Follow the marks and you will find it easily. Now I’ll give you an introduction to the floor plan of the exhibition center so that you know where to go when you need something (for example the cloak room, the toilet or the restaurant).
The visitor center is composed of three floors, with the toilet on the basement, the reception, cloakroom, restaurant, shop and part of the exhibition on the ground floor and the main exhibition on the first floor. Please note that the whole three floors are connected by stairs and lifts and are accessible to wheelchairs. When you are at the reception desk, the staff will explain to you a bit about the exhibition first and then he/she will give you a ball and a booklet wth a special sticker at the back. In my opinion, the ball is mainly for fun and for children because when you visit the main exhibition on the first floor following the designed blue line, you will be able to play some games or to make choices with it. This is a very good way to attract children’s attention to certain fields of knowledge. However, what really attracted and interested me was the small booklet with a personal sticker at the back.
The booklet contains a map (floor plan) of the visitor center, an explanation of the highlights of the exhibition and an instruction of how to use the personal sticker to optimize your visiting experience both when you are here and later back at home. During your visit on the first floor, you will see many illuminated backpack signs with different topics in four languages (German, French, Italian and English) about this region. If you are interested in certain topics, you just need to place your personal sticker on the illuminated field and once it turns green it means this information (of your interest and preference) is stored. Once you finish your visit and have returned your ball to the reception desk, you can place your sticker on the backpack sign of the “evaluation stations” (also at the reception desk) and you will be able to see your own World Heritage record (The topics you’ve covered and you’ve shown interest in during your visit). New excursion and hiking ideas will also be suggested based on which topics you have chosen and you can ask for maps or more information about them from the staff. Not enough time to read about these information and suggestions? No worries, you can do it at home as well. Enter the unique code on your sticker into the “Exhibition Code” field on www.mySwissalps.ch and you will see (on the left column) your chosen topics and chosen points of interest and (on the main body of the page) your personal recommendations for hiking tours and new destinations. You can then comfortably read more into your own collection of information (knowledge) related to the Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch region for as long as you like and plan your next trip there based on the recommendations designed especially for you. For me, this is a really innovative and considerate feature. I hope that when you are here you can take an advantage of it for your own benefits and when you are back home, you can be an ambassador to promote how this unique natural and cultural landscape, the heritage of humanity, can be protected and preserved by us. Now let’s start our tour of the exhibition!
3. Exhibition at the World Nature Forum
In this chapter, I’m gonna introduce to you the highlights of the exhibition that really interested and impressed me based on the themes (or icons) listed on the pocket brochure. The entire exhibition is located on two floors with the majority of it on the first floor. Now take your ball and pocket brochure and let’s start exploring.
3.1 Relief of the Alps (ground floor)
This relief, designed by the engineer Simon Simon, depicts an overview of the landscape of the core of the UNESCO World Heritage site Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch. He worked on the largest relief of the Bernese Alps between 1886 and 1914 based on the Siegfried map, 1,700 mountain tours, 10,000photographs and several thousand drawings. When I was there, I was checking which towns and mountains I’ve already been to and which are the ones that I wanna go in the future. On the wall close to the relief, you will see which municipalities and cantons are involved in the mutual protection of this property.
3.2 People at the World Heritage (ground floor)
In this themed section, what interested me most are the two big screens, one of which focuses on the knowledge part of this area and the other one on the tourism part (in particular hiking routes) of it. Do you wanna know something about the Aletsch Glacier? Do you wanna know something about the lateral moraine of the Lang Glacier? You will learn facts about the typical features of this region on this screen.
The other screen is more useful for travelers who want to explore this area by themselves. For example, a circular route is designed surrounding the whole protected area and is easily accessible to the general pubic by public transport. I read from a brochure there that in order to finish the whole route, it takes more than 6 days and 5 nights (or 7 days and 6 nights? I can’t remember clearly). There’s a special program for this entire hiking route which includes overnight-stay hotels and costs more than 1000 CHF per person. If you love mountain hiking, I guess this would be an ultimate experience. Nevertheless, for me personally as an ordinary traveller, I’d rather pick up a starting point and take the hiking route for several hours and then go back home to take a rest and maybe pick up another starting point and take another hiking route next week. If you wanna explore this area like I do, then this screen will help you a lot because when you click on one of the round points, you will see the name and altitude of this specific starting point, from which a designed hiking route will be marked with a yellow line and the duration of the hiking will also be indicated. Rather practical and convenient, isn’t it? Actually, when I first started writing about the Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch region as part of my project about the 12 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Switzerland, I didn’t know where to start. The protected area is huge and I had no idea where to visit. If I had visited the World Nature Forum and used this screen as my first step of exploring this area, I could have saved a lot of time.
There’s also “a stage” on this floor, which is probably used for events or lectures, against a silhouette of the famous peaks of this region. In conclusion, this section emphasizes on the topic of the mutual influence between world heritage and people. Now let’s go upstairs and enhance our knowledge and experience to a further level as well.
3.3 Exploration of the secrets of the world heritage (1st floor)
Judging from the various spectacular natural phenomena observed in this region, we know for sure that nature is full of surprises. Thanks to the research work done by the scientists and their generosity of sharing it with the whole world, we are now able to take a glance of the secrets of the Alps. In this section, you will learn a lot about this world heritage site by measuring, classifying and experimenting like an “explorer”. What’s a better way to learn about nature than exploring and discovering it by yourself? The interactive models, original documents and artifacts, multimedia devices accompanied by photographs and explanations will make sure that you enhance your knowledge here while having fun.
On 13th December, 2001, the World Heritage Committee decided in favor of the “Jungfrau-Aletsch-Bietschhorn” region and three days later the UNESCO signed the official document in Paris, confirming the inscription of this unique mountain landscape in the World Heritage list as the first World Natural Heritage site in the Alps. You will see the original signed documents on the first floor. Please remember to follow the course of the water (the blue line) and you will visit the exhibition in an organized way.
Do you know how water turns into glacier ice and how it turns back to water again?Do you know how the Alps were formed? Do you know how rain and glacier water alter the appearance of the Alpine Auen? Do you know that Jungfrau-Aletsch region has the largest area of glaciers but how much is that compared to Antarctica, Greenland or Scandinavia? Do you know why and how the glaciers flow? Do you know what crevasses are and how they are formed? Do you know what permafrost is and how much of Switzerland’s territory is made up of it? Do you know what the color is in the deep crevasses and glacier caves and why it is so? Do you know what a glacier table is, what moraines are and how glaciers polish the ground? By reading, watching, playing and experimenting, you will find all the answers in this section. Don’t forget to use your personal sticker to record what you’re most interested in.
3.4 Mutual influence between nature and people
This section is mainly about how people tried to understand, use, protect and react to nature. For example, you will learn about the mysterious creatures and stories when you are in the “Legend Grotto“; about the equipments used by the meteorologists, astronomers, glaciologists and physicists; about recently the constant moving of a large area on the Riederalp towards the Aletsch Glacier; about Lake Märjelen, which has been one of the most beautiful glacier lakes in the Alps for a long time; about the Electra-Massa; about the natural disasters of the Alps and how people’s perception changed from asking for god’s help and accepting what’s incomprehensible to learning to cope with them with technical installations. Nevertheless, what interested me most was dendrochronology, or tree-ring dating because I’ve seen this method in quite some museums or research work related to the UNESCO World Heritage sites. As explained in the exhibition:
Trees in regions exposed to seasonal fluctuations develop annual growth rings. Each ring is comprised of large early-wood cells and small late-wood cells. These cells are easily identifiable by their contrasting brightness. It means the age of a tree can be determined by counting its annual growth rings.
Dendrochronology, or tree-ring dating, is based on the fact that the width of the annual rings reflects the environmental influences of a particular location or region. Narrow/wide annual rings are an indication of poor/good growth conditions respectively. This annual ring pattern is like a fingerprint or a barcode.
A core is taken from a living tree; the width of the annual rings is then measured and an annual ring curve drawn up using the measurement data. If the annual ring curve of a wooden beam taken from a building runs synchronously with the annual ring curve of the living tree, then the beam itself has been dated. The existing annual ring curve is complemented by the non-overlapping annual rings of the beam. If a chronological pairing with the annual ring curves of older woods is successful, an annual ring chronology is created that is capable of encompassing several thousand of years; it can then be used to date wood of unknown age.
Sounds quite theoretical and abstract right? Well, once you start experimenting with models, you will be applying theory to practice and soon you will realize how this technique works. Can you determine how old the tree trunks are in the glass display cabinet?
Another highlight I wanna mention in this section is the interactive game for up to six people located in a “traditional Swiss Chalet” (as shown in the third picture in this section). You can see on the table a huge screen, which is divided into 6 small ones. Each of the small screen is for one player. You need at least 2 people to play the game and the main purpose is to develop an area based on your preferences of energy type, transportation type and so on. For example, do you think whether more cable car stations or more roads should be built? Do you think whether conventional energy or new energy should be developed? You just need to choose what you think is the best answer and the computer will build relevant facilities for you. There are a lot of different themes with different questions and for each theme, after 6 rounds, all the players will have their own cities or towns built. Afterwards a discussion will be held to analyze the advantages and disadvantages of your own and your fellow players’ choices. This game is like a city planing game but the last step of it, which creates and enhances communication among all the players and observers is actually a suggestion for more conversations among the real decision makers of our society.
3.5 The Ambassador Saloon Carriage
In 1912, the railway going up to Jungfraujoch was finally completed and the ambassador train including the carriage B2 No.13 was also commissioned. Since then, travelers all around the world have been able to go up to the “Top of Europe” (3454m) by train. At the top station, on one side the visitors will see the Aletsch Glacier as it makes its way to the Rhône Valley and on the other side, on a sunny day, the view even reaches as far as the Black Forest in southern Germany. Have you taken the Jungfrau Railway to Jungfraujoch before? If not, why not taking this opportunity to experience it with a long screen playing a movie imitating the scenery seen from a real train? If yes, don’t you wanna experience the ambassador carriage instead of just any other ordinary carriages? The arrival of the train at Jungfraujoch was also announced in several languages, including Japanese and Chinese, which made me a bit proud of my country.
3.6 Water-themed competition
Wanna challenge yourself of or compete with your friends about the knowledge related to water in Switzerland? Here is the right place. When I first saw the huge “screen” made of plastic bottles (not the two screens above), I thought it’s just some kind of advertisement for saving water or for recycling. However, later I realized that it was much more than that. Once you choose the language on the small screen located next to the “bottle screen”, the quiz begins. Questions will be shown on the two upper screens and after several seconds two answers will be given but only one of them is correct. How can you choose your answer? Can you see in the first picture in this section two “splashes of water” on the floor? They are correspondent to the answers on the screen so whichever answer you choose you should stand on the “splash” in front of that answer. After some more seconds, the correct answer and an elaboration on it will be given, demonstrated by simple graphs in an animated way on the “bottle screen”! It was a pity that there were only three questions but I answered all three of them correctly. I hope that in the future more question will be designed.
3.7 The Panorama Cinema
The panorama cinema is probably the “Grand Finale” of our journey because of both its size and effects. You probably can’t see how big the cinema is from the pictures I attached above but featuring a huge screen of 100 km2, it is 7 meters high and occupies an area of 250 km2. The movies being played here are focused on the beauty, diversity and uniqueness of the Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch-Bietschhorn landscape, human activities as well as the constant “communication” and interaction between nature and mankind. I believe that after watching these short movies, you will realize how precious this area is and how much we can do to protect it.
Before exiting the cinema, you will see a small exhibition named “Gushing waters” devoted to the waterfalls in this region among which the most famous ones are probably the Staubbach Falls which inspired Goethe to write his famous poem entitled “Song of the Spirits over the Waters“, and the Reichenbach Falls, which in popular literature, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle gave as the location of the final physical altercation between his hero Sherlock Holmes and his greatest foe, the criminal Professor Moriarty in “The Final Problem”.
By the end of your visit, don’t forget to return your ball to the reception and place your sticker on the backpack sign of the “evaluation stations” (also at the reception desk). In a few seconds, you will be able to see your World Heritage record and recommendations for new destinations and hiking routes based on your interests.
By the way, are you a fan of “The Hobbit” or “The Lord of the Rings“? If so, I read on the wall in the exhibition that J.R.R. Tolkien said by himself:
The Hobbit’s (Bilbo’s) journey from Rivendell, to the other side of the Misty Mountains, including the glissade down the slithering stones into the pine woods, is based on my adventures in 1911…
We went on foot carrying great packs practically all the way from Interlaken, mainly by mountain paths, to Lauterbrunnen…
I left the view of Jungfrau with deep regret: eternal snow, etched as it seemed against eternal sunshine, and the silberhorn sharp against dark blue: the Silvertine (Celebdil) of my dreams.
Now we’ve eventually finished our “tour” of the exhibition in the Visitor Center of the World Nature Forum. As long as you follow the “water course”, you will visit everything that I talked about above and even more because I didn’t cover every detail of the exhibition. I suggest you plan at least 1.5-2 hours here and don’t worry, it’s not crowded so you can play all the interactive models and games without lining up. By the time I left the exhibition, I was thinking about what I read on the brochure of the Pro Natura Center Alestch, “people are prepared to protect only what they know.” I hope that when you are here you will have fun and enjoy this learning experience and when you are at home you will think about how you, as one of the 7.6 billion global citizens, can make your small but indispensable contribution to the protection and preservation of our common heritage.