Our Basement Bomb Shelter, Otherwise Known As Our Storage Unit

Switzerland.  Swiss Army Knives.  The Swiss Guard.  Serious Military Defenses.  Our Basement?  Switzerland’s commitment to neutrality, their position between historic enemies of France and Germany, and the meticulous, rule oriented, precise Swiss nature mean that our basement is a bomb shelter.

All Swiss residential buildings have bomb shelters in underground.  Until Swiss law changed at the end of 2012, all inhabitants were required to have access to shelter space.   Given the Swiss focus on quality, these are serious, heavy-duty bunkers.

Our apartment is in a building that predates the mandatory bomb shelter law, so our basement’s shelter is on the rustic side.  Newer buildings contain way more impressive looking shelters.  Ours looks as though it is where the vampires from True Blood sleep during the day.  The first time he went down there, he did it alone, at dusk, after a True Blood marathon.

You see heavy, vault-like doors on public parking structures.  They serve as public shelters.  The parking structures have thick concrete walls.  In theory, the shelters have air filters inside to provide fresh air in case of nuclear, biological, or chemical attack.   I am unsure if the age of our building exempts us, but there aren’t any signs of air filters in our building.  Come to think of it, I haven’t seen any supplies down there either.

To get into our “bomb shelter”, you enter through an old wood door.  It doesn’t look as high-tech or safe as the door above, but hopefully we won’t have to put it to the test.  You descend an old, windy staircase, past bricked over doors down into the basement.

You can’t exit through this door

It is so narrow and steep that the wall warns “stopping is prohibited, serious risk”.

The basement, ahem, sorry, the bomb shelter is partitioned into sections for each apartment using wood slats.  Each partition is approximately the size of a twin bed (give or take a couple of inches).

Some people hide their belongings from view

In French, basement translates to “cave.”   It feels a little funny to say I’m going to the cave. Who am I, Batman?  While our cave is filled with extra suitcases, beat-up sports equipment and camping gear,  many people here use theirs as a wine cellar.  A German friend uses his to store cases of German beer.

Our key… I’m serious, this is it.

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An Underground Lake!

When we went to the Matterhorn, we saw the geology of Switzerland firsthand.  On the way back, our quads were sore and we weren’t up to another big hike.  As a result, we decided to see the underground lake at St. Leonard in Valais.  It was touristy, a bit cheesy, another geology lesson and cooler than I am making it sound.  

The lake was discovered in 1943, during a the search for water in a drought.* In 1946 an earthquake opened some more fissures that lowered the water-level.  This made it accessible.   We entered down the stairs and climbed into these large rowboats.  Sorry if the pictures are blurry.  The low light and the movement of the boat (and the other 41 people on it), made them challenging to take.   They definitely do not do its beauty justice.
The water in Switzerland’s lakes is lovely and crystal clear.  The water in this cave is even more so.  It is a constant at 11 °C (52 °F) and it is always 15 °C (59 °F).
 

How can there be fish in this lake you ask?  So did we.  They are Rainbow Trout.  They have no natural food source and no predators so they were HUGE.  The guide feeds them from the rowboat.  They were pretty cool to see up close.  I’m not sure who was more into them, the kids in the boat or their parents.

The lake was closed from 2000 to 2003, to improve the cave’s stability.  Clearly, they put in tons of ceiling support.  If I remember correctly, each side of the cave is a different type of stone and the ceiling is a third.   Unfortunately, that one is softer (I don’t want to give you the wrong type so I won’t name it).

*St. Leonard lies in an area of Valais that is the sunniest part of Switzerland.