The Mystery Of The Anti-Personnel Mine In Geneva

DSCN1391

I was surprised when, on the way to the grocery store (it’s in the street between Migros and the Co-op at Eaux-Vives 2000 across the street), I saw this in the road.  It reads “Here laid an anti-personnel landmine.”  It stopped me dead in my tracks.  A land mine?  In Geneva?  Has anyone else noticed this?  Does anyone know anything about this?  I’d love to know who placed it there and why.

During the second world war, Geneva was virtually surrounded by nazi-occupied France.   Switzerland developed the National Redoubt plan to defend the country from the Nazis, but everyone knew that Geneva would have been left to occupying forces as it was not easily defended.  Landmines as we know them were developed during World War II (1939 – 1945).  They were widely used as anti-tank devices.  Smaller anti-personnel mines prevented the removal of anti-tank mines.   Even today, some land in France is not useable because of the mines on it.  Could it be from that period?

Since World War II the proliferation, production, sale and trade in landmines grew. Today, there an estimated 110 million anti-personnel mines in the ground around the world, another 100 million in stockpiles and 5-10 million more mines produced each year.   The Swiss Confederation signed and ratified the Convention on Cluster Munitions.  It took effect on the 1st of January 2013.

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Schwingen In Switzerland’s Top 10 Posts Of 2012

Since everyone seems to come out with a Best of 2012 list at the end of the year, I thought I would list my top 10 most viewed posts this year.

  1. Everything You Don’t Need And Can’t Live Without – I don’t like to sit still, don’t nap and hate to be bored.  I realize that it doesn’t always make me the most relaxing person to be around, but it’s generally pretty entertaining.  When we had a free Sunday, I decided to go check out a little shindig they had going on in the cool Carouge neighborhood.  Unexpectedly, this post was selected for Freshly Pressed.
  2. Tschäggättä Parade To Celebrate Carnival In The Lötschental Valley – One of the best things about Switzerland is its festivals.  This one was unlike anything I’d ever seen.  This was my first post to be Freshly Pressed.
  3. More Pictures of the Versoix, Switzerland Ice Storm – Remember the picture of the frozen car?  Well, since it was taken in a suburb of Geneva, I couldn’t help myself.  I went to get the shot.  On a side note, it would have been smart of me not to wear high heals when doing so.  A couple of nice Swiss gentlemen helped me off the ice.  Yep, I’m an idiot, but the pictures are great.
  4. Our Basement Bomb Shelter, Otherwise Known As Our Storage Unit – I’m glad other people are as intrigued by this phenomenon as I am.
  5. Mt. Blanc, The Tallest Mountain In The Alps – I am profoundly grateful to have seen such beauty.
  6. The Spaghetti Tree Hoax, Aka Happy April Fool’s Day From Switzerland – Hilarious.  Sorry, I just couldn’t help myself.
  7. My Introduction to French Cinema, A List of Great, Entertaining and Fun French Films – While I posted this before Jean Dujardin won the Oscar, some of his comedies made the list.
  8. Why Didn’t Hitler Invade Switzerland? – This was a hard one to write as it’s a difficult question.  I hope I didn’t screw it up too badly.
  9. Another Cultural Difference…Men In Spandex – Sometimes, it’s the little things…
  10. What The Heck Is A Bidet? – Please feel free to comment with any additional uses you can think up for a bidet.

 

Passage De Monetier, A Not So Secret Passage

Escalade

is an historical passage in Geneva’s old town.  You enter at the top of the Rue du Perron (by No. 19) and exit off the alley Monetier, at the base of the old ramparts.  The passage zig zags between medieval buildings for around 100 meters (328 feet), narrowing to 50 cm (20 inches)!

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Given layout between residential buildings, darkness and narrowness, it’s not surprising that this secret passage is open to the public only during the last two days of Geneva’s Escalade festivities.  The rest of the year, it is closed.  Get in on the action this weekend while you still can!

Snow Report Geneva

Occupied since Roman times, Geneva is ancient.   Over time, Geneva grew and extended its fortifications.  The passage began as a simple path between early fortifications sometime during the 600-1100 A.D. that protected the hill of Saint-Pierre (on which Cathedral St. Pierre sits).

Snow Report Geneva

In the Middle Ages buildings weren’t glued to each other.  As new fortifications and buildings were built, Passage Monetier became a passage or alley.  It took on its current route around 1300-1400 A.D. and allows access from one neighborhood to another without detours.  Without indoor plumbing alleys served as an open sewers and it probably didn’t smell great.

Snow Report Geneva

The Savoyards came along the Aarve River, assembled at Plainpalais and attacked from the back of the city.

There’s an urban myth that says the passage had something to do with the surprise attack by Savoyard troops sent by Charles Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy during the night of 11–12 December 1602 to attack Geneva.  Alas, it is just that, a myth.  Neither attacks, nor the battle that night  took place near there.  Its opening merely serves as one of the festivities comprising L’Escalade festival which celebrates Geneva’s win and usually occurs in 12th of December.

L'Escalade à Genève, 1602. The Escalade in Gen...

L’Escalade à Genève, 1602. The Escalade in Geneva in 1602. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

The Swiss Army – Ready To Blow Their Country To Smithereens

We have been learning a bit more about the Swiss Army.  It’s more than just fancy knives.  We saw the Toblerone Line, Fortress Fürigen, and learned why Hitler didn’t invade Switzerland.  After World War II, the Swiss didn’t let up.  They continued with their network of secret fortresses and bunkers built into the mountains.

At one point, Switzerland had 15,000 hidden fortresses protecting roads, railways, and mountain passes.  We see evidence of them hidden everywhere.  On hikes, we regularly see doors in the sides of mountains, fake stonework, etc. in the middle of nowhere.  Knowing that they likely concealing something for the military, we stay well away.

Did you spot the camouflaged door?

Most forts were shut after the end of the Cold War.  This was the result of a change in strategy, not a lack of belief in the importance their objective (to remain independent and neutral).  Switzerland decided that if it was invaded, it would probably be for use as a supply line as it has virtually no natural resources.  It’s a sound premise, that’s how Hitler and Mussolini used it during WWII.

To counter this, The Swiss military has wired the country’s extensive infrastructure of roads and bridges to blow.  In fact, they have over 3000 points of demolition!  Its mountain tunnels will be sealed from within to act as nuclear-proof air raid shelters, or blow up too.   In the side of mountains, airstrips are built in with camouflaged doors.  They let everyone know about their plan in the event of a foreign invasion.  It’s a pretty cost-effective deterrence strategy.

Although Swiss armed forces have a purely defensive role, military service is still compulsory (Women can volunteer for most units).  Heck, with a plan like that you need more than just a couple of people around who have practiced how to blow their country up.

Bellinzona’s Strategic Location

Bellinzona has been a fortress since Roman times due to its strategic location.  It is located on the valley floor at the base of the great alpine passes of the St. Gotthard, San Bernardino and Lucomagno (Lukmanier).

Romans built fortifications on the spot where Castelgrande now sits.   The nearby town of Bellinzona is named not for the Italian bella (“beautiful”), but for the Latin bellum (“war”), and this truly was a medieval war zone. Several castles in Bellinzona recall a pivotal Swiss victory in 1513. With this success, the Swiss gained a toehold in Ticino.

The Duke of Milan (the Visconti family) purchased Bellinzona in 1242.  They built a new castle atop the town.  Later, their allies, the Rusconi family of Como, built Montebello up the hill.

The Swiss, invigorated by their victory over the Hapsburgs at the Battle of Sempach and wanting to protect their newly won independence decided that possessing strategic Bellinzona on the other side of the Alps would reinforce their defenses.  They began their campaign in the 1420’s.  In response, Milan’s current rulers, the powerful Sforza family, reinforced the castles and built Sasso Corbaro even further up the hill.  They also built a massive chain of fortifications that extended across the valley.

It took the Swiss about 100 years, but they won.  In 1516, Bellinzona became part of the Swiss Federation.  The Swiss did their best to ensure that they kept it.   For the next 300 years, Swiss overlords oppressed and controlled the local population.

The three castles (Castelgrande, Castello di Montebello and Castello di Sasso Corbaro) and their accompanying fortifications are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Why Didn’t Hitler Invade Switzerland?

A comment on yesterday’s post got me thinking about this.  Hitler even had plans (Operation Tannenbaum) to invade Switzerland sitting in his desk drawer.   Why didn’t Hitler invade Switzerland?  Books could be written about this.  Heck, there probably already have been.  I did a bit of research and tried to grossly oversimplify things to post a bit about it here.

Switzerland impressively mobilized its army reserves and civilians.  They were well prepared, increasing food production, developing communication networks, etc.  More or less, they did everything they could to avoid an invasion.  In addition to the devastation wrought by war, the Swiss (who’d had a functioning democracy for over 500 years) were terrified of losing their independence.

The Swiss population was overwhelmingly opposed to Nazism.   They were, however, in a difficult position.  Switzerland is a country with no natural resources; it was surrounded by fascist powers, the Axis countries.

Switzerland tried to avoid antagonizing Germany by making it difficult for the Jewish refugees to enter Switzerland.  In 1938, they imposed a special visa requirement for “German non-Aryans” and expanding the visa requirement to all foreign nationals (including Jews fleeing from other countries) the next year.  They closed their border crossings and criminally prosecuted those who sheltered Jews hiding from Nazis.

With Hitler’s rise, the Swiss feared a German invasion and tweaked the National Redoubt (the Swiss national defense plan).  They installed defenses (like the Toblerone line) that were intended to slow down an invasion enough to allow it the military and government enough time to withdraw into the easier-to-defend alpine areas.  Switzerland built oodles of forts (most camouflaged like Fürigen)in the center of the country (we’re hoping to visit more of them).

Essentially, Switzerland was prepared to cede some terrain to Germany in hopes of retaining more easily defendable areas.  Sorry Geneva, you would have been left to the Nazis.   You might have still been able to take part in guerrilla campaign.  Hitler would have had to devote significant forces to conquering and holding the area (and experience huge losses).   Switzerland hoped to deter an invasion by demonstrating that an invasion would have a high cost.

Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?  Germany was able to use Switzerland’s train lines to Italy during WWII. We’ve all heard about the sealed rail cars that passed unchecked through Switzerland from Italy to Germany.  The Swiss rigged every bridge through the mountains with a incendiary devices, destroying the valued Swiss supply lines.  Switzerland also made economic concessions to Germany.  They hoped Germany would do a cost benefit analysis and decide that it wasn’t worth it.

Switzerland conducted a delicate and escalating dance with Nazi Germany.  For example, Germany continually violated Swiss airspace.  Germany threatened the Swiss after they shot down 11 Luftwaffe planes (that were flying over Switzerland).  The Swiss army ordered this stop, they forced the planes to land at Swiss airfields instead.  Hitler (unsuccessfully) sent saboteurs to destroy the pesky airfields.  Relations on a personal level (with bankers) were a little less tense.

In the end, Switzerland may have just gotten lucky that Hitler got busy fighting a war on two fronts (eastern and western fronts).

The Toblerone Line, One Sweet Barrier

During  World War II, Switzerland was surrounded by Axis powers (Germany, Austria, Italy and occupied France).  Switzerland worked to avoid an invasion.  Some of their means of doing so, like allowing use of their railroad system connecting Italy to Germany, were controversial.  Others, like the Toblerone Line, were less so. This post isn’t about bribing the enemy with Toblerone Swiss chocolate, (no matter how tasty).  The Toblerone line is 10 km (6 mile) series of fortifications that runs across the canton (like a state, but smaller) of VaudSwitzerland from Lac Leman to the top of the Jura mountains (between Bassins and Prangins).  The Swiss Army constructed it in the 1930’s to protect against invasion. The official name for these defences was the Promenthouse Line.  However, it resembles to Toblerone’s pyramidal chocolate pieces linked together at the base that it became known as the Toblerone Line. Having taken in civilian refugees and witnessed previous confrontations between France and Germany, Switzerland was justifiably concerned about the rise of the Third Reich and possible invasion during World War II.   The Swiss military began preparations and built a series of defenses.  They were concerned about an invasion, an occupation, being divided up after the war, and the general devastation of war.  They had good reason to be concerned.  Hitler actually drew up plans for invading Switzerland.

They are HUGE!

This defensive concrete line made of dragon’s teeth.  Weighing 16-tons each, they are enormous pyramid-shaped blocks of concrete.  They were driven into the ground and covered with earth.  These barriers were meant to stop tank invasions. These sorts of installations are known as tank traps because they present significant difficulties for tanks.  Tanks can overcome these barriers with  ammunition that reduces them to rubble.  As a result, they are more of an obstacle than an impregnable barrier. Although similar defensive installations could be found throughout Switzerland, for obvious reasons they are more common in near Switzerland’s borders.  The preservation of the Toblerone Line makes it one of the best-known installations.   Private individuals began working to preserve it.  They wanted to ensure future generations would know about Switzerland’s wartime defenses.  They got sponsors and worked with the defense department.  In 2006, it became part of Switzerland’s system of trails that crisscross the country.

Thank You Rome, We Love Switzerland’s Fountains

The Ides of March, (no, not the film) the fifteenth of March, is today.  It is the day on which, in 44 B.C., a group of conspirators led by Brutus (et tu Brutue?) and Cassius stabbed Julius Caesar to death in the Roman Senate.  It got me thinking about Rome’s legacy here in Switzerland.  While evidence of Switzerland’s time under Roman rule is everywhere,  I have a favorite part of their legacy, fountains.

Rome came.  Rome built fountains.  Rome fell.  The fountains remained.  Who doesn’t like a fountain?  When people could figure out how to do it again, they tried making fountains like those cool old Roman ones.  They did it in Switzerland, but all over Europe.  Right on.

When we hike in the summer, we can pretty much be sure that we will be able to get water from a fountain.  The cows have to drink way up there, so you know they are going to have water.  The caveat to this, and don’t mess this up or you will end up like us paying $12 a bottle, is that there are no fountains when you are up high enough.  If cows can’t graze up there, they are going to build it.  Period.

The water of this fountain once stood in the sea before it evaporated. It traveled in the clouds, and fell as rain before running again towards the sea. This is the water cycle has fragile balance. Respect it.

At almost every fountain, the water  is drinkable.  In Switzerland, if the water isn’t safe to drink, it will be marked with a sign that reads “Eau Non-Potable” or and “X” over a cup.

You can stick your head under the fountain, like you would at a water fountain, or collect it in a bottle.  I love not having to plan my water stops or carry water with me on long runs; the fountains are everywhere.

Eau Potable means the water is safe to drink

Sometimes, flowers decorate the fountains.  This always make a great photo opportunity.

Other times, the fountains themselves are decorative and/or commerative.

Zermatt's Beaver Fountain

A fountain in memory of alpine guide Ulrich Inderbinen who summited the Matterhorn over 370 times, with his last ascent at the age of 90!

Why Fasnacht, Basel’s Carnival Celebration Takes Place After Ash Wednesday?

FasnachtBasel’s Carnival celebration, starts the Monday after Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday.  Carnival in Rio, Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Carnival in Venice, and the overwhelming majority of Carnival celebrations end on Fat Tuesday with the start of lent on Ash Wednesday.  Why then does Basel’s Carnival take place the week after lent has started?  There are several theories.

It is thought to be Protestant Basel’s response to the Catholic idea of giving up things for Lent.  As Protestants they believe in moderation all the time.  Throwing one heck of a party and indulging of all manners of excess only to renounce them doesn’t fit with their philosophy.  Some argue that it is this aversion to lent that causes them to hold it later.

Others argue that it is a desire to provoke neighboring Catholics, who are already fasting.

Basel’s Carnival celebrations began a half-week after Ash Wednesday even before the reformation.  In Basel, Lent did not begin until the week after Ash Wednesday because people fasted on Sundays as well (to achieve their 40 days of fast).  This would also explain why Basel’s Carnival begins on Monday mornings.

Some Swiss say Baslers do it just to be difficult and/or different.

By the way, other towns with Fasnacht include: Bern, Liestal, Luczern, Olten, Rapperswil, Constance, Oltn, Winterthur, and Weil der Stadt.

 

Swiss Immigrants

A couple of Swiss immigrants

Switzerland has one of the highest percentages of foreigners of any country in the world.  Tons of famous, and not so famous people (us) have moved to Switzerland.  They have a very, um, generous tax policy.

Resident foreigners and temporary foreign workers make up about 22% of the population (30.6% of the population is either an immigrant or first generation). Famous Swiss immigrants include: *

Courtesy of Top Gear and Hublot

Courtesy of jsp31’s Blog

Courtesy of Why Not? and OWN

For centuries, people have immigrated to Switzerland.  In general, its immigrants have been highly skilled and/or educated.  The Swiss watch industry was fed with French Huguenot’s who fled persecution in France.  Immigrant German professors started Zurich University.  Many Italian immigrants worked on Switzerland’s great engineering projects in the Alps.

courtesy of Leopard Trek

*For you cycling fans, famous cyclists who have lived/trained in Switzerland include: Fabian Cancellara (a Swiss child of Italian immigrants, until recently he was my most popular post), Oscar Freire, Francisco Mancebo, Jan Ullrich, Christophe Moreau, Cadel Evans, Markus Burghardt, Andreas Klöden, Linus Gerdemann, Thor Hushovd, Daniele Nardello, and Thomas Frei.