X marks the spot: A Swiss town's detective cult

Tue Jul 6, 2010 3:53pm EDT
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By Robert Evans

MEIRINGEN, Switzerland (Reuters) - High on a bleak Alpine crag, a large white X marks a world-famous spot which draws tourists and their cameras from literally the four corners of the earth.

As it slides to a halt after a 5-minute climb from the valley below, travelers leap from the cable car pointing lenses through a mist of spray at the site of an unarmed combat to-the-death in 1891 between two determined men.

After gazing fearfully at the churning white abyss below, and taking more shots of the roaring cascade plunging from above, visitors scramble up a steep path and round the towering rock on a further 20-minute hike to get a closer look at the bridge near where the fateful encounter took place.

Or at least - for this is the Reichenbach Falls -- where British writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle said it did.

"Without Sherlock Holmes, we might just be known for our beautiful scenery," says Nils Glatthard, a native of Meiringen where the great detective stayed before starting the climb (no cable car then) to face his arch-foe and master criminal Professor Moriarty on a narrow path overlooking the Falls.

And certainly Holmes, whom his creator sent tumbling to his death clutching Moriarty into the foaming cauldron beneath, is ubiquitous in this small and not-quite-picturesque crossroads town of some 5,000 people in central Switzerland.

There is the inevitable Sherlock Holmes Hotel, up a quiet avenue under shady trees, a Sherlock nightclub adorned with a genuine-looking "221b Baker Street" address sign under a chalet gable, and posters galore with the detective's image.

The town bookshop is well-stocked with editions in several languages, including Japanese, of the 56 stories and four novels in which Holmes starred with his constant companion, Dr Watson.   Continued...

<p>A life-size bronze figure of British author Arthur Conan Doyle's character, the detective Sherlock Holmes created by artist John Doubleday 1988 is pictured on the main square in the town of Meiringen, some 100 km (62 miles) south east of the Swiss capital Bern July 6, 2010. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann</p>