Switzerland - Zurich

by Kimp 18. January 2013 05:49
I've been in nearly every city and a sizable number of small towns in Switzerland. I saved Zurich, because I didn't have very high expectations. It's a fast paced, rat-race type of place. Most people are there to work hard, make money, sleep, get up, work hard again and make more money.
I've been in Zurich city limits many times, yet had never stayed a night. There's some kind of crazy aura around Zurich. For some reason, when I'm passing by it, by GPS goes nuts and ends up routing me directly through the middle of it, even though that's out of the way, then it just keeps taking me in zig zag patterns, switches to backtracking, then circles. It then lets up and yields a little tease, I think I have just about broken out of the vortex, only to get sucked right back in again. I learned to eventually give up on the GPS, ignore it, decide to drive in only one direction until I am a few miles out of Zurich, then look for road signs for a city that's in the right direction, until I am away from Zurich.

It's as if the Swiss have some kind of control over the GPS satellite signals in that area and are doing that on purpose. Some dude's probably sitting up in his Zurich apartment, watching me on traffic cameras and taking control of my GPS, just for the fun of driving me nuts. "Hey Christan, come quickly.  The facial recognition software I hooked up to the traffic cam, just alerted on that long haired dude in the old Beamer again. Oh man, that crazy route that we took him on last time, nearly drove him nuts. Can't wait to see how he handles the latest one we've been working on."
The Zurich Driving Experience
The Zurich driving experience, should be a ride at Disney world. It is by far, the most complicated place I have ever driven. It has characteristics similar to driving in a video game. Very narrow streets, dense traffic, and lots of people riding bikes near the road. Dense parked traffic on the sides of the road trying to get on the road. Lots of people on foot. Lots of beautiful distracting women on foot (places with high incomes seem to attract beautiful women). And, if you have dudes in the car, there's a lot of loud voice traffic centering around all of the beautiful women on foot. Street cars in the same lane as me. Motor cycles going between cars and jumping in front of me. If I'm concentrating on not hitting the foot traffic and bikes, I might hit a moving vehicle, and if I'm concentrating on the vehicular traffic, I might hit someone on foot or a bike.  I have to constantly scan everything, not concentrate too much. If anything hints of moving out of its place and into my path, I'm prepared to brake with whatever force is necessary. Hopefully the dude behind me has my ass in more then just his peripheral vision.
To avoid all of that stress, I decided to visit and slow travel. I almost never travel slow, but I have been in the Zurich fast lane far to many times. Slowing the pace to a crawl, just seemed to feel like a welcome experience.
Peace and Quiet
I found an awesome refuge to hold up in. It was a short jaunt outside of the city, the family was just as great as all Swiss families are, and as such, I felt like I owned the place. I was in a large loft with a bunch of sky lights. Very artistic and felt as pleasing as being outside in the nature. I had a full kitchen, clothes washer and drier, a cozy wood burning stove, and lots of peace and quiet, all for cheaper than I would've paid for a normal hotel room in the states. I brought my food in from Germany which was much cheaper then Swiss food and I was all set to take it nice and easy.
A local women asked me if I was going to the basketball. I said, "Sweet!!! Oh man, I love basketball. Do you think I can still get tickets? Where's it at? ". She gave me directions and the time it started. I didn't ask, but I figured maybe there was some kind of European Basketball Tournament or a big game going on in town. I mean, why else would anyone ask a complete stranger, out of the blue, was he going to basketball. I was psyched.
I got there plenty early, but things didn't look right from the very start. It didn't look too much like a basketball arena. However,  I'd never seen a Swiss basketball arena before, so what the hell do I know. It was deserted, I assumed that Europeans probably show up late and it starts late too. I looked around for a bar to duck into. Found one a little ways away and stepped inside. I was expecting to see some people in Jerseys engaged in a little pre-game cheer. All I found was 5 dudes all glued to stools at the far end of the bar and all looking at me. With that "who the hell is that strange dude" look on their face. Obviously regulars who have been dedicated patrons at that fine establishment, several times a week, for several years. They probably visit so often, that they now have defacto assigned seats with permanent imprints that conform exactly to the shapes of their butt cheeks. Not wanting to seem unfriendly, I closed the gap, but keep one bar stool of buffer between me and the closet regular. I didn't want to look to friendly either. I ordered up a few beers, sat in silence, paid the tab, found the restroom, then headed back out into the blackness. By now, I decided that I had misunderstood the directions, was in the wrong place, but decided to head back for another look see, just in case.

Way off in the distance, I could see a few women in what looked like 18th century dresses going into the gym. I thought, wow, there sure are some strange people in the world. A little closer and I see some dudes carting instruments inside. Sweet, that must be the pep band, maybe this is a college game.  As I close in, I see a few more of these 18th century women. That was when things started to get really weird, really fast. I get near the door and a whole stream of them are going inside. I'm thinking, maybe its a sorority challenge, or a tradition, or? Oh man!  It could be some kind of freaky cult. Maybe, its like, some kind of, freaky cult basketball? Or maybe, it's like some kind of, freaky cult, that worships basketballs? Or maybe, its like, some kind of, freaky cult, cult, and I was singled out earlier today as their next victim?

I'm a little scared, my senses are telling me to flee, but intrigue got the best of me. I absolutely have to go in and see whats going on. I pull my hood up over my head, hide my face as best I could and quietly slipped inside. I looked at the nearest wall and followed it into a corner of the lobby before turning around the looking. Not only are they wearing 18th century dresses, but they are also wearing elaborate masks. There were men in period dress and masks as well. I felt like I was in that Tom Cruise movie, where he belongs to a men's club. Everyone in the club dress up and wearing masks. But Tom can't figure out what's going on, until he is in it, too deep.

On the other side of the lobby, lots of people were going through several open doors, so I inched my way over, trying to be inconspicuous. That is when I saw a sign that read "Maskenball". Turns out, that is the German word for Masked Ball. Later, I looked up that word and did a little research. Those are very popular in February, in the German 1/3 of Switzerland. Just about every weekend in February a different small town hosts the maskenball event. Since I wasn't dressed right, I didn't stay long and I didn't feel right taking any pictures. If I'm here next year, I'll probably look one of these up, get me a period costume and do it up right. I might even shave and dress up in an 18th century dress. I got the hair. "Damn, who's that huge women, she's bigger then most of the men."
Swiss Traditions
The Swiss have several traditions that involve elaborate costumes and masks. There is another kind of cool winter event, but it is only one day a year and I can't remember what it's called. Adults dress up in very expensive monster costumes (kind of like, different variations of a Yeti theme). Then around dusk, they all take to the streets, scaring young children. The kids try to run and get away. It's kind of like a reverse Halloween. Or a haunted house, but its free, it's out in the streets and alleys, instead of inside. I believe that's in February as well.

The Monday after Ash Wednesday, in Basel Switzerland, is one of the biggest masked carnivals. It's called the Basel Carnival and it starts at 4:00 A.M. All of the town's lights are turned off.  Then way off in the distance, the faint sound of drums can be herd and faint light can be seen. It is a parade where all of the musicians and performers are wearing masks. The floats provide the only light. That event goes on for 3 days and is one of the biggest parties in Europe.

My primary reason for going to Zurich, was to purchase some serious winter gear. Being King sized and in Europe, I've looked for clothes before and usually all I'd found was frustration. So, I knew that I had to go, where winter sporting activities are abundant. A place that is visited on a regular basis, by hoards of people of all sizes. There's lots of money in Zurich and lots of shop keepers competing to take it.

I found the mother load of winter sports stores, directly beneath the train station. The train station has an underground complex the size of a mall with zillions of stores. Within an hour of being there, I had already accomplished everything that I had came for. With that out of the way, I decided to fire that camera up and see what's happening in Zurich.

In my journey, I  had one of those epic epiphanies. Over the last two years, I have amassed a plethora of all things Swiss, yet I wasn't able to connect many of the islands of information, until I had the Zurich epiphany. 

Swiss History

Switzerland is at the cross roads between France, Italy and Germany. Over the course of more than a thousand years, it has adopted so many people from each of those countries, that it kind of has three distinct countries inside of it's borders. The northern 1/2 is primarily German and industrial, the Southwestern 1/4 is primarily French, artistic, and agricultural, and the Southeastern 1/4 is primarily Italian, laid back and Mediterranean. When I drive through Switzerland, I can tell which section I'm in, because the language on the road signs and street names change.

It has all of the ingredients of a very large problem. Those are three countries, who've never all been on the same side of any issue. If the politicians try to move them in any direction that upsets this delicate balance. That keg of dynamic would likely explode, in a chain reaction, that would rip Switzerland into shreds. So how did they manage to not only survive, but to continue to thrive, while countries that don't have those problems, waver.

Here is my surmise, that has no backing, other then my best shot at deductive reasoning.

Around 1000 A.D.  Switzerland was mostly peaceful farmers. It was a mountainous country and the lack of infrastructure made it a difficult place to live. The countries that surrounded Switzerland all wanted to trade goods with each other. They all had their own specialties that were export worthy, but Switzerland didn't have any infrastructure to move goods. At that time, people who could build an infrastructure to support this trade were in high demand. Trade was very big business and road tolls brought in lots of revenue. This attracted very hearty people, and very intelligent people to Switzerland. They needed the hearty people to build the infrastructure and the intelligent people to build tools that were a lot better then could be purchased anywhere else. They also needed to solve big engineering challenges.  

In 1291 A.D. the Roman empire was weakening.  The people in central Switzerland started tooling up exceptional weaponry, to be used by their abundance of hearty people. They started pushing the Roman's, then the Habsburgs out. This created and expand the country that was to be called Switzerland. 

In 1515, France the Italy were fighting and Switzerland got involved. The politicians intended to fight on Italy's side. But their people were divided on that issue. Some ended up fighting for France and some for Italy. France won a decisive battle which forced the Swiss politicians to signed a treaty with France. The Swiss were some of the best close quarters and infantry fighters, but they lacked heavy artillery. Heavy artillery is difficult to move in mountainous terrain, so the Swiss stayed light on their feet. France brought the big heavy guns.

Huldrych Zwingli

In 1520 Switzerland went through a much more difficult protestant reformation than Germany had. Swiss people in the area near Italy and France were not going to abandon Catholicism. The Swiss reform movement was led by a pastoral dude from Zurich named Huldrych Zwingli. Huldrych basically denounced anything Catholic. You can read my writeup on him, in one of my photo captions. The Catholic side then started counter-reformation tactic's. Interestingly the Catholic counter-reformation centered on building colleges, called Jesuit colleges. Not to teach Catholicism, but in an effort to educate people. I took two classes at the Jesuit college of Regis University in Denver Colorado.  I enjoyed learning the Jesuit traditions. For the most part, they stressed three keys: you should engage your mind, you should reflect on your actions and you should strive to be a good citizen.

This religious struggle persisted for 200 years. This period is when the miracle occurred. The Swiss politician's discovered, that if they just stayed out the struggles and didn't take either side, they could still run a strong country. Rather then try to fix the problems, they concentrated on strengthening the country amidst all of the dilemma's.

The religious wars continued in other countries and the Swiss discovered something else. They had excellent fighter's who were willing to fight for a price. They sold their services as hired guns to other countries military's. That service is called mercenary. Swiss mercenaries were in high demand and while the other countries were going bankrupt fighting, the Swiss were raking in the cash. In the Armory section of the Swiss national archives, I saw musket loaders that were of very high machine and material quality for that time period. Their precession craftsmen built the most awesome guns of the time.

After the 30 years war, all of the countries around them were bankrupt and Switzerland was thriving. Now the other countries need to rebuild and they needed someone to supply them with high quality machines to to that quickly. The Swiss machinery export business was booming.

In order to support their thriving export business, and get more people to come through Switzerland for other destinations, they needed to create a train transportation infrastructure and system thorough the alps. In order to do that, they needed lots of great Engineers. So they built Europe's premium poly technical institute in Zurich. Now the brain trust was flocking to Switzerland for an education. 25 Noble prize winners have been graduates of that institution.

Once the rail system was in, there was so much money in Switzerland that their brain trust started focusing on banking. They put another big one in the win column with that as well. They started exporting other high quality items as well. First they focused on textiles. High quality textiles needed high quality dies. Enter the polytechnic institute to help with that as well. The institute was now attracting lots of chemists and a huge Swiss chemical business was spanned off of that new chemical brain trust.

Enter WWI and WWII. There was absolutely no way Switzerland could have gotten involved in either of those wars. Whose side could they take without upsetting 1/2 of their country? Instead, they exported to the same countries they always did (pretty much whomever had the money). Nobody attacks the country who is supplying them. Hey I'm neutral, we don't have a problem with anybody, and this weeks special is...

When times got better for the countries around them and money was abundant,  the Swiss starting making high quality watches and cashing in, in the good times as well. People also had money to travel. Gee, maybe if we made Switzerland a great travel destination, people will just bring all of their money to us. We won't even need to export, cause consumers are going to bring their money to us. This would allow Switzerland to pump up their dairy and chocolate industries as well.



Culture | Travel

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