Yesterday’s children

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 9 August 2016

Yesterday, one of my Facebook friends posed the question:

Considering your life experience, what one piece of advice would you pass onto others?

My answer was:

Don’t wait, for time belongs to no one.

None of us know how long we each have to live nor how long our loved ones will live.

I think of how many famous people have died over the past twelve months: Robin Williams, David Bowie, Muhammed Ali, Prince, to name just a few.

I think of all those people whose lives have been unexpectedly shortened: shootings in America, terrorist attacks worldwide, soldiers dying for their countries, civilians caught in the crossfire, victims of accident or disease – the list seems endless.

Yet despite my own mortality I am rarely comfortable talking about death, but as Prince once sung:

Let’s go crazy…

You better live now before the Grim Reaper comes knockin’ on your door.

(Ironically, the same song advises the listener to punch a higher button when the elevator starts to bring you down…Prince died inside his own elevator in his home.)

Benken, Switzerland, 21 March 2016

At first glance the municipality of Benken in Canton St. Gallen, near the border of Glaurus Canton, seems unremarkable.

Benken (SG) vilagheniro 042.JPG

Over 70% of the municipality is farmland.

Only 3,000 people live there, of which the majority speak Swiss German, are under 70 years old, married with children, vote SVP (Swiss Folks Party), are well-educated and hard-working Roman Catholics.

Typically Swiss and quite unremarkable.

Though Benken lies on the regional rail line between Rapperswil and Ziegelbrücke, and though it has tried valiantly to attract visitors to its piece of Paradise, few outside the region seem to know Benken exists.

As I have written, Benken has tried…

It has 12 restaurants, three hotels, two churches (including a pilgrimage church famous for its grotto of meditation), a canal with hiking paths and motorboat access, an alpaca petting farm, donkey trekking, inline skating, tandem bike rentals, horse and buggy rides, vintage bus rides, a bakery museum, a woodworking museum, and annual Carnival and Christmas celebrations (the latter with its own Angel Path).

Wallfahrtsort Maria Bildstein

Benken City Hall, when not using its meeting centre for municipal events, leases its facilities to the public.

Above: Benken City Hall

And here gathered a hundred mourners to say goodbye.

Family and friends were there of course, but alongside them quietly mourning her loss, teachers were in attendance as well.

For Diana had owned and ran a school with a number of courses in different Swiss towns and one location in Vaduz, Liechtenstein, where I taught Cambridge FCE English to Vaduz bankers.

Above: Vaduz Castle

I had been her last hire so I knew her the least…yet I keenly felt her loss.

Diana had gone to hospital for a check-up just the month before, learned she had a heart condition, was operated upon and died in hospital.

I felt her loss because of the suddenness of her departure into eternity.

One moment she is giving me a job and monitoring my progress, then…oblivion.

Perhaps because there was such a mix of faiths amongst her family, friends, employees and acquaintances that a secular location was chosen.

There was no physical presence or coffin present as she might have been cremated.

It was too delicate a question to ask and my German wasn’t up to the complexities of such rarely-used funerary vocabulary.

Perhaps been named Diana and having been the owner-operator of an English language school, her widower and children thought that Elton John’s “Good-bye England’s Rose” was appropriate for her memorial service…and somehow it was.

With the exception of my teaching colleague Evaron, I knew no one in the crowd, not even those Diana had hired to deal with the complex administration of a school with multiple locations, for with the exception of Diana, everyone connected with the school had contacted me by phone or email.

I liked Diana, for though tough as nails, with a matter of fact no-nonsense manner, yet simultaneously she came across as both passionate and compassionate, personal and professional.

Now seeing schools fail is not unusual, and I have seen schools fail before, due to mismanagement and reversal of fortune, but this was the first time I truly understood what it meant when a sole proprietorship loses its sole proprietor, the company loses its soul.

Without a soul there is no reason to exist.

(As of this writing, the school continues to exist online but its locations have been closed once the ongoing courses had been completed.)

(Ironically this last-hired teacher taught the last class of the last-finishing course.)

The academics among us gathered inside a nearby café after the service, but I felt uncharacteristically quiet, subdued.

I was the first to leave, citing teaching obligations elsewhere, but this was untrue.

I needed solitude, time apart to assess my feelings, or at least distraction away from discussions of death and fear for a future without Diana at the helm.

The train station is a bit of a hike from downtown Benken but I declined any offers to take me there.

The breeze upon my face was soothing…the walk an exercise in emotional exorcism…for tears are difficult to induce from me.

But my feelings run deep.

Museums on Monday are closed in Switzerland.

I was not dressed nor prepared for a long-distance hike, wearing an all-black outfit to match my mood, to suit the solemnity of the day.

I had no map to lead me to the sites worth seeing nor inclination to seek out a map.

As my wife works in Zürich four days a week, I was not ready to face my empty apartment, so quiet, so still without my wife´s chatter to fill the spaces, for every man knows that it is a woman that makes a house into a home.

Without her, home is just a place to hang one’s hat.

And a man alone calls wherever he hangs his hat, home.

I walk to the station, simultaneously feeling everything and nothing.

I consult the train timetable and discover that from Ziegelbrücke I can visit an undiscovered canton as a person in cognito, an unknown person visiting an unknown place, dealing with uncomfortable feelings in unfamiliar surroundings.

The day is a microcosm of how I have lived my life…journeying to not only discover other places but as well journeying to discover myself.

It seemed like an eternity waiting for the Ziegelbrücke train to arrive.

It felt like I was leaving Eternity behind in Benken.

Good-bye, England’s rose.

Thanks for the glimpse of a life I wish I had gotten to know better.

It is amazing how one person unknowingly touches the lives of other people even if only for a moment…until ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Songs never die, just the singer.

And the train left the station behind…

While my guitar gently weeps…

Above: Prince’s Yellow Cloud guitar





Viennese, Down Under

Triesenberg, Liechtenstein: 25 January 2016

There is an 11-hour time zone difference between Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein, and Canberra, the capital of Australia.

A blue field with the Union Flag in the upper hoist quarter, a large white seven-pointed star in the lower hoist quarter, and constellation of five white stars in the fly – one small five-pointed star and four, larger, seven-pointed stars.

So while I was discovering the secrets of this land of the Walser in southern Liechtenstein, Australians were already starting up their barbies for cut lunch and snag while drinking stubbies of beer to commemorate the national celebration of Australia Day.

So it is rather fitting that I discover an Australian connection to a former resident of this Liechtenstein municipality.

Cheviot Beach.png

Cheviot Beach, a beach near Point Nepean in the state of Victoria, Australia.

It was named after the SS Cheviot, an English coal and passenger steamer, which broke up and sank nearby with the loss of 35 lives on 20 October 1887.


On clear days the lookout at the top of Cheviot Hill offers the full panorama of Port Phillip Bay.

The 2.7 kilometre gap between Point Nepean and Point Lonsdale is an awesome sight.

The Rip, as it is known, is one of the most perilous passages to a harbour in the world.

Half the entrance is unnavigable due to underwater reefs and when the tide rises in Bass Strait it cannot cope with the volume of water surging forward.

When the flood tide is rushing into the heads, the sea level in the Strait is more than a metre higher than in the Bay and vice versa when the tide is going out.

Cheviot Bay is well suited to snorkeling.

Its cliffs have receded over thousands of years, leaving a shelf of limestone rock where the Cheviot came to grief.

If you were allowed on Cheviot Beach, you could wade out to a point where the water suddenly becomes very deep.

Looking down, you can tell it by the churning waves.

The public has been locked out of Point Nepean since the quarantine station was established there in 1852.

Access became even more restricted when a series of defence fortifications were built there in the 1880s, then expanded and upgraded for the First and Second World Wars.

It is still not possible for the general public to go down to Cheviot Beach, even though Point Nepean became a national park in 1988.

Access is difficult as the lower part of the only path has collapsed.

In addition the seas are considered too dangerous.

The only way to see the beach is to do the Cheviot Hill Discovery Walk, one of four self-guided walks at Point Nepean.

The path is sealed but is steep in places with a few steps near the top.

It passes through tough tea-tree scrub punctuated with signs warning walkers to stay on the track and not to climb the gun emplacement structures dating from World War II.

This area was used for target practice for many years and still contains unexploded shells.

Interpretation boards along the way explain the vegetation and the Aboriginal and military history associated with the peninsula.

After about 20 minutes, the path emerges from the scrub to a clearing on the top of Cheviot Hill.

Directly below, at the bottom of a sheer cliff, is the long golden stretch of sand and the pounding waves of the beach.


“Australia is a difficult country to keep track of.

On my first visit, some years ago, I passed the time on the long flight from London reading a history of Australian politics in the 20th century, wherein I encountered the startling fact that in 1967 Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt was strolling along the beach, plunged into the surf and vanished.

No trace of the poor man was ever seen again.

This seemed doubly astonishing to me – first that Australia could just lose a Prime Minister and second that news of this had never reached me.”

(Bill Bryson, Down Under)

To be fair to Bill, Australia is not unique for having people go amiss.

The list of famous people whose whereabouts remain a mystery is a distinguished one.

Among the many who have vanished without a trace are: the rebel slave Spartacus, Julius Caesar and Cleopatra´s son Caesarion, Roman Emperor Valens, Owain Glyndwr (last Welsh person to hold the title Prince of Wales), Giovanni Caboto (in English, John Cabot, the Italian discoverer of Canada), the Roanoke colonists of Virginia, John Franklin´s expedition looking for the Northwest Passage, Solomon Northup (US author of Twelve Years a Slave), Joshua Slocum (first man to sail alone around the world), Ambrose Bierce (US author of The Devil´s Dictionary), Roald Amundsen (first man to reach the South Pole), Amelia Earhart (first woman to try a circumnavigational flight around the world), Glenn Miller (popular US jazz musician and bandleader), Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (French author of The Little Prince), D.B. Cooper (US bank robber), Jimmy Hoffa (US trade union leader)…

And these are just some famous folks.

Of course, still fresh and unforgotten, we all still recall the disappearance on 8 March 2014 of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, with 227 passengers and 12 crew who still remain unaccounted for.

“It was at Cheviot Beach that Harold Holt went for the Swim That Needs No Towel.

On the day Prime Minister Harold Holt waded into the surf, the weather was windy but fine.


Above: Harold Edward Holt, 5 August 1908 – 17 December 1967, 17th Prime Minister of Australia

Things were not going very well for him as Prime Minister – his skills lay more in kissing babies and making the ladies tingle (he was evidently a bit of a hottie) than in running affairs of state – and we may safely assume that he was glad to be out of Canberra for the long Christmas break.

Holt and his wife, Zara, built a beach house at Portsea in 1957.

For Holt, swimming and snorkelling were a wonderful antidote to the pressures of high office.

Holt came to Cheviot Beach because he had a weekend home at nearby Portsea and the army let him stroll on its grounds for the sake of his privacy.”

(Bill Bryson, Down Under)

Holt had taken up snorkelling in 1954 and loved it.

“As soon as I put my head under water, I was hooked,” he said.”


So there were no lifeguards, no members of the public or even security guards in attendance when, on 17 December 1967, Holt went for a breezy stroll with some friends among the rocks and pounding waves just below.

Also on the beach was Holt’s lover of the time, Marjorie Gillespie.

Although the sea was lively and the tide dangerously high…

Although Holt had almost drowned there six months earlier while snorkelling with some chums…

Holt decided to go for a swim.

Before anyone could react Holt had whipped off his shirt and plunged into the surf.

He swam straight out from the Beach a couple of hundred feet and almost instantly vanished, without fuss or commotion or even a languorous wave.

Fearing the worst, his friends raised the alert.

Within a short time, the beach and the water off shore were being searched by a large contingent of police, Royal Australian Navy divers, Royal Australian Air Force helicopters, Army personnel from nearby Point Nepean and local volunteers.

This quickly escalated into one of the largest search operations in Australian history, but no trace of Holt could be found.

Enter Hans Hass.

Hans Hass.jpg

Hans Hass (23 January 1919 – 16 June 2013) was an Austrian biologist and diving pioneer.

Born in Vienna, Hass was known for being the first scientist to popularise coral reefs, stingrays and sharks.

He pioneered the making of documentaries filmed underwater.

He led the development of the aqualung and a type of re-breather.

He was known, too, for his energon theory (the idea that the behaviours of all life-forms — human, nonhuman animal and plant — have common origins) and his commitment to protecting the environment.

Hass was a remarkable person.

Hass developed the first robot cameras, the first underwater colour photographs and film, the process of research diving, patented radio signal fishing, an underwater watch, swim fins, underwater habitation, a submersible, as well as a decompression computer.

Hass produced four movies, 70 TV films, 105 commercial films and more than 25 books.

He received medals and honours galore, including an Oscar for his extraordinary underwater photography in the movie Xarifa Expedition (1959).

A cone snail, found in the Philippines, was named after him (Protoconus hanshassi) (2012).

Hass acknowledged a rivalry with the better-known French scientist Jacques Cousteau.

According to the New York Times obituary, Hass told historian Tim Ecott that:

“For Cousteau there exists only Cousteau.

He never acknowledged others or corrected the impression that he wasn’t the first in diving or underwater photography.”

Hass lived in Triesenberg from 1960 to 2006, which is a rather odd choice of living location for a man in love with the sea.

Following the disappearance of the Australian Prime Minister, Hass explored the area where Holt had disappeared.

In an interview with Harry Martin for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s current affairs programme A.M., Hass said that having observed the underwater conditions of the area with its sharp and jagged rocks he was convinced that Holt had been trapped in the structure of one of these rocks and his body considerably torn by the nature of the forces of the sea and the sharp rocks.

“I got chatting with the park ranger:

“The thing you´ve got to remember is that the only thing unusual about the Harold Holt drowning was that he was Prime Minister when it happened.

If it hadn´t been for that the whole thing would have been completely forgotten.

Mind you, it´s pretty well forgotten anyway…

Most people barely remember it.

A lot of people under 30 have never even heard of it…

They built a memorial to him in Melbourne.

Know what it was?

A municipal swimming pool.””

Melbourne’s Harold Holt Swim Centre

(Bill Bryson, Down Under)

Holt was 59 years old and had been Prime Minister for not quite two years.

A memorial to Holt has been attached to the limestone reef beneath the waters of Cheviot Bay, not far from the remains of the ship he loved to explore.

The last 48 years have seen a succession of conspiracy theories unveiled to explain Holt´s disappearance.

  • He was abducted and taken on board a Chinese submarine.
  • Holt was a spy who defected to the Chinese, swimming out to the submarine that took him away.
  • The CIA bumped Holt off for planning to withdraw Australian troops from Vietnam.
  • Holt swam out to meet a speedboat, which promptly took him to Europe to be with a French lover.
  • Shark attack
  • He was abducted by aliens / mermaids / the KGB.
  • He was lured away to join the circus.

(Adam Ward, Everything You Didn´t Need to Know About Australia)

Hass left Triesenberg and moved back to Vienna, where he died on 16 June 2013.

Maybe Hass´ international exposure and his visit to Australia might be the reason why Vienna souvenir shops sell postcards and T-shirts with the words:

No Kangaroos in Austria T-Shirt













Utopia unrealised

You may say I’m a dreamer,
but I’m not the only one.
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be as one.

Imagine no possessions.
I wonder if you can.
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world.

(John Lennon, “Imagine”)

Triesenberg, Liechtenstein: 25 January 2016

Today in my explorations of Liechtenstein´s land of the Walser, I came across the history of a dreamer.

Jakob Vetsch (1879 – 1942), also known as Mundus, (in English, “the world”), lived in Triesenberg from 1927 to 1934.

Born in Nesslau, (the eastern end of the railway line that begins in Schaffhausen and runs through my village of Landschlacht), Jakob spent his childhood in Wald, Appenzell, where his father taught and his mother died during labour.

Jakob attended Gymnasium (high school) in Trogen and in St. Gallen.

Against the wishes of Jakob´s father for Jakob to become a teacher in his footsteps,  Jakob fled for a time to Paris, returning back to Zürich in 1900.

Jakob studied German, English and Philiosophy at the University of Zürich.

He taught German in London from 1902 to 1903.

Jakob, interested in oral histories since his childhood, returned to Zürich where he began to work on publications dealing with the Swiss dialect and recorded on phonograph various oral histories he came across.

In 1910, Jakob began his second post-secondary degree in Zürich, in Jurisprudence and Macroeconomics.

He was appointed Secretary of the Board of a Zürich brewery in 1916, but after World War I he found himself in great financial debt.

Happily two years later Jakob married Marguerite Hübscher, millionairess daughter of the brewery´s majority stockholder.

Jakob was not to know happiness for very long as both his wife and their infant daughter both became ill and died.

In 1922, Jakob began a new career as novelist.

He, like many others of the first half of the 20th century, began to dream of Utopia. (Wikipedia)

“The relationship between place and well-being seems to be hard-wired into the human brain.

Making a better life for oneself suggests going to a better place.

It comes as no surprise that creating a new kind of place is central to the efforts of those who want to flee industrial civilisation and fashion a perfect society.

Once associated with hippie communes, this Utopian impulse has spread and diversified.

Today there is a huge variety of intentional communities.

The desire to escape urban life and build Utopia is not new.

There is always a new generation packing its bags and heading into the forest.”

(Alastair Bonnett, Off the Map)

The word Utopia was coined by Sir Thomas More in his 1516 book, meaning no place.

Hans Holbein, the Younger - Sir Thomas More - Google Art Project.jpg

It was meant to describe an island society possessing near-perfect desireable qualities but in contrast with real places, frustratingly full of different histories, ideas and people.

The very idea of Utopia implies that Utopia could never exist.

Yet the intention to start such places is commonplace.

Many ordinary towns and suburbs began life as ideal communities.

What holds Utopia in people´s minds is not just a vision of a perfect place, but rather the experience of living in a bad one.

Plato, in his Republic, described the first Utopian proposal.


Society is divided into four groups: gold, silver, bronze and iron.

The gold are trained 50 years to become philosopher-kings.

The wisdom of these rulers eliminates poverty and deprivation through fairly distributed resources.

The Republic has few laws, no lawyers, and rarely sends its citizens to war, instead relying on mercenaries. (Wikipedia)

In Thomas More´s Utopia, there is no private property and no locks on any of the doors.

Isola di Utopia Moro.jpg

Agriculture is the most important job on the island.

Every person is taught it and must live in the countryside, farming for two years at a time, with women doing the same work as men.

Parallel to this, every citizen must learn at least one of the other essential trades: weaving (mainly done by the women), carpentry, metal smithing and masonry.

There is deliberate simplicity about these trades.

All people wear the same types of simple clothes and there are no dressmakers making fine apparel.

All able-bodied citizens must work.

Unemployment is eradicated and the length of the working day can be minimised:

People only have to work six hours a day (although many willingly work for longer).

More allows scholars in his society to become the ruling officials or priests, people picked during their primary education for their ability to learn.

All other citizens are however encouraged to apply themselves to learning in their leisure time.

Slavery is a feature of Utopian life and every household has two slaves.

The slaves are either from other countries or are  Utopian criminals.

These criminals are weighed down with chains made out of gold.

The gold is part of the community wealth of the country, and fettering criminals with it or using it for shameful things like chamber pots gives the citizens a healthy dislike of it.

It also makes it difficult to steal as it is in plain view.

The wealth, though, is of little importance and is only good for buying commodities from foreign nations or bribing these nations to fight each other.

Slaves are periodically released for good behaviour.

Jewels are worn by children, who finally give them up as they mature.

Utopia is a welfare state with free hospitals.

Euthanasia is permissible by the state.

Priests are allowed to marry, divorce is permitted, premarital sex is punished by a lifetime of enforced celibacy and adultery is punished by enslavement.

Meals are taken in community dining halls and the job of feeding the population is given to a different household in turn.

Although all are fed the same, the old and the administrators are given the best of the food.

Travel on the island is only permitted with an internal passport.

Anyone found without a passport is, on a first occasion, returned in disgrace, but after a second offence they are placed in slavery.

In addition, there are no lawyers so the law is made deliberately simple, as all should understand it and not leave any doubt of what is right and wrong.

Privacy is not regarded as freedom in Utopia.

Taverns, alehouses and places for private gatherings are non-existent for all men must remain in full view, thus obliging good behaviour. (Wikipedia)

Jakob Vetsch, in his book Die Sonnenstadt (in English, City of the Sun), envisioned for 2100 a splendid Utopia, with administration and business run by the community, a land with no religion and no government, no capitalism and no colonialism.

His Sonnenstadt was a place of sexual equality between the genders, where children would choose which parent´s surname to adopt as their own, where money was eliminated, where people worked only 25 hours a week but sex before marriage was forbidden.

The world of literature and his contemporaries in Switzerland did not welcome Jakob´s contributions.

His open market economy had already been suggested by Silvio Gesells and his novel´s imagery previously created by persons like Friedrich Nietzsche and Richard Wagner.

Vetsch´s Utopia was considered typical of the day and even the book´s title was thought to a plagiary of Tommaso Campanella´s 1602 Utopian classic, La Citta del Sole.

The resulting rejection and the high costs of trying to publish his novel took a heavy toll upon Jakob.

When his in-laws tried to have Jakob committed to an insane asylum in 1927, Jakob fled to Liechtenstein, first living in Vaduz and then in Triesenberg where he began studying the Walser dialect.

Jakob returned to Switzerland in 1934 and entered politics in Oberägeri, Zug Canton, working his way up the political ladder until he became the president of the municipality in 1942.

But, true to form, fortune turned against Jakob, and he died from acute gangrene in his 9th month in office. (Wikipedia)

When I consider the life and vision of Jakob Vetsch, I am struck by a thought:

Is there really such a thing as a new idea under Heaven?

Should we condemn a person for presenting an old idea?

Is it so wrong, so insane, to want to build a better life, a better world?

Or should these ideas be hidden away in some far distant Alpine retreat, like Triesenberg, until the world is ready for them?

The mountains do not answer.


Last of the Knights Templar

Adam Kerr's photo.

Triesenberg, Liechtenstein: 25 January 2016

My private student in Winterthur had cancelled his lesson for today, leaving me only my regular lunch-time Cambridge BEC Vantage group in Vaduz.

With the wife away in Zürich, with time on my hands and little desire to waste the clear skies and temperate weather, I decide to explore more of this Principality of Liechtenstein, of which I know only its capital.

I am a humble rider amongst other humble riders on a metal steed, a Liechtensteiner bus.

“Attractions around the Principality are low-key, and aside from the mountain resort of Malbun, almost entirely untouristed.

South of Vaduz is the Liechtensteiner Oberland, with workaday Triesen, overshadowed by pretty Triesenberg, perched on a sunny hillside high above the Rhine and best known as the adopted home of a community of Walser people.

Many of the houses are old wooden chalets built in the Walser style.

Adam Kerr's photo.

The modern, well-presented Walsermuseum documents the community´s history and culture.”

(The Rough Guide to Switzerland)

Bus 21 whisks me away and up to Triesenberg.

In the Walser Museum, I am told that to be in Triesenberg is to be amongst a community of knights.

To be a knight in the Middle Ages, a man needed to possess the following virtues:

* Mercy
* Humility
* Honor
* Sacrifice
* Fear of God
* Faithfulness
* Courage
* Utmost graciousness and courtesy to ladies

A mid 13th century knight armed with virtues and facing the vices in mortal combat.

The parts of his armour are identified with Christian virtues, thus correlating essential military equipment with the religious values of chivalry:

The helmet is hope of future bliss, the shield is faith, the armour is charity, the lance is perseverance, the sword is the word of God, the banner is desire for heaven, the horse is good will, the saddle is the Christian religion, the saddlecloth is humility, the reins are discretion, the spurs are discipline, the stirrups are good works, and the horse’s four hooves are delight, consent, good work, and exercise.

The ideal knight was gentle, kind, patient, and tender with the poor, with those less fortunate than himself, and with the elderly, women, and children.

He learned to be civil, refined, genteel, and temperate.

He could be counted on to deal justly and fairly with everyone-the people of his Kingdom as well as his fellow knights.

King David I of Scotland knighting a squire

A knight was usually selfless and put the safety of others ahead of his own.

He was usually physically strong and hardy.

A great deal of self control went into being a knight.

Do the Walser have these qualities?

The first important distinction we need to make here is between real knights and the knight as a literary figure.

The literary and cultural traditions of chivalry and chivalric romance created a behavioral ideal for knights which was quite different from the more pragmatic requirements of possessing wealth and the ability to maintain local order and kill people on command.

Seal of Templars.jpg

The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, commonly known as the Knights Templar, the Order of Solomon’s Temple or simply as Templars, were among the most wealthy and powerful of the Western Christian military orders and were prominent actors in Christian finance.

The organisation existed for nearly two centuries during the Middle Ages.

Officially endorsed by the Roman Catholic Church around 1129, the Order became a favoured charity throughout Christendom and grew rapidly in membership and power.

Templar knights, in their distinctive white mantles with a red cross, were among the most skilled fighting units of the Crusades.

Templar Cross

Non-combatant members of the Order managed a large economic infrastructure throughout Christendom, innovating financial techniques that were an early form of banking, and building fortifications across Europe and the Holy Land.

Above: The first headquarters of the Knights Templar, on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

The Crusaders called it the Temple of Solomon and from this location derived their name of “Templar”.

The Templars’ existence was tied closely to the Crusades.

When the Holy Land was lost, support for the Order faded.

Rumours about the Templars’ secret initiation ceremony created distrust.

King Philip IV of France, deeply in debt to the Order, took advantage of the situation.

In 1307, many of the Order’s members in France were arrested, tortured into giving false confessions and then burned at the stake.

Under pressure from King Philip, Pope Clement V disbanded the Order in 1312.

The abrupt disappearance of a major part of the European infrastructure gave rise to speculation and legends, which have kept the “Templar” name alive into the modern day.

The Walser are the speakers of the Walser German dialects, a variety of High Alemannic.

They inhabit the Alps of Switzerland and Liechtenstein, as well as on the fringes of Italy and Austria.

The Walser people are named after the Wallis (Valais), the uppermost Rhone valley, where they settled from roughly the 10th century in the late phase of the migration of the Alamanni, crossing from the Bernese Oberland.

Because of linguistic differences among the Walser dialects, it is supposed that there were two independent immigration routes.

From the upper Wallis, they began to spread south, west and east between the 12th and 13th centuries, in the Walser migrations (Walserwanderungen).

The causes of these further population movements, the last wave of settlement in the higher valley of the Alps, are not entirely clear.

Walser legend asserts that the migration and their subsequent granting of “free man” status was expressly because of their association with Templar resettlement.

The Alps provided an ideal and easily defended refuge, a place already settled by other Templars in a town named after Jerusalem: Sion, Switzerland, the capital of Valais, the namesake region of the Walser.

In Liechtenstein, there is one Walser community: Triesenberg, including Saminatal and Malbun.

Triesenberg is a municipality in Liechtenstein with a population of 2,564.

Its area of 30 square kilometers makes it the largest municipality in Liechtenstein.

The center of the municipality rests at an elevation of 884 – 1,000 metres.

The village is noted for its distinct dialect, dating from the influence of Walser migrants in the Middle Ages, who arrived in the region early in the 14th century.

This dialect is actively promoted by the Municipality.

The existence of this dialect is one evidence of remarkable linguistic diversity within the small Principality, as it is spoken alongside the Standard German and Alemannic dialect common to this country.

Adam Kerr's photo.

Just in case you missed noticing that people round you talk differently – the Walser dialect dictionary – Triesenberg, Liechtenstein

Adam Kerr's photo.

Above: part of the permanent exhibition of the wood figures of Rudolf Schädler, Liechtensteiner composer, woodcarver and hotelier (1903 – 1990) (The Roots backpack and winter clothing is mine.)

Adam Kerr's photo.

Above: depiction of the legend where the devil is forced to carry the church bell on his back

(See Along the Fable Trail of this blog.)

This is the place where modern knights meet modern art and olden customs.

Originally called the Heimatmuseum, the Walser Museum was created in 1961 by the parish priest of Triesenberg, Engelbert Bucher.

Since 1980 the museum has been located in the centre of the village, next to the Hotel Kulm.
Its exhibits tell the history of Triesenberg and the local church and showcase many of the customs and traditions so central to the Walser population’s way of life.
The Walser Museum in Triesenberg

A multimedia show lasting around 25 minutes gives an insight into how the village has changed over the centuries.

In the basement visitors will find a permanent exhibition of wood sculptures by local artist Rudolf Schädler.

As well as the main building itself, the Walser Museum includes a 400-year-old traditional Walser house to the south of the cemetery, where visitors can find out about how the local population lived in the 19th century.

Walsermuseum Triesenberg

Hop back on Bus 21 and go to the end of the road.

1,600-metre-high resort Malbun feels like the edge of the Earth.

Above: the village of Malbun

It feels remote, even though in high season Malbun is mobbed.

It is a perfect place to unwind.

Above: the Chapel of Peace in Malbun, built to praise God for sparing Liechtenstein from the effects of the Second World War

Malbun is the only resort for skiing in Liechtenstein, a tiny exclusive ski resort, frequented by members of the Liechtenstein and British royal families.

Liechtenstein is the only country located entirely within the Alps, with most of its territory occupied by mountains.

With a total of 11 Olympic medals (all in Alpine skiing), Liechtenstein has won more Olympic medals per capita (population: 36,000) than any other nation, and it is the only country to have won medals in Winter games, but never Summer.

Bildergebnis für malbun winter

In summer Malbun is an excellent location for hiking and it has served as a high elevation stage of the Tour de Suisse annual cycling race in 2004, 2007 and 2011.

Today is an odd time to be travelling as a tourist in Liechtenstein.

Christmas and New Year´s have passed.

Fasnacht (Carnival) hasn´t started yet.

The streets are mostly deserted and the men in the local sports shop, which doubles as the village´s souvenir shop, are happy to talk to anyone besides themselves.

Some talk about the upcoming local elections.

I admire their election posters.

The ice rink restaurant is quiet and there are few customers.

It is a Monday so there are few skiers on the slopes.

As I drink my coffee and wait for the next bus back to Vaduz, I wonder if the short waitress or the obese manager have the blood of knights flowing through their veins.

It is a place of peace and sanctuary here.

As a place to escape to, the Municipality of Triesenberg is perfect for any knight, king, prince or teacher.

Regardless of what age he came from.





Remembering Marilyn / Plastered with Paris

Vaduz, Liechtenstein: 3 January 2016

Ute (my wife) and I visit the Liechtenstein National Museum to see a special exhibit on the life and times of American movie star, model and singer Marilyn Monroe, entitled “The stength behind the legend”.

“Famous for playing “dumb blonde” characters, she became one of the most popular sex symbols of the 1950s, emblematic of the era’s attitudes towards sexuality.

Although she was a top-billed actress for only a decade, her films grossed $200 million by the time of her unexpected death in 1962.

She continues to be considered a major pop culture icon.”(Wikipedia)

Monroe on a beach, wearing a bikini and laughing.

“I am very definitely a woman and I enjoy it.” (Marilyn Monroe)

“Marilyn Monroe is without doubt one of Hollywood´s greatest film icons.

Though she died more than 50 years ago, she is still well known around the world today.

In America, Europe, Australia, Africa and Asia, she remains ominpresent.

Her face features on one of Andy Warhol´s most famous portraits and has been depicted on postage stamps issued by the Republic of Chad.


The photo of her standing above a subway grating with her white dress blowing into the air is one of the most famous images of the 20th century.

Monroe is posing for photographers, wearing a white halterneck dress, which hem is blown up by air from a subway grate on which she is standing.

This and other photos and films as well as her looks and outfits made her a beauty icon and idealised her as one of the most beautiful women to have ever lived.

However, this was only one side of Marilyn Monroe – a side she deliberately used to pursue her career.

Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. She is wearing a shocking pink dress with matching gloves and diamond jewellery, and is surrounded by men in tuxedos.

“The truth is I´ve never fooled anyone. I´ve let men sometimes fool themselves.” (Marilyn Monroe)

There was also a different side to her that few people knew.

Throughout her life she tried to assert herself and be accepted in a male-dominated world.

She wore trousers at a time when this was regarded as unladylike.

Marilyn liked jogging, which was also considered inappropriate for women at that time.

She founded her own movie production company.

Time magazine described her as a “shrewd businesswoman.”

She wanted to be a woman, but on equal terms with men.

Monroe in The Seven Year Itch. She is holding a bag of chips and wearing a dress, which shoulder straps are undone. Behind her is Tom Ewell, who is holding the straps.

“If I had observed all the rules, I´d never have gotten anywhere.” (Marilyn Monroe)

Monroe in Bus Stop. She is wearing a green stage costume with gold trimmings while singing.

“One of the best things that ever happened to me is that I´m a woman. That is the way all females should feel….All we demanded was our right to twinkle.”(Marilyn Monroe)

Now…fast forward to today.

“When was the last time you saw packs of photographers door-stepping the Swiss home of a star or politician?

The answer is probably never.

Welcome to Switzerland – the land where the rich and famous can walk down a busy street without anyone so much as batting an eyelid.

Here, even the very notion of celebrity seems foreign.

It’s no surprise, then, that increasing numbers of global celebrities are choosing the Swiss mountains over the Hollywood hills.

Shania Twain, the Canadian queen of country pop currently lives in the town of Corseaux, overlooking Lake Geneva, near Vevey in the canton of Vaud.

According to media reports, she shares her home with her husband Frédéric Thiébaud, a Nestlé business executive, who happens to be her ex-husband’s mistress’s ex-husband.

(Yes, you read that correctly).

Phil Collins, a resident of the canton of Vaud, the British pop star moved to Switzerland in 1997, where he married his third wife Orianne Cevey, who is mother to his two sons.

The couple announced their separation in 1999 and last year Collins announced the sale of his wife’s mansion in the village of Begnins, the former residence of motor racing star Jackie Stewart.

Collins has since moved to the nearby municipality of Féchy.

Tina Turner, the rock star, has given up her US citizenship to become a citizen of Switzerland, having lived here for almost two decades.

Now 73, she has spent most of her time since the mid-1990s in Küsnacht in a mansion overlooking Lake Zurich.

Her latest project is learning German — which she claims to be doing ‘diligently’ — and she’s told the Swiss-German newspaper Blick that she’d never consider living anywhere else now.

James Blunt, the pop star, while admitting to being a “horrible cook”, it was his desire to start a restaurant business, coupled with a love of skiing, that brought the British pop star to Verbier, in the canton of Valais, in 2007.

In December last year, the 38-year-old’s dream finally came true when he opened a restaurant, which he’s named La Vache (The Cow).

Michael Schumacher, an unabashed lover of Switzerland’s tax breaks for millionaires, the Formula One racing champion even said last year that he would consider leaving his home in Gland in the canton of Vaud if the privileges were abolished.

A 20-year resident of Switzerland, the sportsman was listed last year as the second wealthiest sportsman in the world by The Sunday Times with an estimated fortune of $824 million US.

Frida Lyngstad, Swedish pop group Abba’s famous “Dancing Queen” turned into a princess following her marriage to a German prince who later died.

She moved to Switzerland in 1986.

She currently lives in Zermatt, the mountain resort near the Matterhorn in the canton of Valais, with her British boyfriend Henry Smith, the fifth Viscount Hambleden.

Petula Clark, the British singer, best known for her 1960s hit ‘Downtown’, settled in Geneva with her publicist husband Claude Wolff in 2007.

Now 80, the star shows no signs of retiring and in January this year released her latest album, ‘Lost In You’.”(Source:

As ex-pat celebrities go, Switzerland has been home to 37 writers, 26 music stars, 13 movie stars, 5 painters, 2 philosophers and 2 dancers.

It has also attracted the ex-pat mega-wealthy: 29 businessmen, 5 heirs and 5 shipping tycoons.

Ex-pat political types have lived here: 14 politicians, 10 kings, 3 religious leaders, 3 revolutionaries, 2 despots and 2 presidents.

As well, ex-pat sports stars and scientists have been drawn to this landlocked tax haven island in the centre of the European continent.


So Paris Hilton, American socialite, TV personality, model, actress, singer, DJ, businesswoman, and author, now living in Switzerland, is nothing new under the Swiss sun.

Smiling blonde woman, surrounded by people

According to the free Swiss papers 20 Minutes and Blick, as well as the December issue of Schweizer Illustrierte (Swiss Illustrated), the “IT girl” has a Swiss lover (multimillionaire Hans Thomas Gross) in Schindellegi, Canton Schwyz.

And the Swiss media eagerly informs us that Paris likes to regularly shop at the Co-op store in Richterswil, Canton Zürich.

“A fixture in entertainment news for her lifestyle, Hilton attracted notoriety for her participation in a sex tape leaked before the first episode of the reality show The Simple Life.

Some entertainment writers felt that Hilton’s overnight success was due to the tape.

According to Entertainment Weekly:

“I dare say the Paris Hilton-Rick Salomon tape received more print and television coverage in a week than the run-up to The Simple Life received in the months since its premiere was announced. We in the media have become Paris-ites”.

Hilton’s profile was higher, paparazzi began following her and her relationships, lifestyle and legal issues were targets of gossip sites and tabloid media worldwide.

Critics suggest that Hilton epitomizes being famous for being famous – someone who attains celebrity status for no particular identifiable reason (as opposed to fame based on achievements, skill, and/or talent) and just appears to generate their own fame and she is an example of the celebutante.”

I wonder, can Marilyn and Paris be comparable?

In both centuries, both have been criticized and dismissed for discernable lack of talent.

Yet isn´t the ability to generate your own fame a talent in itself?

Both have had imperfect private lives that seldom remained private.

Perhaps Marilyn might have lived longer and happier had she exiled herself to Switzerland or Liechtenstein?

Though I have never felt great admiration for Paris Hilton´s achievements – musical, acting or modelling – I can´t help but respect her ability to understand what Oscar Wilde meant when he wrote:

“The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”

(Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray)




For God, Prince and Fatherland: The Principality of Liechtenstein

Today I was truly a stranger in a strange land…

I visited, for the purpose of finding work, the Principality of Liechtenstein, only two hours’ distance by train from my own wee village by the Lake of Constance.

Liechtenstein is a landlocked German-speaking constitutional microstate monarchy sandwiched between the Rhine River and the Alps, between Switzerland and Austria.

It has an area of only 160 square kilometres (62 square miles) and a population of only 37,000.

Liechtenstein has the 3rd highest gross domestic product per person in the world and one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world.

It is mainly mountains, farmers’ fields and finance.

It produces its own stamps but uses the Swiss franc.

The capital, Vaduz, is so small (population: 5,300) that even Liechtensteiners call the capital a village.

Vaduz is one of the very few capital cities in the world without an airport or a railway station, so to get there one either drives a car, rides a bicycle, walks or takes a post bus there.

A traveller going from Switzerland or Austria to the Principality does not have to show a passport or identity papers at the borders and there are few signs that even indicate that there are borders.

Liechtenstein is the world’s largest producer of sausage skins and false teeth and the only country in the world with more registered companies than people.

For, like their Swiss neighbours, one thing that Liechtensteiners excel at is making a profit.

First, they make a great deal of money from tourism as there is a kind of romance about visiting tiny countries that draw curious folks to their doors.

Liechtenstein, the world’s 6th smallest country, like other micronations, such as Andorra or San Marino, is a figment of one’s imagination.

It is hard to believe that such a small country can actually exist, but because of its size one instinctively feels that such a tiny state is worth preserving.

After all, small is beautiful, or at least not being big it is not that horribly ugly.

Liechtenstein makes money (10% of its national income) from postage stamps that are world famous for their vast variety of designs – pictorial, biographical, industrial, historical, scenic, comical – all beautifully engraved and coloured.

60% of Liechtenstein’s income is derived from the desire of individuals and institutions abroad to set up companies in a tax haven which asks no questions and keeps its mouth shut, though this is changing.

Liechtenstein banks hold assets of more than 80 billion francs.

Liechtenstein still has very low business taxes (2nd lowest in Europe) as well as easy Rules of Incorporation.

It also generates revenue from foundations – which are financial entities created to hide the true owner of non-resident foreigners’ financial holdings for those attempting to avoid or evade taxes in their home countries – but recently Liechtenstein has displayed stronger determination to prosecute international money-launderers and is working hard to promote its image as a legitimate financial centre.

By 2009, after a series of tax investigations in numerous countries whose governments (primarily Germany, Britain and the US)suspected that some of their citizens were evading their tax obligations by using banks and foundations in Liechtenstein, the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation (OECD) finally removed Liechtenstein from its blacklist of “uncooperative” countries.

In 2009, the British government department, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, agreed with Liechtenstein to start exchanging information.

There is only one hospital in Liechtenstein.

There is only one prison in Liechtenstein, a prison so small that prisoners’ meals are sent over from a nearby restaurant.

Vaduz is nether terribly fascinating nor picturesque in and of itself, but its setting is arresting.

The town nestles at the very foot of 6,700-foot Mt. Alpspitz.

On an overhanging outcrop directly above the town is the fortress royal Vaduz Castle and although it is usually closed to the public, it is well worth your while to climb up to its gates just for the view.

For a rare peek inside the castle grounds, arrive on 15 August, Liechtenstein’s National Day, when there are fantastic fireworks and His Serene Highness Prince Hans Adam II invites all 37,000 Liechtensteiners over to his place for a glass of locally produced wine or beer.

The Castle has walls 12 feet thick and contains the Prince’s personal art collection, which once included the only Leonardo da Vinci, the portrait “Ginerva de’ Benci”, in private hands.

The Prince of Liechtenstein is the world’s 6th wealthiest monarch with an estimated wealth of 5 billion US dollars.

Happily, the country’s population enjoys one of the world’s highest standards of living.

Though Liechtenstein is officially a constitutional monarchy, the Prince reigns supreme by popular demand.

In 2003, the people voted in a referendum to hand the Prince more significant new powers to appoint judges, veto parliamentary decisions and dismiss the government, effectively creating Western Europe’s only absolute monarchy.

Liechtenstein is the only country in the world to have been named after the person who bought it, Hans Adam II’s ancestor Johann Adam Andreas of the Von Liechtenstein family of Vienna purchased the Lordship of Schellenberg (northern Liechtenstein) and the County of Vaduz in 1712.

Liechtenstein is the last remaining fragment of the Holy Roman Empire and is so obscure that the royal family didn’t even bother to come and see it for 150 years.

The Principality is a quiet humble place, mostly populated by Catholics, who take an impressive 22 days’ public holiday a year.

The national anthem “Oben am jungen Rhein” (upon the young Rhine) is sung in German to the tune of “God save the Queen” and the national motto, which is also the motto of the country’s two political parties, is “faith in God, Prince and Fatherland”.

Vaduz’s centre is modern and sterile and looks as if it were built in the Eastern Soviet Bloc in a hurry, a collection of duty-free luxury goods stores and cube-shaped concrete buildings.

But just a few minutes’ walk to the northeast of town, one finds a charming quarter of traditional houses and rose gardens surrounded by quiet vineyards and Alpine glory.

The Internet assured me that Vaduz, being the capital of a financially prosperous principality, had, beside Liechtenstein’s two universities, the Liechtenstein Institute and the International Academy of Philosophy, two private schools for the learning and teaching of English as a foreign language.

One of the schools only offers translations, while the other has ceased to exist!

Maybe though this is for the best…

Liechtenstein for the foreigner seems only fit for the tourist or the nature lover.

To acquire citizenship, a referendum must be held in the Liechtenstein village where the applicant lives.

If that referendum approves his application, then the Prime Minister (currently Adrian Hasler) and his cabinet must then vote on it.

This almost never happens.

Hundreds of families have lived in Liechtenstein for generations and are still treated as foreigners.

Happily there are the sacred principles of Liechtenstein hospitality:

When money knocks on your door, invite it in with a smile and look after it just as if it were your own.

I did find most of the Liechtensteiners I met, at least in the tourist or gastronomic trades, to be genuinely welcoming and warm, at least compared to Swiss standards.

Yes, there are lower taxes here and some duty free opportunities, but prices remain outrageously expensive for those on a budget who don’t drive a Mercedes Benz.

The country is so friendly that in Liechtenstein’s last military engagement (1866) when 80 men were sent to fight Italians, with no one killed, they came back with 81 men because they had made a friend on the way!

This is a land made to explore but not linger, to spend time and money in but not to derive great excitement from.

Liechtenstein is a dream, a fairy tale of mountain views and Alpine air, of castles and cows, of fields and flowers, of museums and trails.

It is tasty vanilla on a continent of many flavors.

Liechtenstein is a centuries-old backwater with no sense of antiquity.

It is a mouse surrounded by lions remaining secure in its mousehole den.

But if your heart is searching for whimsy in a place of wonderous beauty…

Hop on the post bus, Gus.

Smile for a while.