I’ve always wanted to spend the night in Liechtenstein sometime, and, finally, my dream is coming true. My wife and I flew into Munich on the red-eye from Tel Aviv this morning — it’s a marvelous way to reclaim all the joys of jet lag while changing only one time-zone — and are now resting in the Hotel Oberland in Triesenberg, an elevated suburb of Vaduz, the capital of the Principality. From our balcony, we have a gorgeous view of the Rhine River in the valley below.
The Principality of Liechtenstein is an independent nation, even though, in some ways, it’s rather like a twenty-seventh canton of Switzerland, its (relatively speaking!) behemoth of a neighbor. (I’m sure there’s a historical reason why Liechtenstein didn’t join the Swiss Confederation, as other once more or less independent statelets did, but I don’t know it. Learning more about Swiss history has always been on my list of things to do; Edward Gibbon, before settling on the rise and fall of the Roman empire, considered writing a history of Switzerland instead.) Crossing the border into Liechtenstein, one has to pass through a Swiss border control station. They serve Swiss-style food and speak German very much as the Swiss do. The opposite side of the valley, the other bank of the Rhine, is, in fact, Switzerland.
Like many other things for the rest of this trip, there are going to be painful associations for me here. Or, anyway, bittersweet memories. The last two times I was in this part of Europe, my wife and I were here with my brother and his wife. He loved this region, where I had served my mission and which I finally got to introduce to him only a few years ago, and we had great times together here. He got an enormous kick out of Liechtenstein, a sovereign, independent nation that has just two freeway exits, that one can easily pass through without noticing. We were hoping to come back. But, as I lamented at perhaps embarrassing length on this blog on 23 March and for a week or two thereafter, he died quite unexpectedly less than three months ago. I’m still crushed by his passing: my only sibling, the only remaining member of my nuclear family other than myself, and my dear, dear friend. The other night, I dreamed that I saw him entering one of the gates to the Old City of Jerusalem; I was stunned, overwhelmed with joy, to see him alive again. I asked him what the date was, because, I said, “You died on the twenty-third of March!” He smiled, and then I woke up, realizing it was only a dream.
I’ve often come through Switzerland en route from the Middle East. Probably more times than I haven’t. In many ways, the two areas couldn’t be more opposite: peaceful and agonized, green and brown, lush and well-watered versus sere and dry, agrarian and urban, steeply mountainous versus flat to hilly, almost ridiculously clean and orderly and efficient versus almost ridiculously dirty and chaotic and inefficient, stable to perpetually apocalyptic. Curiously, I really like both places. The Middle East is fascinating, almost overwhelmingly so. But the Alps are like balm to my soul.
So, I confess, is receiving compliments on my German. (Egomaniac that I am.) I got one today from an Austrian border official, who couldn’t believe that I was an American. It made my afternoon. I wouldn’t be able to keep the pretense up for very long these days, I’m afraid. Too many noun-genders and vocabulary items are buried a bit too deeply in my memory. But it starts to come back, and I’m sure that, if I were to stay here for a while — which I may try to do someday (though probably not in Liechtenstein!) — I would do fine.
Triesenberg, Fürstentum Liechtenstein