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  • Hi, I'm Rick Steves, back with more of the best of Europe. This time we're in Switzerland

  • enjoying not its majestic Alps...but its fascinating cities.

  • Thanks for joining us.

  • Whether enjoying its traditional culture high in the mountains

  • or savoring the joys of modern life in its great cities,

  • the Swiss get it right. In this episode we focus on an often overlooked

  • side part of Switzerland - its urban charm.

  • We'll get some easy exercise - floating with locals...and ring one very big bell. We'll

  • enjoy a variety of art from stained glass by Marc Chagall, to bold works by artists

  • considered insane. We'll see how the Swiss use blue lights as part of a creative drug

  • policy and explore a secret underground fortress built as a defense against the Nazis. And,

  • we'll experience that incomparable Swiss natural beauty with a cruise on a romantic paddle

  • wheeler.

  • Nestled in the center of Europe is Switzerland. While much of the country is dominated by

  • the Alps, most of its population is in the northwest - a gentler land of lakes and cities.

  • Fromrich we travel to Luzern, Bern, and Lausanne.

  • Like many visits to Switzerland, ours starts in its biggest city - Zürich. While it's

  • a major transportation hub and many just pass through, it's a powerhouse city and well worth

  • a look.

  • The Swiss joke thatrich is zu reich and zu ruhig - that's a play on German words for

  • "too rich" and "too quiet." Sure it's rich...and there are livelier places, butrich is

  • comfortable and it consistently ranks as one of the world's most livable cities.

  • rich's history goes back to Roman times. By the 19th century it was a leading European

  • financial and economic center. Its people are known for their wealth and for working

  • hard to earn it. Like most Swiss cities, it embraces its river or lake in a fun-loving

  • way. The lakefront is a springboard for romantic walks, bike rides, and cruises. A great way

  • to glide across town is to catch the riverboat, which functions like a city bus, and just

  • enjoy the view.

  • Its old town is lively day and night with cafés, galleries, and a colorful cobbled

  • ambience. Zürich's main drag, Bahnhofstrasse, is famous for its elegant shops. If you're

  • looking for a fancy watch, stunning jewelry, or a $1,000 sweater...this is the place.

  • For more affordable extravagance - these delightful mini-macarons - a local favorite - may be

  • expensive...but they won't break the bank.

  • The city's art treasure is in its Fraumünster (or "Church of Our Lady"): a set of five towering

  • stained glass windows by Marc Chagall. His inimitable painting style - deep colors, simple

  • figures, and shard-like Cubism - is perfectly suited for the medium of stained glass.

  • The windows depict Bible scenes - here Jacob dreams of his ladder - the traffic of angels

  • symbolizing the connection between God above and Jacob's descendants (the Children of Israel)

  • below. Old Testament images - King David with his harp, Moses with the Ten Commandments,

  • and the angel blowing the ram's horn to announce the creation of a new Jerusalem, all create

  • a cohesive message drawing you to the central window. Here, a jumble of events from Christ's

  • life leads to the central figure in God's plan of salvation - a crucified yet ascendant

  • Jesus Christ.

  • But nearby, the leading entertaining heavenly character inrich is its guardian angel.

  • Hovering above the main hall in the central train station, she protects all travelers

  • and adds to the energy of the station. Situated at the center of Western Europe, this major

  • European transportation hub handles 2,000 trains a day zipping people all over Europe.

  • Shortly after leavingrich, the train ride becomes a scenic joyride. And 30 minutes later

  • we pull into Luzern.

  • Since the Romantic era in the 19th century, Luzern has been a regular stop on the "Grand

  • Tour" route of Europe. Its inviting lakefront now includes a modern concert hall - which

  • incorporates the lake into its design. The old town, with a pair of picture-perfect wooden

  • bridges, straddles the Reuss River where it tumbles out of Lake Lucerne.

  • The bridge was built at an angle in the 14th century to connect the town's medieval fortifications.

  • Today it serves strollers rather than soldiers as a peaceful way to connect two sides of

  • town. Many are oblivious to the fascinating art just overhead.

  • Under the rafters hang about 100 colorful 17th-century paintings showing scenes from

  • Luzern and its history. This legendary giant dates to the Middle Ages, when locals discovered

  • mammoth bones which they mistakenly thought were the bones of a human giant. Here's Luzern

  • in about 1400 - the bridge, already part of the city fortifications. And Luzern looked

  • like this in 1630.

  • Luzern is responsible for controlling the lake level. By regulating the flow of water

  • out of its lake, the city prevents the flooding of lakeside villages when the snow melts.

  • In the mid-19th century, the city devised and built this extendable dam. By adding and

  • taking away these wooden slats, they could control the level of the lake.

  • Swans are a fixture on the river today. Locals say they arrived in the 17th century as a

  • gift from the French king Louis XIV in appreciation for the protection his Swiss Guards gave him.

  • Switzerland has a long history of providing strong and loyal warriors to foreign powers.

  • The city's famous Lion Monument recalls the heroism of more Swiss mercenaries. The mighty

  • lion rests his paws on a French shield. Tears stream down his cheeks. The broken-off end

  • of a spear is slowly killing the noble beast. The sad lion is a memorial to over 700 Swiss

  • mercenaries who were killed defending Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI during the French Revolution.

  • The people of Luzern take full advantage of their delightful river with a variety of cafés

  • and restaurants along its banks. This evening, we're enjoying the setting as much as the

  • food. I'm having the local pork. My producer Simon is having eel fresh from the river.

  • With a picturesque setting like this, the dining experience makes for a wonderful memory.

  • Boats connect towns around Lake Lucerne. That's its English name, but the Swiss call it the

  • Vierwaldstättersee - literally, "Lake of the Four Forest Cantons." That's because it

  • lies at the intersection of four of Switzerland's cantons or states. Romantics will want to

  • ride one of the classic paddleboat steamers. A short ride drops you at any number of interesting

  • sights - one of which come with a surprise.

  • Imagine it's 1941. You're Swiss; your country is completely surrounded by Hitler and Mussolini.

  • The Nazis are on the move. What to do? [knock, knock] Turn your mountains into a hidden fortress.

  • The Swiss managed to make their rugged mountains an even more effective barrier. How? By lots

  • of strategic tunneling.

  • One example, the Fortressrigen has done its duty. Recently decommissioned, it now

  • welcomes visitors interested in Switzerland's secret defenses.

  • Guide: In central Switzerland we have now nine forts like this, bigger ones and smaller

  • ones. There are installed I think in total 44 canons.

  • The Swiss implemented a plan to retreat into the mountainous heart of the country and defend

  • themselves with a series of hidden fortresses dug into mountain sides like this one.

  • Guide: Here we enter into bunker #2. You see here the canon. You can turn it, the elevation...

  • Rick: I can sit here on the gun. Can I sit on this?

  • Guide: Yeah you can. Rick: Push this down? 62-

  • Guide: Fine, yeah. Rick: And then I go, I want to go to 21.

  • Guide: Fine, yes. Rick: Wow there it is, 62 21, the top of the

  • peak. Guide: Fire [laugh].

  • With the advent of the Cold War in the 1950s, the fortress was retooled for the threat of

  • the USSR. The Swiss have since found documents indicating that both the Nazis and the Soviets

  • actually had plans to invade Switzerland.

  • Guide: This is the bedroom for 100 soldiers; 50 beds, they have to share it because they

  • have to work in shifts. This is the dining room and over here the kitchen. And all these

  • rooms and other forts have been built for survival of Switzerland. Hitler took Belgium,

  • Netherlands and we had the feeling we are next.

  • Wandering through this hidden fortress you're reminded how perilous Switzerland's position

  • was in the 20th century and how committed the Swiss were to defending their freedom.

  • Switzerland is laced together by an efficient train system. Its trains are fast, frequent,

  • and easy to use - taking you effortlessly and scenically from downtown to downtown.

  • Our next stop: the capital city...Bern.

  • The city of Bern is built on a peninsula created by a hairpin turn of the Aare River.

  • Its pointy towers and arcaded streets make it one of Europe's finest surviving medieval

  • towns. Bern is stately but accessible, classy but fun.

  • The city, founded in 1191, has managed to avoid war damage and hasn't burned down since

  • 1405. After that fire, wooden buildings were discouraged, and Bern gained its gray-green

  • sandstone complexion.

  • Colorful 16th-century fountains are Bern's trademark. They were commissioned to brighten

  • up the stony cityscape, to show off the town's wealth, and to remind citizens of local heroes

  • and events. The city is named for its mascot, a bear - and bears are a reoccurring theme

  • all over town.

  • This famous clock tower was part of the main gate of the original town wall. One side of

  • it has a playful mechanical show, appropriate in this country famous for its time pieces.

  • The clock, which dates back to 1530, still performs each hour. While you can see the

  • medieval clock mechanism from inside - fascinating in this land of clock and watch makers - most

  • people enjoy the show from outside. At the top of the hour the rooster crows... the bears

  • promenade as the happy jester comes to life. Father Time turns his hourglass and the rooster

  • crows once more...as he has for about 500 years. In its day, this was a high-tech marvel.

  • In this elegant city, you may brush elbows with some high-powered legislators, but you

  • wouldn't know it. Everything feels casual for a national capital. The Swiss are very

  • comfortable with their own style of democracy.

  • The Swiss government is a bicameral system actually inspired by the United States Constitution,

  • with one big difference: Executive power is shared by a committee of seven, with a rotating

  • ceremonial president and a passion for consensus. This is a mechanism to avoid a power grab

  • by a single individual...a safeguard that the Swiss believe strengthens and protects

  • their democracy.

  • Observant travelers will notice how the Swiss government deals with its social problems

  • with pragmatism and innovation. Too many cars and chronically unemployed people? Create

  • a program providing free loaner bikes...run by people who would otherwise be collecting

  • unemployment benefits.

  • Like the United States, Switzerland is dealing with a persistent drug abuse problem. The

  • Swiss believe the purpose of a nation's drug policy should be to reduce the harm drugs

  • cause their society. Like many Europeans, they treat substance abuse more as a health

  • problem than a criminal problem. Rather than fill their jails, the Swiss employ methods

  • they find are both more compassionate and more pragmatic.

  • For instance, to help fight the spread of AIDS and other diseases, street-side vending

  • machines dispense government-subsided needles - cheap and safe. There are needle-disposal

  • boxes. Many public toilets are lit by blue lights. If users can't find their veins, they'll

  • shoot up elsewhere - it's hoped at heroin maintenance centers, which provide addicts

  • with counseling, clean needles, and a safe alternative to the streets.

  • And casual use of marijuana is tolerated. Locals pass joints with no apparent worries

  • in the shadow of the cathedral ignored by others who simply enjoy life in a society

  • that believes tolerating alternative lifestyles makes more sense than building more prisons.

  • Bern's cathedral is capped with a 330-foot-tall tower, the highest in Switzerland. While it

  • was built as a Catholic church, later in the 16th century with the Reformation, it became

  • Protestant - that's why it is so sparsely decorated.

  • The Swiss Protestants were iconoclasts - they considered statues of saints and Catholic

  • art to be false idols - distractions from God - and destroyed them. This church was

  • originally adorned with 26 different little chapels and altars each dedicated to a different

  • saint or the Virgin Mary. When the Reformation came to town in 1528...all that was swept

  • away. The focus was shifted away from images and to the pulpit from where Protestant preachers

  • shared the Word of God not in Latin...but in the people's language.

  • Browsing through this barren place of worship, you can sense the effectiveness of one man

  • preaching from the pulpit to an undistracted congregation.

  • Climbing the spire, you'll see Protestants had absolutely no problem with great bells.

  • Guide: This is the biggest bell of Switzerland and it's over 10 tons. And we are also very

  • proud that we have the highest tower of Switzerland. It's over 100 meters, exactly 101 meters.

  • Art lovers enjoy Bern's Paul Klee Center. With its wavy building mirroring the wavy

  • landscape, Italian architect Renzo Piano's building celebrates the creative spirit of

  • the Swiss-born artist Paul Klee. While famous as a painter, Klee embraced all forms of creative

  • expression. The center - which fosters music and theater as well as the visual arts - has

  • a mission: to bring art to the people. A generous zone is devoted to a children's workshop.

  • Kids love Paul Klee...and kids always teach the art snobs a thing or two with their interpretations.

  • The shadow theater sparks young imaginations.

  • Artistically, you just can't put Klee in a box. His paintings - mostly from the 1920s

  • and '30s - are playful yet enigmatic. Audio guides let you enjoy Klee's favorite music

  • as you wander through his paintings. He experimented in pointillism - as you see in Ad Parnassum.

  • His art is full of symbolism...or maybe we just think so.

  • Insula Dulcamara - literally "bittersweet island" - is a good example of Klee's abstract

  • hieroglyph style. It's a puzzle - he pairs opposites...man, woman...air, water. It's

  • 1938...is that a submarine on the horizon evoking the rise of Fascism? Perhaps the black

  • figures are death in a spring-like landscape, which is eternal.

  • And when the sun comes out, it seems everyone's heading for the banks of the Aare River. The

  • riverside park is a lively playground. The Bernese, proud of their very clean river and

  • their basic ruddiness, have a tradition - sort of a wet paseo. On summer days, they hike

  • upstream, then float back into town.

  • For something to write home about, join the locals and the trout in a float down the river.

  • Our final big city visit is another hour away by train.

  • Lausanne perches elegantly overlooking Lake Geneva. The city is made of two charming zones:

  • the idyllic waterfront and the tangled and historic old town. Locals nickname their town

  • the San Francisco of Switzerland for all its hills. There's no way to see it without lots

  • of climbing. Lausanne's pedestrianized Rue de Bourg has the finest shops. By the way,

  • be careful with the pronunciation, many confuse Lausanne with Luzern.

  • Lausanne's collection of fringe art - or Art Brut - fills one of Europe's most thought-provoking

  • art galleries.

  • It presents works by self-taught creators who, for various reasons, escaped cultural

  • conditioning and social conformity. The people who made this art were completely untrained

  • - as free-spirited as artists can be.

  • These pieces were created by amateur artists - many who were labeled (and even locked up)

  • by society as "insane" or even "criminally insane." Thumbnail biographies of these outsiders

  • personalize their work.

  • In the 1940s, the artist Jean Dubuffet began collecting art produced by people he called

  • "free from artistic culture and free from fashion tendencies." Dubuffet said, "The art

  • does not lie in beds ready-made for it. It runs away when its name is called. It wants

  • to be incognito. Its best moments are when it forgets what it's called."

  • There's nothing incognito about Lausanne's cathedral - the biggest church in Switzerland.

  • This is another example of a Swiss Protestant church. Once again, it was built Catholic

  • and dedicated to Mary. But when the Reformation hit, Swiss reformers purged it of religious

  • ornamentation - colorfully frescoed walls were whitewashed, stained glass windows trashed,

  • statues of Mary and the saints smashed.

  • Today, the church remains clean of images - with the exception of an extravagant pipe

  • organ - its 7,000 pipes evoking the trumpets of Jericho and the wings of angels.

  • For six centuries a watchman has called the churches tower home. His job: to watch for

  • fires and to call out the hours. Since the last big fire, a watchman has manned this

  • post...the last one of its kind in Switzerland. Each night he steps onto his balcony and hollers

  • the hour.

  • Watchman: [Calling the hour in Swiss German]

  • The real charm of Lausanne lies on its lakefront, a district called Ouchy. What was once an

  • aristocratic promenade is now the happy domain of commoners, office workers and roller skaters

  • strutting their stuff. Romantic old-time steamers connect travelers scenically to points all

  • around Lake Geneva. On a crisp day you can see the French Alps; Chamonix and Mount Blanc

  • are just out of sight.

  • Ouchy's sightseeing highlight is a fine park and museum devoted to the Olympic Games. This