Thus one journeys to the stars

Landschlacht, 6 January 2016

It is a strange little place I live in.

Though it sits beside the Lake of Constance, nestled quietly between the hospital-church complex that is Münsterlingen and apple-obsessed Altnau, Landschlacht itself (population: 850) seems to remain unappealing to both residents and visitors alike.

This peaceful holiday spot, this bedroom community near Konstanz-Kreuzlingen, has three hotels, some half-timbered houses, a general store, an elementary school, a family doctor´s office and even a 10th century chapel decorated with colourful frescoes.

Yet it remains a “blink and you´ll miss it” blur on Highway 13 between Romanshorn and Kreuzlingen.

Feeling unloved and neglected, Landschlacht sees no reason to try and woo visitors past midnight, so for six hours every night, the village entire shuts off the lights.

There are no street lights at all between midnight and six am.

And it is this that I love about Landschacht…

For then, on a night when the skies are clear and there are no artificial lights to pollute the view, one can see countless numbers of stars and gaze in awe and wonder at the sight.

And when the Moon is full, a mere mortal is rendered speechless by its majesty.

And though I am often one of the first to ridicule this forgotten hamlet, I find myself missing it at night every time I leave.

Zürich, 30 December 2015

I find myself thinking about Landschlacht a lot this day and at the oddest moments…

“The name Urania stems from the Greek word for “heavenly” and in mythology it was applied to the muse of astronomy.

This explains why astronomical observatories in Vienna, Budapest, Berlin and Antwerp are all named Urania.

Zürich boasts an Urania Observatory (Urania Sternwarte) too, located in the city´s Lindenhof quarter.

A visit when the skies are clear can be quite exciting.

The observatory offers guided tours and special events for a wide audience as well as individual tours for schools and groups.

Paid public tours can be found on clear weather from Thursday to Saturday, starting at 8 pm.

The central location and the city of Zurich overriding observation tower also provide an unusual view of the city, Lake Zürich and the Alps.

At the same time, its location in the middle of the city of Zurich is a serious problem:

Light pollution allows restricted observations of very few galaxies and nebulae.

Therefore, observations are limited to the moon, planets and bright celestial objects.

Zürich´s first astronomical observatory was located on the roof of the Meisen Guildhall on the banks of the Limmat.

It was here in 1759 that the local astronomical commission succeeded in defining the Culminatio solis – the elevation angle reached when the sun transits over the observer´s median – thereby calculating for the first time the exact global position of the City of Zürich(44 degrees 22´N, 8 degrees 33´E).

In 1899 the wealthy Zürich merchant Abraham Weill Einstein began the construction of the Urania Observatory, Switzerland´s first public astronomical observatory.

Inaugurated on 15 June 1907, the Observatory is perched at the top of a tower 51 metres in height.

The original telescope is still in use.

Weighing 12 tons, it consists of 2 instruments, a 15cm refractor and a 30cm refractor, on a common mount.

To avoid unwanted vibration the telescope stands on top of a freestanding pillar, which runs down through the centre of the tower to the foundations of the building below.”

(Duncan Smith, Only in Zürich)

To find your way to the stars, make your way to the Zürich Main Station, follow Bahnhofstrasse down to Uraniastrasse and then look for the tower and the Brasserie Lipp:

Yes, this is the grand entry to the stars: through a 135-year-old French restaurant.

Then take the lift/elevator to the tenth floor to the Jules Verne Panorama Bar and this is the panorama that awaits you:

Just imagine the view at twilight…

Then climb the stairway to the heavens that leads from the bar´s bathroom corridor.

And gaze up at the glory that no mere mortal can ever completely capture on canvas or on camera.

So mere mortals instead draw beauty from within themselves and create masterpieces.

There are two ways to see Augusto Giacometti´s masterpiece glorious hall on Bahnhofquai:

One way I wouldn´t recommend is:

Get yourself arrested…

For Giacometti´s glorious entrance hall graces the ceiling of Zürich´s police headquarters.

The other way to view Giacometti´s work is to present your passport to the ever-vigilant police sergeant at the building´s entrance, who will fiercely inform you that photography is strictly forbidden for the duration of your 10-minute visit.

But this was not always so…

This man knew how to colour a room…

“Augusto Giacometti was born in Graubünden Canton and between 1894 and 1897 he lived in Zürich, where he gained a teaching diploma in drawing at the School of Arts and Crafts.

He went on to further education in Paris and Florence.

Giacometti received his first public commission back in Switzerland in 1914, doing mosaics for the University of Zürich.

When Bahnhofquai 3, a former orphanage, was converted into an administrative building, Giacometti was commissioned (1923-1925) to decorate the vaulted ceiling of the entrance hall with a series of scenes reflecting aspects of Swiss society between the wars.

Using a rich palette of reds and golds, together with splashes of vivid blue and green, the paintings of Giacometti are both heady and eclectic, featuring scenes of stone masons and carpenters on one wall, a magician and astronomer on another.

The paintings provide the grandest entrance to a police station anywhere.

Giacometti died in Zürich in 1966.

His gravestone in Graubünden is inscribed with the words:

“Il Maestro dei Colori” (the master of colour)

(Duncan Smith, Only in Zürich)

I think if Abraham Einstein and Augusto Giacometti were alive today, they would join poet Gary Turk…


…and proclaim to a generation lost in technology:

Look up.



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