Whilst on my recent trip to Liechtenstein I sent a postcard to my blog. It was written as I felt a little homesick one evening, and included some ‘fascinating facts’ that might help a few pub quiz enthusiasts out there: the capital city, the main exports, the currency and the language spoken for example. However, I am conscious that to leave readers of my blog with the impression that these are the main points of interest in this fascinating, pocket-sized state (it is the fourth smallest in Europe) would be to do Fürstentum Liechtenstein (Principality of Liechtenstein) a great injustice.
With an area of just 160 sq kilometres and bordered by Austria to the east and north and Switzerland to the south and west, Liechtenstein is truly landlocked. In my two week stay I actually visited four countries – Liechtenstein itself, Austria, Switzerland and Germany. The population is only just over 36,000, and the capital, Vaduz, is home to just over 5,000 – hardly much more than a large village in the UK. However, it is a country with a vibrant and diverse economy; focusing on export-oriented mechanical engineering, plant construction, and manufacturing of precision instruments.
Oh yes and false teeth of course. It certainly does not rely on banking for its prosperity, despite having the reputation as something of a tax haven. In fact one of the world’s ‘most wanted’ is from Liechtenstein – he blew the whistle on an aspect of the banking industry that has required him to flee the country. That and the fact that he had a police record that was already longer than a bank statement. He is probably one of Liectenstein’s only criminals however – they don’t have any prisons, although my hosts opened their mouths in horror when I told them police in the UK have to keep order armed only with a long stick. Lichtensteiner police officers carry guns….
I was struck by how interesting the landscape along the floor of the Rhine Valley is. It has to be both agricultural and industrial heartland as the rest of the country is mountainous –sliced through the middle as it is by the collision of the western and eastern Alps. I was treated to the sight of some impromptu falconry as a strangely hairy man, standing on a sharp gravel path with no shoes on gave his beautiful hawks a workout for our benefit as we took an evening walk. Apparently he has just sold them to a rich bloke in Dubai. I can’t think they will be happier there than they were flying against a backdrop of high mountains over a crystal clear stream and fields of tall, ripening maize. The man may have been a hippy but he had a business head on him.
The history of Liechtenstein is also interesting. Archaeological findings prove that the territory has been populated since the 5th millennium BC. The original inhabitants were Raetians, with Celtic influences. Raetia was conquered by the Romans and declared a Roman province in the year 15 BC and indeed in Mauren, where I stayed, I was treated to a tour of the crypt of the parish church which has the remains of not just two previous places of worship built on the site, but some well preserved walls of a small Roman dwelling. Surrounded by the bones of Mauren residents from the last two millennia (stacked neatly in see-through crates around the walls) I was stunned into silence – and not just because the nice elderly gent showing me round couldn’t speak any English.
From the 10th century, Raetia belonged to the counts of Bregenz, who died out in 1152 when the country was split up and it wasn’t until 1719 that Prince Johann Adam Andreas of Liechtenstein was able to purchase the Lordship of Schellenberg and the County of Vaduz to elevate his domain to the ‘Imperial Principality of Liechtenstein’.
The French Revolution of course saw far-reaching changes in Europe. Napoleon abolished the German Empire in 1806 and established the Rhine Confederation, in which Liechtenstein was admitted as a sovereign state. After Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, the Congress of Vienna admitted independent Liechtenstein into the German Confederation in 1815. History has shown Liechtenstein to be the only small German State able to maintain its independence, and the country now describes itself as a ‘constitutional, hereditary monarchy on a democratic and parliamentary basis’. I am not sure what that means but the castle in which the Prince lives is very pretty and most people seem comfortable with their lot, although I was surprised and horrified to learn that female Liectensteiners were not given the right to vote until 1984.
A final ‘I bet you didn’t know THAT!!’ is, for me, the biggest surprise. According to oral tradition, the Liechtenstein national anthem was written by a German priest named Jakob Jauch. For some reason I have failed dismally to establish it is sung to the melody of our ”God save the Queen”, by H. Carey. Why they chose that dirge I can’t imagine (even the most patriotic amongst you must agree it isn’t that lively…) Mercifully for the organisers of London 2012 though, despite nearly 50% of the country being a member of a sports club the nation is singularly poor at most sport except ski-ing. No confusion there then.
I admit to having fallen in love with this little country that barely shows up on the usual map of Europe so I apologise if you have found this post as interesting as a slideshow of my holiday snaps. However, if you ever visit Switzerland, Austria or even northern Italy do take the time for a little wander through the lanes of Fürstentum Liechtenstein and enjoy the hospitality of a population proud of their pretty little corner of the continent..