Secret capital
“…if Bern is the head, and Zurich the hand, then Lucerne can certainly pride itself on being the heart of the country.” (Berlitz Pocket Guide to Switzerland)


View of the Alps from the airplane window

Switzerland is one of the most photogenic countries in the world, with glorious, calendar-perfect panoramas of snow-capped peaks, green valleys dotted with black-and-white cows, cerulean lakes, and picturesque wooden chalets decked with geraniums. We see these images in our childhood picture books (Johanna Spyri’s Heidi), and in the travel guides.
Flying towards Zurich Airport with Swissair (coffee and sandwiches served with a chocolate), the dramatic Alpine range came into view, snowy peaks tinged with pale winter sunshine.
That was above the clouds.
Once on terra firma, this magnificent sight was lost to view beneath thick swathes of dense fog, and remained thus hidden for the next few days.

Occasionally during our coach drive to Lucerne – and when not in one of the numerous long tunnels – we could make out ancient barns standing in green, mist-wreathed fields, and the odd splash of late autumn colour.

The darkness of the landscape, so chill and muted, the quaint buildings of the Old Town where we lodged, and the medieval bridges and churches, all gave me the sense of being in the heart of Old Europe – the very centre of our Western cultural heritage.

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Turreted house in the Old Town Ornate bridge railing

This was what I had come for: a feast of brilliant musical performance, fine architecture ornamented with fairy-tale turrets, and incomparable works of art.

Turreted buildings in Lucerne’s Old Town Turreted buildings in Lucerne’s Old Town Corner room with turret
Turreted buildings in Lucerne’s Old Town Corner room with turret

Fortunately the wintry blanket of fog lifted on our third day, revealing the lovely lake and surrounding snow-capped mountains in all their majesty.

Lake Lucerne Enjoying a rare sunny morning, Alps in the background
Lake Lucerne Enjoying a rare sunny morning, Alps in the background

Many medieval villages developed around an abbey or a monastery – in the case of Lucerne a Benedictine monastery, just over eight centuries ago in 1178. A bridge over the River Reuss already existed here at its narrowest point, dating from the time when Lucerne began as a simple fishing village. Later, under the domination of the powerful Alsatian Abbey of Murbach, it became a merchant city, and increased in importance with the opening of the St. Gotthard Pass through the Alps. Goods were transported along this pilgrimage route, from Lombardy and Piedmont to the German empire by means of bullock carts, and across Lake Lucerne by boat: grain, salt, fabrics, wine from what is today the Alsace region, and the fabled spices from the Orient.

At this time the aristocratic Habsburg dynasty owned much of the land around the town, and, because of its increasingly strategic location, they occupied it in 1291. To escape their control, in 1332 Lucerne turned to the young Swiss Confederation, and, after the victory of the Confederates at the battle of Sempach in1386, the town enjoyed a period of great prosperity. As a stronghold of Catholicism – which can be seen in the highly ornate churches – it remained resistant to the Protestant Reformation. By the 18th century it was the centre of Catholic Switzerland, and the country’s largest city.

The Jesuit Church The Franciscan Church
The Jesuit Church The Franciscan Church

In 1833 a devastating fire lead to a total transformation of the city. The construction of new buildings and the Hotel Schwanen – with its lakeside setting and fabulous views – soon lead to a bustling tourist industry. In 1845 the first luxury hotel, the Schweitzerhof, opened its elegant doors, and to this day the hotel guests stroll along the Schweitzerhof Quay, enjoy steamboat excursions on the lake, and view, hike or ascend the nearby peaks of Mount Rigi and Mount Pilatus. The latter – regarded as the emblem of Lucerne – is thus named because the villagers believed it to be haunted by the demonic spirit of Pontius Pilate. Today visitors can reach the top by cog-wheel railway or cable car.

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Hotel Schwanen The Schweizerhof, where Wagner stayed

In 1847, while the Catholic cantons were seceding from the Confederation, Lucerne stood at the head of the rebellion. After the reconciliation, more grand hotels were built on the lakeshore, including, in 1870, César Ritz’s Grand National Hotel.

The Grand National Hotel, with a splash of late autumn colour

The Grand National Hotel, with a splash of late autumn colour

Lucerne hosts a number of significant cultural events throughout the year. These include the wild masked Fasnacht (Carnival) on 12th February, an Easter Music Festival, the Swiss City Marathon in October, a Blues Festival in early November, and a Piano Festival in late November. Coming up next year will be the Rowing World Cup (July), an Athletics Meeting (4th July), and another Lucerne Festival from

14 August – 13 September 2015 ( ). The Lucerne Festival (each summer) was founded in 1938, and so was recently in its 76th year.
The Lucerne Piano Festival was founded in 1998 (now in its 16th year), and lasts about nine days. This year’s Piano Festival ( ) once again showcased impressive keyboard talent – legendary masters and precocious youth – who performed in gigs, recitals and orchestral concerts. “Piano Off-Stage” is the fringe Jazz Festival within the Festival, during which the city’s finest bars and restaurants host the art of improvisation.

The Festival was held in the impressive KKL – Kultur- und Kongresszentrum Luzern (The Culture and Congress Centre: ). This impressive complex is multi-functional, and includes a vast concert hall which seats 1,840 people and is famous for its excellent acoustics. The KKL was designed by the French architect Jean Nouvel, cost $134 million, and was inaugurated in 1998 with a concert performed by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Claudio Abbado. There is also another auditorium, and a convention hall, both used for conventions, banquets and concerts, a restaurant, a café, and the elegant Seebar (Lake Bar) overlooking the lake.

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 Inside the impressive KKL concert hall

Before each concert an announcement in German – the principal language in this part of Switzerland – English and French, ensured that cell phones were switched off, and that no photographs were taken.

After a delicious early dinner of goat’s cheese salad and stuffed chicken breast in the hotel’s cosy old Bürgestube Restaurant, we walked to the KKL for the first concert of the Festival. The Italian doyen, Maurizio Pollini played two of Beethoven’s best-known Sonatas, No.17 Op.31 The Tempest, and No.23 Op.57 Appassionata, and several Mazurkas by Chopin. His encores included a nostalgic Nocturne.

In spite of the strict injunctions not to take photographs, there was the usual flurry of flashes at the end of each concert, and I couldn’t resist a sneak shot of such a celebrated Titan of the Keyboard as Maestro Pollini taking his final bows.

Maestro Maurizio Pollini taking a bow

Maestro Maurizio Pollini taking a bow

Back at the hotel after the concert we enjoyed a delicious dessert – cranberry mille-feuille with cinnamon ice-cream – and lively debate about the concert.

If not exactly inspired by the old master’s playing, I certainly enjoyed observing the Swiss women’s fashions: slim, well-healed matrons in elegant evening attire, complemented with exquisite court shoes and lovely hair styles.

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Swiss evening chic

Younger women sported such outfits as high patent leather stiletto boots with large handbags to match, sparkly short skirts with zany stockings, and “little black numbers” such as I had seen in the city’s boutiques.

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The following evening French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard (b1957) tackled Book 1 of JS Bach’s 48 Preludes and Fugues, known as The Well-Tempered Clavier. In these volumes Bach sought to demonstrate the art of “tempered tuning” of the harpsichord, the antique keyboard instrument for which these works were composed. The basic principle is that each key is carefully manipulated so as to be slightly out of tune (equal temperament is mathematically incorrect), so that the overall effect would, by a trick-of-the-ear, sound perfectly in tune. This technique enabled composers to modulate (migrate) to other keys within a composition, without causing offence to the listeners’ ears.

We expected rather a marathon with this programme, but found that it passed swiftly when we were beguiled by M. Aimard’s mastery of some of the most complex music ever composed.

On the Sunday of our short four-day tour we enjoyed a delicious traditional Swiss meal at the Old Swiss House, which was built in 1858. The cosy interior, decorated with beautiful antiques and old paintings dating from the 16th century, offers guests warm respite from the winter chill. The restaurant was named in honour of Queen Victoria in 1868 when she declared Lucerne to be the most charming city she had ever visited.

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The cellar features more than 30 000 bottles of the rarest Bordeaux vintages, including a collection of Château Mouton-Rothschild dating from 1867. Perhaps this has been the principal attraction to so many famous guests – Frank Sinatra, Roger Federer, and Neil Armstrong, former US Presidents Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon and Lyndon B. Johnson, Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev, and Hollywood stars Kirk Douglas, Keanu Reeves and Roger Moore. Also conductor Claudio Abbado and violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter.

We had a superb lunch, served by efficient staff (fluent in English), and friendly maitre d’ Philipp Buholzer.

To start: Salmon tartare with horseradish, toasted brioche and salad, Image_025

To start: Salmon tartare with horseradish, toasted brioche and salad,

followed by boiled beef with traditional accompaniments: apple purée and cranberry sauce, reamed spinach and sautéed potatoes, Image_027

followed by boiled beef with traditional accompaniments:

apple purée and cranberry sauce, reamed spinach and sautéed potatoes,

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and rounded off with warm chocolate cake with raspberry coulis and vanilla ice‐cream, coffee and chocolates.

If you plan to visit Lucerne any time soon, I can highly recommend this atmospheric restaurant. ( ).

The third night, and sadly our last, began with another delicious meal, this time at Sebastian’s at Rütligasse 2: pumpkin soup followed by pikeperch with lemon sauce, tomatoes, capers and parsley, and potato and fennel purée. It was here that I learned from our lecturer, Prof Geoffrey Norris, that the British woman composer Judith Weir (CBE) is now Master of the Queen’s Music (having followed in the footsteps of Peter Maxwell Davies), and that Suffragette Ethyl Smythe, another English woman composer, wrote such books as The Impressions that Remained: Memoirs (1919) and As Time Went On (1936). ( .)

The concert that night was a brilliant performance by Norwegian Leif Ove Andsnes (b1970) of Beethoven’s Piano Concertos No. 2, 3 and 4. (No.s 1 and 5 were preformed at other concerts during the Festival), as part of his Beethoven Journey project.

Other artists performing in the Festival, to the delight of Beethoven fans, included the British pianist Paul Lewis playing the last three pianos sonatas, Evgeny Kissin (Russian-British-Israeli), the Canadian Marc-André Hamelin, and young German Martin Helmchen who launched his career in Lucerne in 2006 as the winner of the Credit Suisse Young Artist Award, playing Beethoven’s challenging Diabelli Variations. Young up-and-coming pianists included the Latvian Vestard Shimkus, the German-Italian Sophie Pacini, and the British Benjamin Grosvenor.

But Lucerne has much more to offer than its famous musical festivals. During the mornings we enjoyed guided walks of the old city centre with local guide “Hannie”, free afternoons to explore at our leisure, and fine dining and concerts in the evenings.

Lucerne Town Hall with clock tower Steam boat lake cruises on the William Tell
Lucerne Town Hall with clock tower Steam boat lake cruises on the William Tell
A fountain with brilliant autumn colours A riverside fountain at sundown
A fountain with brilliant autumn colours A riverside fountain at sundown

Lucerne is also nicknamed the “City of Fountains”. There are a number of these ornate affairs dotted around the old centre.

Some have quirky themes and amusing stories, such as the Fritschi Fountain (1918) on Kapellplatz. Although relatively new, this fountain was made along the lines of older Renaissance models, which included painted allegorical figures.

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The Fritschi Fountain Kapellplatz, Lucerne

The legendary brother Fritschi, whose grave is thought to lie beneath this fountain in what was the medieval graveyard for St. Peter’s Chapel, plays an important role in Lucerne’s Carnival tradition. No- one knows who Brother Fritschi actually was, but his story dates from 1450. One of the explanations is that he was a farmer, or farmhand from nearby, who amused the people with jokes whenever he came into town. A medieval town clerk and chronicler reported that he left some money to the Safran Zunft (Saffron Guild), with instructions that it be used to serve wine to the poor during Fasacht (Carnaval.)

The Guild fulfills this obligation to this day, and has dedicated one storey of their guild rooms in Nölliturm to Brother Fritschi (unfortunately not open to the public.)

Brother Fritschi’s popularity lives on in various ways, such as being represented by a straw figure with the features of an old man. In earlier times, about once a year, groups of young people from neighbouring towns in the old Swiss confederacy would visit one of the towns. Various sporting competitions ensued, as well as much drinking of beer and wine. During these escapades a town’s mascot, such as a flag or a statue, would be “kidnapped”. This then provided an excuse for the hosts to visit that town in return, and kidnap their significant mascot. In this manner Brother Fritschi, as a straw figure, got to see a number of Swiss towns. Today on Fasnacht Thursday (Schmotzige Donschtig), two young members of the guilds dress up as Brother Fritschi and his wife “Fritschine” for the opening ceremony. (See All About Switzerland: downtown-virtual-sightseeing-tour.html .)

In spite of the dissolution of the guilds at the end of the 18th century, some have survived, and they still play an important role in Lucerne as respected patrons of the rich Carnival tradition. The Safran Zunft, the Wey Zunft, the Maskernliebhaber-Gesellschaft (Mask-Lovers’ Association) and the Fidelitas Lucernensis head the city’s carnival committee which stage, among other events, the two parades.
The next Lucerne Festival will take place from 12-17 Feb 2015. (See .)

The Chapel Bridge and Water Tower were first on the agenda of our guided tour. These curious structures were originally part of the medieval ramparts of the city, at the bridgehead where Lake Lucerne flows into the River Reuss. The footbridge, which dates from the mid-14th century, and is named after St. Peter’s Chapel nearby, is thought to be the oldest wooden bridge in Europe. It is a quaint construction, with a peaked wood-tiled roof running its entire length, and offers amusing passage from one side of the river to the other.

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The Chapel Bridge Water Tower, Lucerne

This is due to a most interesting and unique feature:158 triangular paintings within the eaves of the roof, all dating from 1611. These were painted by the local painter Hans Heinrich Wägmann during the Counter-Reformation, and therefore depict scenes designed to promote the Catholic Church. Each painting was sponsored by a member of the city council, who could then include his personal coat of arms. The paintings relate the history of the city, specifically the life and death of Lucerne’s patron saint, St. Leger, and to the legends of the city’s other patron saint, St. Maurice. An explanation is printed beneath each scene.

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The Chapel Bridge with painted eaves, Lucerne

The Water Tower was used alternately as a dungeon, an archive, and a treasury vault, up until the 19th century. Today a traditional association uses it as a club room, but it is not open to the public.

On the night of August 18th 1993 tragedy struck: two thirds of the Chapel Bridge were destroyed by fire. Of the original 158 paintings, 147 existed before the fire. After the fire, the remains of only 47 paintings were collected, although only 30 were ultimately fully restored, along with the pillars, the bridgeheads, and the Water Tower. But within a year, the Bridge was completely restored. It is thought that the fire was started by a cigarette, and a few burnt panels have been left behind as a stark reminder of this tragic blaze.


Fire damage remains to be seen on the Chapel Bridge

Today during the carnival season the old pictures are replaced with modern ones depicting carnival motifs. This is to protect the originals from materials such as paint and glibber bombs which are used during the carnivals. If you’re interested in seeing these old paintings, do not visit Lucerne during the Carnival season (February.)

The other fascinating old bridge offering a crossing of the River Reuss, and also once part of the medieval city fortifications, is the Spreuer Bridge. During the middle ages the millers were allowed to throw Spreu (chaff) into the river, but only from this bridge, the lowest in the town. The bridge was built to connect the mills on the right bank of the River Reuss with the baker’s quarter in Pfistergasse (“baker street”) on the left bank. This was because they kept their ovens burning all night, and there were justified fears that an uncontrolled fire might destroy the whole town.

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 Death (the skeleton) invites a beautiful lady to the Danse Macabre

The bridge dates from around 1400 and is also covered, with paintings beneath the roofing. They were created by Kaspar Meglinger between 1626 and 1635, and represent the Totentanz (Dance of Death.) Death, represented as a skeleton or as the “Great Reaper”, urges everyone to dance with him, (that is – to die.) The point is made that Death makes no distinction between old or young, clergy or laymen, rich or poor. When faced with death, everyone is equal: the rich man will not escape his fate, nor will the beautiful lady, nor the fisherman, nor the mighty abbot.

Most of the paintings contain the coat of arms of the donor in the lower left corner, and those of the donor’s wife on the right. The black wooden frames bear explanations in verse and the names of the donors. The paintings also contain portraits of the donors and other members of Lucerne society. The painters of Lucerne were familiar with the woodcuts of Hans Holbein the Younger, but appear more advanced in their painting technique. The images and texts of this Danse Macabre are intended to emphasise that there is no place in the city, in the country or at sea, where death is not present – a sobering thought indeed!

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These pictures expressed the attitudes of the people at the time towards death, especially during times of epidemic pestilence such as the plague. They were once widespread all over late medieval Europe, but only a few such examples still exist today.

One of the characters featured in these paintings is the Wilden Mann (“Wild Man”, Everyman?):


It is also the name of the hotel where we stayed: Romantik Hotel Wilden Mann (Bahnhofstrasse 30); a copy of this “Wild Man” is prominently displayed in one of the hotel’s conference rooms.
I highly recommend this picturesque old (4 star) hotel, the original structure of which dates from the 16th century. It has beautifully appointed rooms, and two excellent restaurants with equally good staff and cuisine. The layout of the place – a conglomeration of ancient houses – may be confusing for some, but there is an elevator, modern plumbing, and friendly staff to help: https://www.wilden- .

Near the Spreuer Bridge is the Nadelweh (Needle Dam), where wooden poles (Nadeln means needles) are still being used to regulate the level of Lake Lucerne, and to feed a modern hydro electric plant. Periodically the long wooden needles are inserted or removed, by hand, restricting the flow of the water. City workers manipulate these 30-kg needles, a job requiring a great deal of strength and skill. ( )

The Needle Dam on the River Reuss, Lucerne

The Needle Dam on the River Reuss, Lucerne

There are a number of significant churches in Lucerne, each with an interesting history.

The magnificent Jesuit Church (featured at the beginning of this article), dedicated to St. Francis Xavier, was built between 1666 and 1677 when the Jesuits brought the Counter Reformation to Lucerne, and was the first large Baroque church to be built north of the Alps in Switzerland. The elaborate interior emphasises the Catholic tradition of the veneration of saints and of splendid visual art. Architects were imported from Italy and Austria to assist with the construction.
Today the church is a major tourist attraction and a venue for concerts, but plays only a minimal role in the city’s religious life.

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The Jesuit Church, Lucerne

 The magnificent Rococo interior and vault – redecorated in the 18th century – marble stucco and lovely paintings, are truly breathtaking, and I could only imagine the tremendous impact of a grand organ recital here.

The Franciscan Church was built between 1270 and 1280 in the simple Gothic style. Here the Franciscan brothers, who took their vows of poverty a little more seriously than their Benedictine counterparts at the Hofkirche, were the spiritual guides for the ordinary citizens of Lucerne.

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The Franciscan Church, Lucerne

While the Benedictines were landowners and allied to the Habsburg counts, the craftsmen sided with the peasants living around Lake Lucerne, and joined their 1291 Confederacy in 1351. They met in the Franciscan monastery, and were proud to display their banners there, which they had used during their battles against the Habsburgs. These banners are still on display today.

The Church of St. Leodegar (Hofkirche) is the most important church in the city, and a conspicuous landmark with its distinctive twin witch’s hat spires.

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St. Leodegar (Leger), Lucerne – the Hofkirche

It was built on the foundations of a Roman basilica, and burned down in 1633. It had been under the jurisdiction of the Murbach Abbey during the 12th century, the patron saint of which was St. Leodegar (Leger). In 1291 the abbey was sold to the Habsburgs, and in 1433 the city of Lucerne took over its control. In 1455 it was converted from a Benedictine monastery into a “universal order” church. The monastery enjoyed a period of great prosperity during the Reformation, due to its significance to the Catholic cantons of Switzerland. In 1874 the parish church of St. Leodegar was founded, and at the same time became both a monastery church and a parish church, which it has remained to this day. It was one of the few churches to be built north of the Alps during the Thirty Years War, and one of the richest in terms of interior decoration representing the late German Renaissance.

When not admiring the interiors of these beautiful old churches, we had free time to explore the Old Town and main shopping district. As Christmas was just around the corner, most shops were decorated with festive fare and wares, above all the famous chocolates and confectionary. Among the watches, jewellry and elegant boutiques of the Schwanenplatz there is the purveying scent of freshly baked bread and pastries. Bachman is one of the family-run chocolatiers, founded over a hundred years ago, and whose fourth-generation owners promise “exclusive specialties and enjoyable experiences”.

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The displays of Christmas gifts were very tempting, but this country is not cheap, and the Swiss Franc not at all Rand-friendly.

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Interior design boutiques presented for me a refreshing change from the Swedish IKEA- and Gustavian-influenced styles.

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There are a number of fascinating places and stories connected to the city of Lucerne, and for me, as a musicologist, Tribschen (or the Richard Wagner House Museum) is one of them. This beautiful villa on the shores of Lake Lucerne is a popular destination for Wagnerites. It was the home of this infamous German opera composer for six years – from March 1866 until April 1872. ( .)

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Wagner’s former villa, Tribschen , on Lake Lucerne

Wagner had been forced to leave Munich due to his misplaced meddling in political affairs; the Bavarian Cabinet had become alarmed by his arrogance, and hold over young King Ludwig II of Bavaria, who was lavishly financing Wagner’s gargantuan operatic projects, scandalised by his morals; his affair with Liszt’s daughter Cosima, now married to the conductor-pianist Hans von Bulow, was common knowledge. Wagner retreated to this palatial estate (paid for by Ludwig), where he was later joined by Cosima. Their daughter Eva was born here, in 1867, and their first son, Siegfried, in 1869. ( all&utm_expid=32540977- 1.MaWDm8mkS6C4ZWAoxW1_Pw.2&

Wagner and Cosima eventually married in August 1870, in the Matthäuskirche (St. Matthew’s Church) – a simply-decorated Protestant church in the centre of Lucerne. It was built in 1848 in the neo-Gothic style.

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The Matthäuskirche (St. Matthew’s Church) Lucerne

While he was living at Tribschen Wagner completed his opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, composed his Emperor March and the third act of Siegfried, and began work on Götterdämmerung, the final opera in the mighty “Ring” cycle of four operas.

It was also at Tribschen that he composed the Siegfried Idyll as a birthday gift for Cosima, who had recently given birth to their son, Siegfried. It was performed for the first time on Christmas morning in 1870, by an ensemble of fifteen players, on the stairs of the villa. Listen on YouTube at .

This Lucerne restaurant was once one of Wagner’s favourite haunts; it is now a Chinese restaurant:

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Perhaps the most popular story linked with Lucerne is that of William Tell, the legendary Swiss folk hero who refused to respect Habsburg rule, and was promised release from execution if he shot an apple placed atop his son Walter’s head. Famed for his skilled marksmanship, this Tell succeeded in doing, without touching so much as a hair on Walter’s head. But he was then taken to Gessler’s boat to be incarcerated in a dungeon in his castle. But a storm broke on Lake Lucerne, and the soldiers, afraid that their boat would founder, unbound Tell, and allowed him to steer the boat to safety with all his famed strength. Tell made use of this opportunity to escape, leaping from the boat onto a rocky site now known as Tellsplatte (“Tell’s slab”.) For the full story see

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The classical drama Wilhelm Tell by the German poet Friedrich von Schiller, first performed in Weimar in 1804 in the home of Goethe and Schiller, is the most elaborate and popular version of the legend.

This play is performed every year in Interlaken ( Rossini wrote an opera based on Schiller’s play. The Overture is one of the most popular curtain-raisers in the concert repertoire. Listen on YouTube: .
Today there is not only the William Tell steam boat which takes visitors on excursions on Lake Lucern, but also the William Tell Express train: express/how-to-book.html .

Regarding the galleries d’art, apart from the Lucerne Art Museum in the KKL, there is also the Rosengart Collection. Originally the private collection of father-and-daughter team Siegfried and Angela Rosengart, it was not made available to the public as a whole, with only individual works being loaned for exhibitions. The Collection is a subjective choice of works, reflecting the Rosengarts’ personal taste and preferences. It comprises over 300 works by 23 different “Classic Modernist” artists, including Picasso – with whom they were friends – and Paul Klee. Amongst the other artists represented, significant for taking art into the style known as “Abstraction”, there are Braque, Cézanne, Chagall, Dufy, Kandinsky, Matisse, Miró, Modigliani, Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Seurat and Utrillo.

Today Angela is the President of the Board of Trustees of the Rosengart Foundation, the purpose of which is to maintain this priceless treasury of masterpieces.

Equally impressive is the Bourbaki Panorama, a Rundbild (rotunda or circular painting) – one of the few remaining 19th century history “Cycloramas”in the world, a museum and cultural center.
The painting, which is 112 meters long and 10 meters high, was created by Edouard Castres in 1881, and is an indictment of war. It depicts the French Eastern Army of General Charles Denis Sauter Bourbaki during their crossing into Switzerland at the end the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71). It also illustrates the first humanitarian actions of the Red Cross.
In front of the painting is a landscape created from real objects, including dummies of soldiers, nurses, and other attendents, all of which create a highly effective three-dimensional effect. Along with atmospheric sound-effects, visitors are able to experience a vivid re-creation of the retreat of part of the 87,000-strong army, their disarmement, and the charitable care of the Swiss civilian population.

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Interestingly, the term Bourbaki today connotes “disorder” or “disorganization” in Swiss military parlance – particularly when used to reprimand a soldier whose uniform is not up to scratch.
The Bourbaki Panorama was modernised between 1996 and 2000, and includes a library, five cinemas with a cinema bar, a restaurant and shops.

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Alte Suidtersche Apotheke (Apothecary) opposite our hotel

The most significant symbol of Lucerne is the Lion Monument, or the Lion of Lucerne, a sculpture designed by the Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen, and hewn into the cliff face by Lukas Ahorn in 1820-21. The monument is a staggering 10m long and 6m high, and also tells an interesting tale: it was designed to commemorate the Swiss Guards who were massacred in 1792 during the French Revolution.


A regiment of Swiss mercenaries had been part of the Royal Household since the early 17th century. In 1789 at the outbreak of the Revolution, King Louis XVI and his family had been forced to move from their Palace at Versailles to the Tuileries Palace in Paris. In June 1791 he tried to escape, but revolutionaries stormed the palace, and the Swiss Guards protecting the family were overwhelmed. A note from the King has survived, in which he orders the Swiss Guards to retire and return to their barracks. Unfortunately this order was only acted upon after their position had already become untenable.

Of the Swiss Guards defending the Tuileries, more than 600 were killed during the fighting, or massacred after surrender. An estimated 200 more died of their wounds in prison, or were killed during the September Massacres that followed. Apart from about a hundred men who escaped from the Tuileries, the only survivors of the regiment were a 300-strong detachment which had been sent to Normandy a few days earlier. Swiss officers were mostly amongst those massacred, although Major Karl Josef von Bachmann – who had been in command at the Tuileries – was formally tried and guillotined in September, still wearing his red military jacket. Two surviving Swiss officers later achieved senior rank under Napoleon.

The idea to create the monument was initiated by Karl Pfyffer von Altishofen, an officer of the Swiss Guards who had been on leave in Lucerne at that time of the fighting, and in 1818 he began collecting money for the project. It is dedicated to Helvetiorum Fidei ac Virtuti (“To the loyalty and bravery of the Swiss”). The dying lion is portrayed impaled by a spear, covering a shield bearing the fleur-de-lis of the French monarchy; beside him is another shield bearing the coat of arms of Switzerland. The inscription below the sculpture lists the names of the officers, and the approximate numbers of soldiers who died (DCCLX = 760), and survived (CCCL = 350).

The Lion lies in his lair in the perpendicular face of a low cliff — for he is carved from the living rock of the cliff. His size is colossal, his attitude is noble. His head is bowed, the broken spear is sticking in his shoulder, his protecting paw rests upon the lilies of France. Vines hang down the cliff and wave in the wind, and a clear stream trickles from above and empties into a pond at the base, and in the smooth surface of the pond the lion is mirrored, among the water-lilies.
Around about are green trees and grass. The place is a sheltered, reposeful woodland nook, remote from noise and stir and confusion — and all this is fitting, for lions do die in such places, and not on granite pedestals in public squares fenced with fancy iron railings. The Lion of Lucerne would be impressive anywhere, but nowhere so impressive as where he is.
— Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad, 1880

Shopping for gifts and souvenirs in Switzerland is easy; if it’s not the mouth-watering chocolates you are after, then it is watches and clocks, and the famous Swiss army knives:

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The knives are the most functional multi-tool on the market, and have such attachments as a second blade, tweezers, toothpick, corkscrew, can opener, bottle opener, screwdriver, scissors, reamer, hook (parcel carrier, tightening aid for shoelaces, etc.), magnifying glass, ballpoint pen, fish-scaler, pliers, gimlet, compass, ruler and keyring. Recent technological features include USB flash drives, digital clock, digital altimeter, LED light, laser pointer, and an MP3player. The different models (all made by Victorinox) carry names such as Waiter, Super Tinker, Traveler-Set, SwissChamp, Angler, Climber, Mountaineer, Explorer, Recruit and Fisherman. I lost track of the dozens of models.

Our last cultural expedition before heading back to Zurich airport was to the small town of Winterthur and the Oskar Reinhart Museum, Am Römerholz. Housed in this lovely old building are around 500 German, Austrian and Swiss paintings and sculptures dating from the late 18th to the mid-20th century, as well as around 7000 prints and drawings from the 15th to the 20th century.

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Oskar Reinhart (1885–1965) was born into an old family of Winterthur merchants, and one of the most important patrons and art collectors in Switzerland. His mother, Lilly Reinhart-Volkart (1855–1916), was heir to his grandfather’s company, Volkart Brothers, which was founded in 1851. His father Theodor Reinhart (1849–1919) expanded the company, and successfully pioneered trade between India and Europe.
As early as 1907, whilst still a trainee in his parents’ company, Oskar began collecting old masters and modern prints.

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Pissarro: View of the Hermitage,Pointoise Ingres: Delphine Monet: The Seine with ice floes

In 1936, Reinhart helped the Munich‐based art dealer Fritz Nathan emigrate to Switzerland. In 1941, he also attempted – together with Fritz Nathan and Walter Feilchenfeldt – to enable Max Liebermann’s widow to emigrate to Switzerland. Furthermore he was mindful not to purchase any artwork from dubious sources during the Third Reich. He did, however, under the impression of the events of the time, create the Oskar Reinhart Foundation on 10 October 1940, and donated his works by German, Austrian and Swiss artists from the 18th to early 20th century to this foundation. Due to the War, the old school building adjacent to the Stadtgarten [City Park] that had been remodeled as a museum for the foundation was not opened until 1951. Reinhart left the collection of paintings and drawings by German, Dutch, English, Italian, Spanish and French Old Masters as well as Impressionists that he had kept in his private house “am Römerholz” to the Swiss Government, while his print collection was given to the “Oskar Reinhart Foundation”. ( .)

I enjoyed a leisurely meander through the museum, listening to commentaries on some of the paintings with an excellent English audio guide.
For the Tripadvisor comments, see Reviews-Oskar_Reinhart_Foundation_Museum-Winterthur.html .

Apart from the musical delights of the Piano Festival, I have taken away with me from this trip a number of impressions of Switzerland and the Swiss people. This is a very regulated society, reflected in the spotlessly clean streets, excellent public transport system, and well-organised touristic infrastructure. But along with this orderliness one encounters some off-putting officialdom, such as unpleasantly imperious concert ushers and museum attendants. Even the Roma people (who scent where the money is in Europe), entertaining passers-by with dulcimer and accordion, had their “correct” place by the bus station, instead of begging at every corner as they now do in Stockholm.
The people are otherwise coolly reserved – remote, even, undemonstrative, and predominantly elegant, but not eye-catchingly beautiful or exciting.

But I will remember the quirky and unique architecture,

Wedding at Cana mural, Weinmarkt Square Bakers’ Guildhouse
Wedding at Cana mural, Weinmarkt Square Bakers’ Guildhouse
Goethe lived here (1779)  Hofstube (Court Room)
Goethe lived here (1779) Hofstube (Court Room)

often with fairytale elements,

The Gutsch Hotel on a hill above the town Ornate sgraffito
The Gutsch Hotel on a hill above the town Ornate sgraffito

the continental kiosks,

Pastries and sandwiches Kiosk for newspapers, magazines, sweets and cigarettes
Pastries and sandwiches Kiosk for newspapers, magazines, sweets and cigarettes

and endearing snapshots,

Mother and children sculpture A game of boules in a park
Mother and children sculpture A game of boules in a park


Other useful information


1. Guided excursions:
2. Mount Rigi:
3. Rigi Kaltbad Mineraldad & Spa:
4. Mount Pilatus:
5. Stanserhorn:
6. Lake Lucerne steamboat cruises, excursions and culinary delights:
7. KKL:


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