Fun In The Alpine Fortress Of Fürigen

Last weekend, we went to Lucerne and visited the fortress of Fürigen.  We had been looking forward to visiting some of Switzerland’s formerly hidden fortresses that have been turned into museums.  Since we were near Lucerne, we finally got the chance.

Can you spot the entrance in this photo?

Festung Fürigen Museum zur Wehrgeschichte (aka Fort Fürigen) is  part of Swiss National Redoubt  defense plan (Schweizer Alpenfestung or Réduit Suisse) to respond to foreign invasion.  Developed in by neutral Switzerland the 1880’s, Germany’s invasion of its neighbors necessitated updates (Germany even developed an invasion plan for Switzerland).   Fort Fürigen was part of a series of fortifications around Lake Lucerne that were rushed to completion in 1941-2 to protect nearby roads and rail lines.

The entrance is intentionally well-camouflaged.  We had to double back and ask for directions to find it.  The nondescript entrance leads to a  200-meter (656 feet) tunnel system leads into the mountain.

A private telephone line connected the lake’s fortresses but they also used the radio to communicate with each other.

Entering the fort, you pass the radio station (located near the entrance to assure clear reception) and several sets of machine gun defenses.

The view down the corridor from the gunner’s nest.

Once past the heavy fortifications you see the workings of the fort.  They have the guns, a filter for radioactive material, air shafts, devices to monitor the air for poison gas, storage depot and more on display.

You can actually play around with this gun. He maneuvered it into a decent spot and dutifully posed for a photo when he wanted to play. Hence the hurry up and take the picture smile.

A close up of the gun’s targeting system

The largest problem with these gas masks was the limited range of motion allowed by their connection to the ceiling’s purified air hookup.

This infrared light replaced the old spotlight when the fort was retooled during the Cold War

While the infirmary resembled any 1940’s hospital movie set, the bunk house and dining area looked remarkably like many Swiss ski lodges.

Since they were storing munitions in the bunker, smoking was forbidden…in some areas.  It must have been like prison, where the talk of banning cigarettes leads to mutiny and so it was only limited in essential areas.  After all, the living quarters were gas-proof.

The Swiss had good reason to build defensive outposts like this one.  Hitler’s plans to invade Switzerland were uncovered post-World War II.  The Soviet Union’s also recommended invading the country.

One fortress down, only about 14,999 to go.

No smoking! If you went down the hall and through a door to the residential area, there are ashtrays hanging on walls. Go figure.

 

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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.

Fancy A Turbosieste? Powernap National Day in Switzerland

I have been remiss. I let a Swiss holiday pass without so much as a word.  My apologies. In my defense, until a few days ago, I wasn’t even aware that Turbosieste National Day existed.  For those of you who don’s speak French, it means “National Powernap Day”.   What a holiday!

How do you celebrate Turbosieste ( aka Turboschlaf in German and Turbosieste in Italian) National Day?  Powernapping in public places.

Powernapping in private is also a common and acceptable (and common) means of celebrating.  On March 14, 2012 from 2:00 – 2:15 p.m. everyone in Switzerland was asked to stop what they were doing for a 15 minute nap!

Driving can be dangerous and is even more so on the steep and windy roads that cut through Switzerland’s mountains.  Driver fatigue is the cause of 10-20% of the accidents here. To prevent driver fatigue and avoid accidents, the Swiss launched a public service campaign.  It encourages pulling off to the side of the road to nap when tired.

I’m not sure that people would feel safe sleeping roadside or at a rest area in the US.  Michael Jordan‘s father was famously murdered while napping at a rest area in the US.  However, Switzerland is quite safe and there isn’t much danger of being robbed or killed roadside.  It is the number one country for the powernap (yet another reason to come visit).

Click here  for a short video about the Turbosieste on YouTube.

 

It’s Hip To Be Square, Aka Why The Swiss Flag is Square

The Swiss adopted the design of the white cross on a red background as the national flag (the design is older and in 1863 it was used for the basis of the Red Cross’s flag) in 1889.  The current version consistently appeared over the years.

It was first used by Swiss mercenaries in the Middle Ages. Prior to 1889, each canton (the Swiss version of a state) had its own flag and national flags varied over the years.  When modern Switzerland was formed in 1848, they had to come up with a flag.  They tried a few different versions and eventually settled on the square because of its military origins.

All national flags are rectangular, with three exceptions.  There are only two countries with square flags: the Vatican and Switzerland.  Nepal’s is made from two triangles.

When neutral Switzerland joined the UN in 2002, it was a big deal for them.  It also presented a problem.  UN rules require rectangular flags.  Thankfully, a loophole was found.  New flags are permitted as long as they do not exceed the size of other flags.

 

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.

 

The Road Through The Alps Into Switzerland’s Lötschental Valley

 

Last weekend, we went to Wilder, Switzerland to see the Tschäggättä and Carnival parade. Wilder is located in the Swiss Alps in the Lötschental Valley.  It is one of the most remote places in Switzerland.  It remained largely cut off from the outside world until the beginning of the 20th century.

 

Courtesy of Mappery.com

 

Even then, the valley remained remote and difficult to reach, especially during the winters. It was so isolated that in the 1932, Dr. Weston Price, an American dentist, went there to find cultures relatively untouched by the modern world.  He included it in his book of nutritional studies across diverse cultures, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.   At the time, some towns in the valley were accessible only by footpath.

 

 

When Switzerland built a road into the valley, they did it with typical Swiss quality and precision.  It is built into a steep gorge and hugs the side of the mountain.  You can see the road climb up the mountain until it disappears into it.

 

 

We saw the first bit of snow and ice at the first curve.  Coming out of that turn, you hug the edge of the road.  If you aren’t the driver, the views are fantastic (even if the drive is a bit hair-raising).

 

 

The road zigs and zags up the mountain.  Switchbacks abound.

 

 

Switchbacks are courtesy of Google Maps

 

Looking at the map, you can (1) all the switchbacks, and (2) why I am glad that I wasn’t the driver.

 

 

Surprisingly, there are cute roadside picnic spots sprinkled along the way.

 

English: Alpine Ibex near Lauchernalp (Lötsche...

English: Alpine Ibex near Lauchernalp (Lötschental), Switzerland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Since this is Switzerland, there are tunnels and covered areas to protect the roads from impassability due to snow.  As you climb back into the valley, the dates on the exterior of the tunnels becomes progressively more recent.

 

 

When we exited the tunnels, we thought the road had been reduced to one lane because the road narrowed.  We were wrong.  Although it may have been slightly more narrow due to the snow, traffic continued in both directions.  There just wasn’t much room for you to put a road.

 

 

We were rewarded for long drive with a fantastic festival in a stunning setting.  It is well worth the effort to get to Wilder.

 

 

We were lucky the weather (and roads) was clear.  In 1999, around 1,000 avalanches crashed down Switzerland’s mountains.   The  Lötschental Valley is an avalanche hot spot.  That year, avalanches made the road impassable and cut the valley off from the outside world.  Tourists and people with health problems were helicoptered out while locals and food were flown in!

 

 

 

 

Winkelwho? Winkelreid, The Legendary Swiss Hero

Winkelreid at Sempach by Konrad Grob

Once upon a time, Austria (the Hapsburg Empire) attempted to conquer the Swiss and marched into the mountains.  On July 9, 1386, they lined up to do battle with the Swiss at Sempach.  The Swiss mountain men were outmanned and had inferior weapons. For once, obsessions with having the longer spear paid off.  The Austrian’s pre-firearm spears were significantly longer than the Swiss’s short spears.  This made it impossible to effectively attack the Austrians and break their line.

The Winkelried Monument in Stans (near Luzern), courtesy of Wikipedia

Needless to say, the Swiss were not faring well and the outlook was bleak.  The soon to be legendary Arnold von Winkelried, knew that the Swiss would soon be defeated unless they made an opening in the Austrian’s line.  Bravely, he extended his arms as far as possible, rushed toward the Austrian line and gathered as many spears as he could grasp in his arms.    Legend says that he shouted, “take care of my wife and children” as he moved forward.   It was either that or “who the heck pushed me”?

His legend is an important part of Swiss history and it isn’t difficult to find memorials to his bravery.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

courtesy of Wikipedia

reenactment in an ad for Navyboot from The Sweet Calling of Mountains

courtesy of Wanderland.ch

Five Francs ($6) is too small to be a bill here, it is now a coin.

courtesy of Theater Saint Gervais

Winkelwho? Winlkelreid The Legendary Swiss Hero

Winkelreid at Sempach by Konrad Grob

Once upon a time, Austria (the Hapsburg Empire) attempted to conquer the Swiss and marched into the mountains.  On July 9, 1386, they lined up to do battle with the Swiss at Sempach.  The Swiss mountain men were outmanned and had inferior weapons.

Winkelreid Monument in Stans near Rosenburg, courtesy of Wikipedia

For once, obsessions with having the longer spear paid off.  The Austrian’s pre-firearm spears were significantly longer than the Swiss’s short spears.  This made it impossible to effectively attack the Austrians and break their line.  Needless to say, the Swiss were not faring well and the outlook was bleak.

The soon to be legendary Arnold von Winkelried, knew that the Swiss would soon be defeated unless they made an opening in the Austrian’s line.  Bravely, he extended his arms as far as possible, rushed toward the Austrian line and gathered as many spears as he could grasp in his arms.    Legend says that he shouted, “take care of my wife and children” as he moved forward.   It was either that or “who the heck pushed me”?

His legend is in important part of Swiss history and it isn’t difficult to find memorials to Arnold Von Winkelreid’s bravery.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

courtesy of Wikipedia 

reenactment in an ad for Navyboot from The Sweet Calling of Mountains

courtesy of Wanderland.ch

Five Francs ($6) is too small to be a bill here, it is now a coin.

courtesy of Theater Saint Gervais

 

Geneva’s Rising Crime Rate

Courtesy of World Radio Switzerland

The New York Times recently ran an article entitled “Open Borders and Wealth Lure Thieves To Geneva” addressing Geneva’s dramatic rise in crime rates (for property crimes like property theft, car theft and break-ins).  It cited several reasons for the rise:

Locals have complained about the deteriorating security situation ever since the Schengen Agreement opened Switzerland’s borders to much of Europe.

Courtesy Moveoneinc.com

In December 2008, Switzerland (even though it is not part of the European Union) became part of Schengen, a zone offering unrestricted travel to Europe.  In Schengen areas, borders are open.  There are no more passport checks entering countries or at borders (even though there are police checks at borders or checks for trafficked goods). On a side note, don’t get caught bringing a bunch bargain French meat into Switzerland.  The Swiss, who love a fine, will make you pay.

Before our move, people warned us of the problems with break-ins.  We forked over a ton of CHF‘s to get this.  It bolts the door into the door frame.  We also got an additional top lock.  To get into our apartment in Geneva, you pretty much need to do this.

Courtesy of Vortex

All of the buildings here have these too.  Our code changed once already because of an attempted break-in.  Our neighbor’s bar stopped the thieves, but it was so badly damaged that they had to call a locksmith to let them in.

After having lived in Detroit, I keep track of my stuff, don’t leave anything out, lock all of my many locks and don’t worry.  Mom and Dad, you don’t need to worry about either.  Despite the rise in reported crime, Geneva is still the sixth safest city in the world.

How To Finance Building Roads in the Alps

Every car that drives on Swiss highways must have a sticker (referred to as a vignette) showing that the car has paid the yearly approximately 40 CHF fee.

What if you don’t live in Switzerland? Even better. If you are a foreigner heading south and taking the Swiss roads because they are the fastest, most direct way to your Italian vacation, you’ve got to pony up. If you don’t have one, you have a large fine that must be paid on the spot.

Looking at these photos (I swear I was changing lanes in that one) you can start to get an idea of why roads might be expensive. We aren’t even in the alps yet and you have tunnels, mountains and lakes to contend with.  Please note that even though it regularly thaws and freezes here, there isn’t a pothole in sight!