A different face of Switzerland

Most non-Swiss people I know – including many who have made Switzerland their home – think of Switzerland as exclusively land of the rich.  And indeed, it tops the charts as one of the world’s most expensive countries.

But people often overlook the fact that not everyone in Switzerland is as affluent as your typical Zürich resident or Geneve resident. In particular, there are still many rural areas, often isolated in tiny villages and hamlets in the Swiss Alps, where the income and standard of living is somewhat less.

In order to help these regions, the Swiss grocery store Coop operates a collection of donation stations, where people can donate old clothes and shoes, like this one:

Additionally, they have a terrific website that gives full details about the various projects they support to improve the lives of many people in these remote mountain villages.

Panzersperre – vom schweizer Reduit zum Grillplatz

Anyone who’s spent anytime in the north of Switzerland quickly learns about the huge number of bunkers and fortifications erected to protect the border.  Formally it’s known as the Swiss Redoubt, or the Réduit Suisse in French. But whereas many people believe this was motivated by World War II, in fact the efforts began somewhat earlier, in 1880.

Here is a rather ornate anti-tank fortification (Panzersperre),

I took this snap at Augusta Raurica in northern Switzerland, where it formed one side of a huge area for outdoor picnics and grill parties.

Augusta Raurica and User Experience (UX)

User Experience – sometimes referred to as UX – is defined as encompassing all aspects of an end-user’s interaction with e.g. an IT system or, for example, a company, its services, and its products.  And although you might not think about it, museums can provide a wonderful insight into the field of UX.

I’ve recently blogged about a wonderful collection of Roman ruins scattered in the Swiss countryside, Augusta Raurica.

What’s really a nice touch is that many of the walking paths have markers that explain about the history of the site:

The displays are a combination of old ones dating back to just after World War II, and relatively new ones.

Now here comes the truly interesting part.  The older displays are written in both German and French, and they contain extremely dry, extremely boring historical facts, as this example shows.

The newer displays are written in German, French, and English – and they use a very simple type of writing, and they contain topics that are interesting to a wide variety of people, especially including younger audiences:

It makes you stop and think about who designed the original displays and why.  Were people many years ago more literate and interested in boring historical facts?  Or is there simply more attention paid today to the user experience?

Augusta Raurica and the descendants of Roman cows

Augusta Raurica is an incredible archaeological site that’s well worth a visit to anyone in the Basel area of northern Switzerland.  In a nutshell, Augusta Raurica is an ancient Roman town, together with a number of impressive roman artifacts – including even an amphitheater and coliseum – that was for the most part, amazingly, discovered after World War II.

Here are some cows grazing near a Roman temple:

Mühle Tiefenbrunnen

The Mühle Tiefenbrunnen dates back to 1889 and it is a common sight for visitors to the Tiefenbrunnen train station in Zürich,

It has its own webpage, but still I have not been able to find out what the overhead passage was for. Could have been used for filling train cars with beer – or perhaps transferring grains from train into the factory?

Hidden peanuts for people

In a recent blog post I wrote about “Hidden peanuts for elephants” – zookeepers that hide individual peanuts in the elephant enclosures in zoos, to keep the elephants amused and occupied as they – supposedly gleefully – search for little peanuts to eat.

I could not help but think the same thing was happening to humans when I stumbled across this interactive display at the Zurich International Airport (ZRH):

There are three buttons on the ground you can press with your feet. When you press them, this controls the video advertisement you see.

In the end, at least the elephants got something to eat.

World’s largest building with no indoor supports

Well, I read this somewhere, but I don’t know if it is true.

This is a common sight on the A1 Autobahn in Switzerland, and I must have passed by it dozens of times. So I recently left the Autobahn to see how close I could get to this structure. Turns out: you can get as close as you want!

But what is this place?  It turns out that Americans do not have a monopoly on toxic waste dumps.

This building is a huge, hermetically sealed hall that covers a toxic waste dump. For years, the Swiss just dumped their toxic waste into the ground here, until they realized it was seeping into the nearby river.  So they built a massive hall over the dump, and inside they use airtight bulldozers and other airtight construction equipment to remove the toxic waste and package it up to be sent to a modern facility that can safely burn it.  I found these snaps on the Internet,

Unfortunately, the picture I took does not do justice to the size and enormity of this building, so below I am posting an arial snap I downloaded from the internet:

Apparently, the site has now been cleaned up – so I am not quite sure how long the building will be left intact.

Büsingen am Hochrhein – A German island in Switzerland

Büsingen am Hochrhein is an amazing, amazing place.

But you would not know it when you drive into the village:

And you would not know it when you drive out of the village:

It’s really only amazing when you stop to think that it is a GERMAN village, but nestled entirely within the country of SWITZERLAND, as this map shows:

Interestingly, there were a number of villages along the German/Swiss border which, until just a few years ago, did not belong to one country or the other.

Zürich Scaffolding

When you see this, you can’t help but be impressed by this amazing, amazing scene.

The scaffolding on this building, part of a massive real estate development project at Zurich’s main railway station (Zürich Hauptbahnhof, or Zürich HB) is redolent of Switzerland itself: clean, organized, efficient:

PS. The Gare du Nord in France is Europe’s busiest railway station in terms of moved passengers, but Zürich’s Hauptbahnhof is Europe’s busiest in terms of moved trains.

Alemanic rituals of Switzerland, Southern Germany and France

Switzerland, Southern Germany as well as the eastern Alsacian region of France are home to a more evolved form of the German language, called Alemanic. And this region is also filled with tiny medieval villages, some of them still having impressive city walls like Riquewihr in France:

Inside of the village you’ll often find public fountains, which until quite recently supplied the residents with drinking water:

But the most interesting bit are the yearly celebrations such as Faschtnacht, planned for months in advance by the locals and usually involving street festivals and parades:

Unbelievably, in many of these towns the specific characters in the parade and even the costumes themselves are hundreds of years old, each accompanied by elaborate stories and detailed historical myths.

William Tell was here

Well, I don’t know if he was or he wasn’t.

But according to the legend, he was captured by a tyrant, lept off a boat to freedom, climbed up to exactly where I am now, and founded the Swiss Confederacy. And unbelievably, all this happened more than 600 years ago.

Today it is a little park called the Tellsplatte, and you can get a spectacular view of the snow-covered Swiss mountains in the late summer, as well as the lake, Vierwaldstättersee.

Here’s a slightly different view: