The amazing architecture of Swiss railway stations

It is not an exaggeration to say that many Swiss railway stations are truly mind blowing.

This is Bahnhof Enge from the outside:


And this is Bahnhof Enge from the inside:

Stunning buildings like these harken back to a different time, when a train station like Bahnhof Enge was not merely a train stop on a commuter line, but actually an important debarcation center in its own right.

Interesting, the architects for this train station were Otto and Werner Pfister – and if anyone has spent time shopping for furniture in Switzerland, those names should certainly be familiar!

The peaks from Oberhofen am Thunersee

For three years I had the lifetime privilege to live in the village of Oberhofen am Thunersee in Switzerland. It’s a tiny village, but it packs a spectacular, breathtaking view of the Swiss Alps of the Bernese Oberland.

Shortly after moving there, I became curious about the various peaks and other items of interest that I could see from my balcony, so I created my own “peakfinder.”

This is the view from my balcony, looking to the left (and also including a tiny snap of Oberhofen, taken from the observation platform at the peak of Mt. Niesen):

And this is the view from my balcony, looking to the right:

Jason Bourne Slept Here

Well, I don’t know if he did or he didn’t – and that’s what drives me crazy!

Everyone remembers the film version of the Robert Ludlum novel The Bourne Identity:

(Interesting aside: Believe it or not, I stood behind Matt Damon in France, at a cash machine (ATM), back when he was filming the JB movie.  I didn’t know him as Jason Bourne – but rather I recognized him as the actor in Good Will Hunting.)

Anyway, in one famous scene Jason Bourne is caught by the Swiss police, sleeping on a park bench in Zürich:

When the camera angle pans, you can see the park is on a hill overlooking the Zürich skyline along the Limmat River:

After moving to Switzerland I quickly learned of this park, called the Lindenhof.

Recently, I got curious, and decided to see if I could see if this scene was really photographed here.  Indeed, the Lindenhof is a park, and there are green park benches:

And looking from the other direction, the park really does look out over the Limmat River,

But sadly, that’s where it ends.  I read that no parts of this movie were filmed in Switzerland, and that the park scene was (I think) filmed in Romania.

However, it seems great pains were taken with special effects to make this park as Lindenhof like as possible.  I did not take any pictures of it, but when you see this final scene, and if you’ve been to the Lindenhof, then you’d easily think the scene was filmed here:

Europe’s most impressive waterfall

During the late summer, particularly after a bout of thunderstorms as shown here, the Rheinfall is an incredible sight to behold. It lacks the steep drop of Niagara Falls, of course:

But it more than compensates for this by giving visitors the chance to walk down just mere feet from the thundering, pounding wall of water:

Of course, the locals here don’t speak German but rather a more evolved form of the language, known as Allemanic. So located here in the heart of Allemanic speaking Switzerland, the locals usually call it Rhyfall or even Rhyfau (tending toward the Bernese version of Allemanic).

The amazing Airbus A380

Capable of carrying over 800 passengers, the Airbus A380 is currently the world’s largest passenger aircraft.  And the amazing perk about my job is that I get to get up-close-and-personal with these jumbo jets.

Here’s a snap from driving on the tarmac in Los Angeles International Airport (LAX):

At the Tom Bradley International Gates (also known to us in the trade as TIBITS, Terminal 5), the A380’s are all parked side-by-side.  And here’s a snap of us driving in an automobile underneath the wing:

Looking out their window the flying public sees the busy crew on the “ramp” but has little idea of the overwhelming logistical complexity and challenges that a company like Swissport has to overcome to deliver a top service.

Seven Gates to Jerusalem

I used to live on Lake Thun, and this was the view from my apartment:

Shortly after I moved here I read a book that referred to the “seven gates of Jerusalem,” which were apparently seven majestic castles that were found around Lake Thun.

Here is one of the castles, in the town of Oberhofen am Thunersee:

However, I’ve never been able to find the original reference in the book I read – or any other reference to this term.

To make matters worse, as far as I can tell there are only five castles, not seven: Hünegg, Spiez, Thun, Oberhofen, and Schadau.

But the mystery is still an interesting one: who coined the connection between these medieval castles around a lake and a holy city in a desert thousands of kilometers away?


Ornate Painted Medieval Houses

If you spend enough time walking around medieval German and Swiss villages, you’ll eventually notice that most of the houses are so-called half-timbered houses (with planks of wood separating the stuccoed exterior) but that a number of houses are painted in a very ornate and detailed style.

Here is one such house that I discovered in Olten, which shows both styles: the half-timbering at the top, and a large painted area below:

What I don’t know is the history of these houses.  Were they always like that right from the beginning?  Were perhaps ALL the houses like this, right from the beginning, and was it only recently that some of the houses stopped receiving this painted attention?  One of the many, many mysteries if you live in Europe!


Olten, situated along the river Aare, is very picturesque:

What’s very interesting  is how the occasional floods have left their mark on the buildings, as this snap shows:

On the day I visited it seems I was not alone to stop and enjoy the view.  A lone wasp took a short break from his busy day to relax, eat a savory spider he just caught, and admire the view of the river:

When backs are better than fronts – 5

Continuing the series, this is what you’ll see if you visit the Briner company, at least if you don’t fall asleep first, because in this industrial part of the Swiss city of Winterthur each building tries to outdo its neighbors in achieving the greatest architectural boredom:

But, if you don’t mind a bit of adventure you can walk around to the back of the building, where the building sits next to a railroad spur, and your eyeballs will explode when you see the amazing graffiti:

I didn’t want to photograph each artwork in detail, but I did want to provide at least one snap so you can see the amazing quality:

The amazing underground recycling cisterns of Switzerland

I’ve written about garbage in Texas and garbage in Switzerland.  I’ve also written about garbage in Germany.

So as long I was in a garbage state of mine, I wanted to finish by showing a very common sight in the Swiss canton of Zurich: a long row of very nice looking, very pretty smelling chutes:

They make it just about as easy and convenient as possible for residents to drive here and empty their recyclables into the appropriate chute.  From time to time, a truck will arrive, and a single driver / operator is all that is needed to operate a boom/crane to unload the cistern.

It’s also just as much fun to see the long list of items that are prohibited:

Incredible Carthusians

The Order of Saint Bruno, also known as the Carthusian Order, is the strictest order of Catholic monasticism – you can think of them as the Navy SEALs of monks.

I did some work in Grenoble, France, and this gave me the chance to drive by the most famous Carthusian monastery, in Chartreuse.

There is an erstwhile Carthusian monastery not too far from where I live,

and they still grow hops used for a local beer that they brew


When bad things become good things – 2

Continuing the series,  there is an unused building not too far from where I live, and the rock garden in front has been taken over by wild weeds.

The most amazing part is the diversity of the weeds (I stopped counting after spotting around 30 different plants) and how they seem to optimally fill their environment.

Probably almost everyone who drives by this place never stops to look – or if they do, only sees a lot full of weeds. It is truly amazing what wonderful things you can find if you just stop and look.

Natural spring

This is something you don’t see everyday.  High on a hill overlooking the Swiss countryside is a little pool of water, surrounded by cattails:

You can’t see it very well, but if you look in the middle and far down the hill you’ll see the Thur River.

In fact, and although I don’t show it, just behind me is a substantially higher set of hills. So as the groundwater slowly heads towards the Thur it takes a little break in this natural pond.

Tricky to get in, tricky to get out

The airspace in Switzerland is said to be the most complicated airspace in the world, but when you look at the overall chart of Europe, it is quite likely this is just a marketing statement:

Nevertheless, having flown with private pilots in many countries, here I am in the co-pilot’s seat and making a turn over Pfäffikon at the southern end of Lake Zurich, en route to ZRH.  For light airplanes engaged in private aviation, there is a 20 minute window during the morning in which the approach must be made.

Amazing Animal Bridges – 1

You take some things for granted – and it can be a huge shock when someone points out they are in fact unusual.

Case in point: animal bridges. I never really stopped to consider just how unusual they are, until a friend of mine from India, on her first visit to a country outside of India remarked “What?  They actually build bridges for animals?

Yes, they do! I’ve only ever seen them in Germany and Switzerland – although to be honest, I’ve seen animal tunnels along the highways through the Florida Everglades. In both cases the principle’s the same: let animals cross the road without becoming roadkill.  Or perhaps more fitting: let animals cross the road without damaging the expensive cars and trucks.

Anyway, this is a nice animal bridge in Switzerland, just outside of Konstanz.

Achter Lok

In German I call them “Achter Loks” – but probably nobody else does.  In English, the closest translation I could think of might be “the eight train.”

These Re 460 locomotives are a common sight for anyone in Switzerland:

The reason I call them Achter Loks is that all the main design parameters all have to do with the number 8:

  • They have 8 wheels
  • They weigh 80 tons
  • They have around 8000 horsepower

The other cool fact I always remember: when a fully loaded train pulled by one of these locomotives brakes from high speed to a stop, this one braking event uses about the same amount of energy that a family of 4 will spend in one month – and that gives you a good glimpse into just how important electrical energy is for the Swiss Federal Railways.

One cool feature is that these locomotives all have names – and although I don’t like to brag, I started an Internet project to photograph each of the 100+ locomotives.

Home of blue jeans

Just as the villages and towns of central and northern Europe are filled with ancient buildings dating back to the Renaissance, the villages and towns of southern Europe are filled with ancient buildings dating back much further, to the Roman empire.

Here is a Roman building, still in wonderful condition today, at the heart of the town of Nimes in Southern France:

It’s here in this town (Nimes) that the fabric used for blue jeans (denim) was first made famous.

Seven unusual houses near Appenzell

You’ve probably read my post about the artwork of Swiss artist Udo Rondinone, Seven Magic Mountains.

Well, here’s Seven Unusual Houses!

While driving around the beautiful countryside near Appenzell, I spotted a huge field with seven identical houses arranged neatly in a row:

OK, I think I can safely rule out the “seven dwarves retirement community!”

Now if this were in the U.S., particular in a place like Texas, this would be easy to explain. Whole villages and towns (complete with banks and schools and train stations) were created by private companies and offered at low cost to European immigrants, to encourage (or exploit) immigration to new areas.

But here in Switzerland?  This is something I really need to research!

What motivated me to stop and take this snap was not the houses at all, but the rather unusual crucifix – typically they tend to be stone, but this one was gilded:

The Hidden Courtyards of Zürich

Every summer tourists flock to Zürich, the most expensive city in the most expensive country in Europe. And they walk around and they see the sights.

But most of them do so quite unaware of some real wonders that Zürich has to offer, namely, hidden courtyards.

Just off of the Bahnhofstrasse shopping district, you couldn’t be blamed for walking past this opening, hardly glancing inside, and thinking it was a driveway.

But in fact, if you walk through, it is one of Zürich’s best-kept secrets: one of the many, many hidden courtyards, filled with huge trees, park benches, and historic water fountains, some of them dating back to the Middle Ages:

How can wonders be so quickly forgotten?

It amazes me that some incredible things – well known to everyone at the time – are too easily forgotten and left for the archaeologists and accidental discoveries centuries later.

In one of the central plazas in the northern Swiss town of Winterthur you’ll see this:

It looks like a boring picture of a boring plaza, at the corner of which sits strange (but boring`) gray metal object, about the same size and shape as a garbage can.

And that’s what most people probably think that it is.

But they’d be wrong!  In fact, this is an observation portal built above a set of huge underground water cisterns. Apparently, I was told, these water cisterns were only very recently discovered while installing a new water fountain in the plaza.

If you peer down the portal and activate the light switch, it looks like this:

I still haven’t done any research of my own into this topic.  I was told that there were regular wars and fighting during the Middle Ages for as long as there were the Middle Ages. This culminated in a war between the city of Winterthur and the city of Zürich – and these cisterns were created as an emergency defensive measure, deep within the Winterthur city walls, so that the inhabitants could have access to water during times of siege.

When you think of Switzerland, a shortage of drinkable water is the last thing you’re likely to think about – and that shows how different our lives and experiences are today from those that went before us during the Middle Ages.

What other wonders are buried beneath Winterthur, awaiting accidental discovery?