A whirlwind tour of Switzerland resulted in a crash course on Swiss culture.
SWITZERLAND. A land of fondue, chocolate and presumably, Swiss people.
This was the scope of my knowledge about the country prior to traveling there to shoot an episode of Stopover Switzerland for Life Inspired.
Well, this and the fact I had woefully too little money to open a Swiss bank account.
Of course, once we landed in Switzerland and started our whirlwind tour of a few key spots, my crash course in Swiss culture started.
Here are some of the things I’ve retained from my education in Switzerland – I’ve always wanted to be Swiss educated.
> There are no mountain chickens on Mount Titlis.
True! Mount Titlis is a winter wonderland overlooking the perfectly Swiss town of Engleberg (honestly, close your eyes and picture a Swiss mountain town. Congratulations, you’ve just accurately envisioned mountain-cradled Engleberg). On the way up, our guide mentioned some of the wildlife we might see, there were the typical culprits and then he mentioned something I’ve never heard of: the Mountain Chicken.
As we explored the mountain from its beautiful ski runs to it’s playful tobogganing slopes, I wondered what this mountain chicken was, was it big or small? Friendly or dangerous? What mysteries did the mountain
We journeyed into Titlis’ ice hotel, a surprisingly cosy spot with beds covered in enticingly warm furs to keep one from remembering that the actual bed is made entirely of snow.
We went into the dark of the glacier tunnel, an actual walkway burrowed right into the ice of a glacier. Surrounded by ice on all sides, I pressed my hands into the walls to see how long I could withstand the cold (hint: it wasn’t long), and all that time I never found out what the mountain chicken was.
It was only later, as I posed for a typically Swiss photo, adorned with feather cap, green vest and an accordion, that I asked if I could also pose with a rifle to protect me from said Mountain Chicken when the women taking the photo said, “Chicken? There are no chickens on the mountain. Though we do have grouse.”
Alas, a simple grouse was the mysterious mountain chicken. Apparently, my guide didn’t know the English word for grouse, but despite the lack of Mountain Chickens, Mount Titlis is one place I definitely have to visit again.
> A Dada blessing is different for everyone.
To be clear, Dada isn’t what babies say to their fathers.
Well, it is, but the Dada I’m speaking of is Dadaism the European avant garde art movement. This movement was formed and cultivated in Zurich at the Caberet Voltaire, a nightclub that was opened in 1916 as sort of a caberet act. Dadaism spread to Berlin, New York and Paris but from 1916 to 1917, the Caberet Voltaire was the womb of this art world, changing the movement.
This same Caberet is still open and run by artists inspired by Dadaism. I had the privilege to interview one of the artists currently running the café. He was more than a match for my sarcasm and at one point offered to give me a Dada blessing, which I eagerly accepted.
We went outside to a local water fountain – which is filled by clean mountain springs and drinkable in Zurich – and the artist proceeded to bless me. By thrusting my head into the fountain and holding it there for an extended period.
Luckily, this was prefaced by him asking me how wet I could get. Combined with his sarcasm, it gave me a good idea of what might happen so I was as prepared as one can be to have his head dunked in the fountain by a Dadaist.
When I emerged, sputtering, water dripping down my neck into my dry clothes, I said, “That’s a Dada blessing?!?”
“Well, it’s one of them,” He shrugged. “Last crew that was here, I blessed them by drinking absinthe with them.”
I think the next time I get blessed by artists, I’ll wear noseplugs.
> Religious artwork need not be boring.
In Lucerne, a 40-minute jaunt on the trusty Swiss railway – which really does run like clockwork – is one of Europe’s oldest wooden bridges, the Kapellbrucke or Chapel Bridge.
Originally built in the 1300s as part of the cities’ fortifications, the bridge spans the water, offering archers a clear view of anybody approaching the city by water.
What makes it really famous, however, is the work of Catholic painter Hans Heinrich Wagmann on the interior of the bridge’s roof.
These paintings are religiously based but don’t let that fool you, there is a higher body count in them than in a season of The Walking Dead. Many of the paintings portray tidbits of the city’s past, such as beheading and battles and are a fascinating glimpse into the past as you stroll beneath them.
These are just a few of the things I picked up in Switzerland, but to see what else I got up to, check out Stopover Switzerland.
Catch Jason in Stopover Switzerland on Life Inspired (Astro B.yond Ch 728). The first and second episodes will be shown at 11.30pm tonight (Aug 6) and on Aug 13 respectively.