A diplomat’s life is a journey. Even when he comes home to his own country, he feels like a traveler. It is a pleasure for me to talk to you about some of the places I like to visit when traveling to Switzerland.
Years ago, my wife and I had the rare opportunity to buy a tiny old house in the historic center of our nation’s capital, Bern, next to the medieval Cathedral. The Cathedral is even younger than our house.
I enjoy living in the beautiful historic town. I watch the gargoyles, walk in the arcades, and wake up to the organist’s music. When I open the windows, I see tourists passing by. Some of them are on the medieval tour, others on the espionage tour, or even on the ghost tour at night.
Located in the same block is the Einstein House, where the famous scientist lived when he worked at the Federal Office for Intellectual Property—as a “Technical Expert, Second Class.” For me, Einstein is not only the author of the theory of relativity, but he also proves that Swiss government officials can be quite imaginative and innovative.
An hour away from Bern, we have a mountain cabin, a chalet, in the village of Beatenberg near Interlaken. I like to retreat to this place, to spend peaceful days hiking and relaxing. In the summertime, a short trip by cable car takes me to Lake Thun for a refreshing swim.
Even this place in the mountains is full of history. In a small house nearby, the modernist painter Paul Klee used to work in the summertime while his wife earned some money by giving piano lessons to hotel guests. In another neighboring chalet, Alexander Scriabin composed his Poem of Ecstasy. He had the same view of the majestic mountains of the Bernese Oberland as I do from my chalet.
Once the local pharmacist and I took a stroll through the mountain woods. He showed me where to find herbs and edible wild plants. Every now and then, I search for those plants; they allow me to prepare dishes with tastes known to only a few people.
Not more than an hour by train from Bern is my hometown, Zurich. Zurich is Switzerland’s economic and financial powerhouse with fancy shops, museums, and cultural life. In Zurich, you can find something you miss in Bern—the beautiful lake that inspired early travelers to Switzerland like Goethe.
It doesn’t take more than an hour from Bern to Lucerne either. Lucerne is the place where the Dahindens are originally from and where one of my ancestors had a tragic role as a leader in the Great Swiss Peasants War. Ulrich Dahinden even appears as a figure in the tales of the Grimm brothers. It is said that he sleeps together with his two fellow peasants in a hidden place in the mountains to come alive again when the country is in danger. That has apparently not been necessary so far.
When Mark Twain traveled to Switzerland, he said that the traveler would pay a yodeler to yodel and then pay again to make him stop yodeling. When I go to the Lucerne Festival, one of the world’s finest classical music festivals, I have completely different sentiments than Mark Twain had.
Although Switzerland is a small country, it offers unlimited discoveries and stories. What I like while traveling in Switzerland is not so much having the opportunity to take splendid photos of emblematic landmarks. I am much more intrigued by spontaneous, unforeseeable discoveries that are possible despite Switzerland’s reputation for ticking like clockwork.
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