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"In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock." Harry Lime in The Third Man by Graham Greene |
Switzerland is a central European republic of about 7.5m people, of whom some 64% are German-speaking, 20% French, 7% Italian and 0.5% speak Romansh. Geographically it's famous for its mountains and lakes, the subject of many fine landscape paintings and pictures. Politically it is conspicuous for its long-standing neutrality which has made it an ideal base for the Red Cross and the United Nations. Economically it punches way above its weight - its financial institutions (banks and insurers) are much larger than one would expect for a country of its size and exert significant influence, but this strength has been tainted by the abuse of its privacy laws which have been used for less than honourable purposes. Industrially its pharmaceutical and engineering industries are notable and Nestlé is a world leader. Historically we remember Switzerland for Calvin (although French, he was based in Geneva during his most influential period) and Einstein (German-born but during his annus mirabilis of 1905 he worked in the Bern patent office), Paracelsus and Ursula Andress.
Swiss cuisine is unjustly much maligned. Cheeses such as Emmental and Gruyère are really very fine. Swiss chocolate is superbly subtle. Fondue, immortalised in Abigail's Party in the 1970s as nouveau middle class fare, is actually excellent fun; it tastes OK too.
The Swiss Alps were the cradle of winter sports and mountaineering, although strangely enough it was rich English tourists who pioneered both as sports. Although the locals, in Switzerland and elsewhere, especially in Norway, had of course walked up and skied down their mountains for centuries, perhaps millennia, it was the English passion for amateur sport that worked out how to make skiing and tobogganing into games and introduced curling from Scotland. The first bobsleigh track was built in St Moritz for the English in 1870, and the famous Cresta Run by the English in 1884. The up-market nature of winter sports and downhill skiing resulted in expenditure on advertising it's virtues and resorts, and was the genesis for many splendid posters.
It's difficult to believe that women didn't get equal voting rights across Switzerland until 1990, but perhaps that's part of the country's charm (unless you're a woman, of course). It's quite surprising to be in Paradeplatz, the financial heart of Zürich during a working day. The comparison with other major financial centres like New York or London is astonishing. Zürich is like a provincial market town on a quiet day. Mind you, it would be a market town with designer shops, top-dollar jewelers and taxis that are S-class Mercedes.
"All the little gnomes in Zürich" Harold Wilson