“The Swiss have an interesting army. Five hundred years without a war. Pretty impressive. Also pretty lucky for them. Ever see that little Swiss Army knife they have to fight with? Not much of a weapon there. Corkscrews. Bottle openers. ‘Come on, buddy, let’s go. You get past me, the guy in back of me, he’s got a spoon. Back off. I’ve got the toe clippers right here.’” Jerry Seinfeld
Switzerland is an fascinating country, which due to its geographical location, the ethnic composition of its population, part German, part French and part Italian, and its relatively small territory, has had to obtain neutral status in order to maintain internal cohesion.
Throughout Swiss history, its national territory has been coveted by surrounding powers so declaring neutrality and being ready to enforce it was and continues to be the best means by which it could maintain national security.
With the final defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1815 the Swiss were rather sensibly determined never to suffer an invasion again and the Congress of Vienna, consisting of the major European powers that had convened to discuss international relations in the post-Napoleonic era, agreed that Switzerland should forever be a neutral country.
During World War Two, Switzerland adhered to its neutral status by never officially becoming involved in the war even though there were suspicions that the financial institutions gave financial aid to the Axis powers even though the Swiss army was fully mobilised and on alert in case of a German invasion. In 1997 a report by a US lawyer and Government advisor Stuart Eizenstat concluded that Nazi Germany had relied on Swiss banks to handle most of its looted gold but that allegations that it laundered the valuables of holocaust victims could not be proven.
The Swiss still have a bit of a guilty conscience about the war however and as we sat looking out over the tranquil water I couldn’t help but speculate what the German speaking people of Romanshorn were thinking in April 1944 when they looked out over the lake to see the city of Friedrichshafen being bombed to destruction and reduced to rubble by the allied bombers intent on destroying the munitions and tank component factories that were contributing to the German war effort.
It must have been a spectacular sight to see the City fire-bombed and a fiery orange glow spreading across the inky darkness of the lake. Were they proud of their stubborn neutrality at that time I wondered? Did they sit in this exact spot and watch as the German city and its residents burned and died?
The lake looked magnificent now with tranquil water so crystal clear that the perfectly blue sky was a mirror image of the lake and in the distance the Swiss Alps soared, ice capped and shining, into the sky and we were excited in the knowledge that tomorrow we would be driving into them towards Liechtenstein.
After a refreshment stop at a harbour side Chinese bar that seemed bizarrely out of place we took the ferry back and enjoyed a calm return journey on the top deck of the ferry with more beer and wine to pass the time. It was late afternoon and we walked back to the hotel through the shopping streets and were disappointed to discover the commercial centre of the town to be a bit soulless in a modern concrete and glass sort of way, which is not surprising considering the state of it after all that hideous bombing in 1944. And, this surprised me, there was an abundance of cheap shops that was unexpected because I’d always imagined Germany to be upmarket and expensive.
Back at the hotel we had a swim and a sauna in the basement leisure facilities and then relaxed in the hotel garden with a beer and later watched CNN for a while before we prepared to go out for evening meal. We returned to the Italian restaurant that we had first visited at lunchtime and we ordered food and drink as we prepared to dine while watching out over the lake.
When the food arrived Kim was disturbed to find that we had an uninvited guest at our table. Now, scrounging cats in Greece I can tolerate, a constipated dog in La Rochelle I definitely wasn’t prepared to share my dining experience with but here we got a fearless and cheeky little mouse that was running between our feet and looking for scraps being dropped off of the table.
Kim was a bit troubled by this and tossed a french-fry into a flowerbed to distract him and he responded to this and made off with it to somewhere undisturbed to consume it. He was back again quite quickly however and Kim provided a second morsel of food that he detected and carried away after perfectly balancing it in his jaws for equal weight distribution and thankfully that was the last that we saw of him.
After dinner we walked back to the hotel stopping only to buy an ice cream and then on account of the city being closed again extraordinarily early we retired to bed for an early night.