The Swiss town obsessed with the number 11

www.bbc.com | 2/12/2019 | Staff
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On a recent morning, at precisely 11:00, Therese Stählin was waiting in silence outside the entrance to the baroque town of Solothurn, clock-watching. “At 12:00, we need to be at our 11-hour clock,” she said, all aflutter upon my arrival. Eleven was the most auspicious time to meet in the city, she’d emailed a few days prior, but it was equally important for us not to be late for midday. We had to hurry.

Crossing a footbridge over the Aare River, she cut left on Klosterplatz, pressing on past a grand 18th-Century warehouse – rushing, rushing – to a place that would reveal much about the history and extraordinary obsession of this little-known town in the shadow of Switzerland’s Jura Mountains. For hidden in plain sight, on the west wall of an investment bank, is a wall-mounted clock. And it is a key to a curiosity unknown even to most Swiss.

Clock - Dial - Number - Missing - Anomaly

The clock, with its 11-hour dial and number 12 missing, is a confusing anomaly to any unsuspecting passer-by. But make no mistake; it is no accident. When its 11 cogs turn to chime its 11 bells – courtesy of a harlequin dutifully striking a hammer at the random times of 11:00, 12:00, 17:00 and 18:00 – the metalwork sculpture performs the Solothurner Lied, the city’s unofficial anthem. The clock doesn’t just tell the time, albeit in a puzzling way. It helps reveal the town’s fascination with the number 11.

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Solothurn, founded by the Romans 2,000 years ago but forgotten by many visitors today due to its proximity to nearby capital Bern, is a town preoccupied with 11. It is neither a gimmick nor the result of coincidence, and the town is home to 11 churches, 11 chapels, 11 fountains, 11 towers and 11 museums – an astonishing...
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