As a part of the Erasmus Student Network, I had the chance to travel to Lucerne, one of the most iconic cities in Switzerland. With the Swiss Alps towering above the landscape in the distance, the clear waters of Lake Lucerne adorned with swans, and the Chapel Bridge, the oldest covered wooden bridge in Europe, Lucerne was a delight.
During our tour of the city we meandered through the cobble-stone streets of the old town and eventually made our way to Bertel Thorvaldsen’s Lion Monument, a carved statue of a dying lion which was created to commemorate the hundreds of Swiss Guards massacred in the French Revolution, when a mob stormed the Tuileries Palace in Paris in 1792. This statue, pictured below, is truly beautiful and moving; surrounded by a lily pond and a thicket of trees and carved into the face of a natural rock, it makes one think about the respect for nature found in Switzerland and the symbolism of the monument. I had heard of this monument before, but never expected it to be such an accurate portrayal of the anguish and melancholy felt towards this devastating event. The fact that the monument was carved out of the natural rock makes it even more moving; the death of these soldiers wounded the country of Switzerland, right down to its natural rock face. Needless to say, visiting this monument was a meaningful part of my trip.
Another particularly fascinating part of the weekend was the visit to the Sonnenberg Bunker. As the largest bunker in Switzerland, the Sonnenberg bunker was originally intended to provide shelter for 20,000 people if a nuclear attack were to occur. The Swiss Federal Law on Civil Protection even states to this day, in Articles 45 and 46, that every Swiss citizen must have a protected place in a nuclear fallout shelter. Having the chance to tour a Swiss bunker was not something I ever expected to be doing, but it has been one of the most unique and thought-provoking experiences I’ve had since I have come here. My pre-conceived notions of Switzerland always centered around the thought that it is a neutral country which stays out of conflicts as much as possible. However, it never occurred to me how much the Swiss had to invest in order to remain neutral. Due to its location and small size, it seems that Switzerland could have been easily occupied and overtaken by some of its more dominant and forceful neighboring countries. When touring the bunker and seeing how much thought went into preparing for a potential nuclear attack, I started to round out my picture of Switzerland and connect with the fear that so many of its citizens must have felt during the Cold War period. It’s not always easy to be a neutral country after all.