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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The Swiss Guard In Revolutionary France

As you know from yesterday’s post, Switzerland was well know for sending mercenaries abroad.  Popes weren’t the only people who hired them.  France‘s King Louis the 11th started a group to protect him called the Hundred Swiss (Cent Suisses) in 1480.  Swiss worked for the kings of France on up to the revolution.

When the French Revolution started, about nine hundred Swiss Guards were protecting the Tuileries Palace.   They didn’t fare well; they ran low on ammunition and were overwhelmed by the larger opposition.

  • Approximately 600 of them were killed during fighting or after the surrender
  • 60 were taken to city hall and killed in front of the crowd there
  • Around 160 died in prison of their wounds in prison or in further revolutionary violence

Their bravery is commemorated by Bertel Thorvaldsen’s Lion Monument in Lucerne.*  The lion is shown collapsing on the symbols of the French monarchy.

* Lucerne is one of the highlights of any trip to Switzerland and one of the most beautiful places in the world.

 

The Swiss Guard

The Papal Swiss Guard is actually Swiss.  They are mostly from Zurich, Luzern and St. Gallen.  The Swiss Guard has been responsible for the Pope‘s security and the protection of the Vatican for around 500 years.  Back then, Switzerland was a poor country whose citizens worked as mercenaries all over Europe as there weren’t sufficient jobs at home.
The Papal Swiss Guard’s first and deadliest engagement was on May 6, 1527 fighting the forces of Charles V during the sack of Rome.  Their efforts enabled Pope Clement VII to escape the Vatican.

To be a Papal Swiss Guard, you must:

  • Be Swiss
  • Be Catholic
  • Be a man (they aren’t opening it up to women anytime soon)
  • Be at least 185 cm (5 ft 8.5 inches) tall
  • Be between 17 and 30
  • Have a high school diploma or professional degree
  • Have completed basic training in the Swiss army
  • Apply
  • As you can see from the first photo above, you must also be able to rock a uniform