Switzerland’s Great Cities

Switzerland’s Great Cities

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. From Zürich 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 that Zürich 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, but Zürich is comfortable and it consistently ranks as one
of the world’s most livable cities. Zürich’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 in Zürich 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 leaving Zürich, 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 Fortress Fürigen 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 museum celebrates the colorful history of
the Olympics and the founder of the modern games, Pierre de Coubertin. In 1896, after
a 1,500 year lapse – and in the spirit of world peace – he restarted the games. The exhibit traces the history of the Olympics.
Artifacts recall its original ancient Greek beginnings. A century’s worth of ceremonial
torches speaks to the resilient majesty of an event that endeavors to bring the world
together. Highlights from past Olympiads rekindle the thrill of these quadrillenial games. A
section dedicated to the Paralympics celebrates recent inclusivity. Sports fans enjoy recalling
their heroes: from the track shoes Carl Lewis used in the 1984 LA games to the skates of
Sonja Henie – the 13-year-old Norwegian ice queen. Surveying gear from each sport, you
can follow the evolution of equipment that was clearly state of the art…in its day. And you can complete your tour with a look
at how the bronze, silver and gold medals have changed over the years. From the elegant extravagance of Zürich….
to Luzern, with its iconic wooden bridges…. and from Bern, the country’s fun-loving capital,
to Lausanne with its gorgeous lakeside setting, Swiss cities are a treat to visit. As we’ve seen, there’s far more to this country
than its towering Alpine peaks. No visit to Switzerland is really complete without sampling
its urban charms as well. Thanks for joining us. I’m Rick Steves. Until next time…keep
on traveling. Auf wiedersehen. Credits: Guide: There are some others that are still
secret. Rick: Still secret today?
Guide: Yes. Rick: Ah where are they? [Laugh]
Guide: I don’t know. [Singing] I’m Popeye the sailor man, excuse
me. …For something to write home about join
the locals and the trout in a float down the river.

100 thoughts on “Switzerland’s Great Cities

  1. It is very beautiful and unique place.! Just I don't really believe in the story that Nazis didn't dare to invade because Swiss was tough. Really, Seriously??? After deafiting all The European Countries in three months, Nazis decide to invade USSR instead. Why not. Let's attack the County with 350 million population and the biggest army at that time. Yes why not instead of the village next to us with a lot of gold and wealth. How about they had interests, business and partners in Switzerland???

  2. I'd like to know the name of the piece of piano music that starts at the beginning of the Lausanne segment. Anyone?

  3. Due to flight issues, the airline paid for me to spend the night in Zurich.  I took the opportunity to see a little of the city center and visit the Kuntshaus.  Zurich feels more like a big town than a city when compared to other cities.  Food is expensive.  The airline provided a food stipend that was redeemable at the hotel where I was staying.  The Thai green curry rice plate for lunch and the burger with fries for dinner each cost about 30 CHF, which is about 30 USD.

  4. Nice work Rick! Maybe it's worth mentioning that people speak german in Zurich Bern and Luzern, but in Lausanne they speak french!

  5. I really liked this video, and your approach Rick. Such a wide array of positive things, and yet you can still tell how utterly passionless the country is. And yes, I've been there, and yes, some of my family is from Switzerland.

  6. Interesting, as usual with such travel reports, is the fact that the great city of Basel is never mentioned. It is abundant with world renown art museums, is where some of the world's biggest pharmaceutical corporates have their headquarters. The city of Basel features historical buildings galore. Cut through by the Rhine river, it has great river walks, has the biggest carnival in Switzerland, borders two countries (France and Germany) and the beautiful landscape of the lovely Jura mountain range in nearby Basel-Landschaft and Solothurn. There would be so much more to explore, but it is not the cliché Switzerland which foreigners seem to be looking for. What the heck: let those tourists believe that Lucerne is more important than Basel and that Schwarzwälder Birdie Clocks are originating in Switzerland. Even the once famous Toblerone Chocolate belongs to the US/global Mondelez brand. Sigh…

  7. I have left my home country some 30 years and admit: off  a distance it looks even more beautiful ;-). The one thing though I miss and don't quite understand why this was left out: where is the Italian part of Switzerland – the Canton of Ticino? It is so lovely, has beautiful and romantic towns and villages and the Valley of Verzasca (https://www.bing.com/images/search?q=verzasca+valley&qpvt=verzasca+valley&FORM=IGRE) is a definite must to visit if one ever gets a chance to visit Switzerland.

  8. A few topics are touched only superficially, but what do you expect? The bunkers in the Alps, for instance, where built for the army. If the Nazis had invaded, the civic population would have been left to the mercy of the Germans, while the Swiss Army would have hidden in the Alps. That was the plan, because only 50‘000 people could have been plzaced in tjose bunkers at the time. Not so noble now, is it?

  9. Very fascinating🙋great cities!What a natural beauty‼️How I wish to come and see all the places here!Thanks for the nice video Sir Rick.

  10. My first day in Zurich in 1993, I wandered alone in the city and saw people shooting stuffs into their veins in broad daylight… Later I found out I had walked into Needle park… Quite an experience

  11. My dream… One day I will visit there…. Lovely country!!!! Also Rick Steves' channel is my favourite youtube Channel..

  12. Plus, when I see another clips about trips to Switzerland —> Download first. Talk later.
    I will then be able to watch over & over, till the time for my maiden trip to Europe.

  13. I was just in Luzern, Bern, and Zurich at Christmas. Fascinating to try and recognize the same places in winter. Very different. Rick needs to do Christmas in Switzerland. I recommend it, and it's very, very different from this.

  14. Why don't all countries look at countries like Switzerland, Portugal, Netherlands, to formulate their public policy on drugs. It would be so much better. There are models of what works and what doesn't. It's so obvious….and yet there's resistance to change.

  15. I soooo wanna go to Switzerland… but it's painfully expensive! I always end up going to other countries 🙁 ?Maybe when i'm older and richer. lol

  16. More Swiss live outside of Switzerland than in it. Many Swiss say it is really boring. You can only do outdoor stuff for so long before being bored out of your mind. Yes, it is safe, but very expensive. At least taxes are low and even the government isn't allowed to hack your email. Privacy is taken very seriously in Switzerland. Switzerland also has lots of guns, by law, and is very safe. (All men are part of the reserves.)

  17. Just out of curiosity could someone tell me if traveling to Switzerland in late September-early October weather and temperature wise?

  18. Hey, Steve, look at San Francisco and you will regret ever having defended this system of promotion of drug use. A total disaster.

  19. I always wondered if you hit a specific point (like a border, but not literally a border) where German abruptly turns to French, or if the language situation is more of a gradual shift.

  20. An amazing video . I have admire this country since I was very young . After watching this I want to make it a priority to visit it !!

  21. Thank you! In what minute you have explained about blue light?

  22. I love the Swiss policies towards drug use and rehabilitation. The U.S. government's attitude is so backwards and ignorant.

  23. Suíça, um exemplo para a União Europeia! Funciona um equilíbrio entre várias comunidades linguísticas e religiosas! Como país neutro e no centro da europa, deviam estar lá o parlamento, a comissão europeia e a capital judicial da europa! Genebra, Berna/Interlaken e Chur, por exemplo! Os E.U.A, R.A.S e Austrália tem capital territory ou district capital! E a bandeira da europa deveria ser igual à da Suíça mas em fundo azul e cruz branca! Herança judaico-cristã ou para os outros, de norte a sul, de oeste a leste!😉👍🇵🇹

  24. It is a good guide if you have no budget challenge. Especially in Switzerland it would be more informative if this video had touched that subject.

  25. Objection: Switzerland founded back in 1291 (On 1 August 1291, the cantons of Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden united to defend the peace upon the death of Emperor Rudolf I of Habsburg, forming the nucleus of the Old Swiss Confederacy) and USA several hundred years later.Hence, America somehow copied the Swiss, however, forgot to make it a Direct Democracy where the people have the saying.

    NB:If one copies something, one should make it better or take it as it is. This especially is the case when something works. As we all witness today, the US Governing System does not work. Judges can overrule a President. What a Joke!

    PS:The original Wooden Bridge from ca.1365 burnt down in August 1993 (I heard the news on an Airplane enroute to Zurich), hence, the today paintings are all replicas.

    PSS: In General,I like your Videos, however, a bit more research and accuracy is missed.Yes, I am Swiss. 😀

  26. NO! THIS CAN'T BE RIGHT!!! Lausanne can't be called the San Fransisco of Switzerland. Lausanne is older than San Fransisco. So they better call San Fransisco the Lausanne of the USA. Meh :C

  27. Rick Steves, I simply adore you and all your videos. You are great, I love your voice, your smile, your accent and your work !

  28. Quite trying to compare switzerland withe the United States. They are a democracy, we are a Representitive Republic. Their government has NOTHING to do with our Constitution!!

  29. สวิตเซอร์แลนด์ดินแดนแห่งเทือกเขาแอลล์

  30. If ROLEX was an actual "charity" why don't they come out with a Luxury blind person's watch called ROLEX Blind-Date, no?

  31. Nice video, beautiful country! We've recently started a new YouTube channel about travel and we loved our time in Switzerland! Check out our video, please let us know what you think of it!

  32. Switzerland 🇨🇭 is one of the liveable countries in Europe or maybe in the entire world… And yet one of the wealthiests country. 👍. I ❤️ Switzerland 🇨🇭from the Philippines 🇵🇭👍. The most refined chocolate ever is located in this magnificent country.

  33. In the name of God and Jesus name ,Amen
    THANK YOU Lord This time,and this day,and this nights, you Lord Jesus made all,
    In his time you makes all things beautiful,Lord my life to you I bring

  34. I have binge-watched many of Steve's travel videos and have noticed that the air pollution and smog look so much worse then.


  36. Switzerland is really WOW! I hope someday, I can visit there because my boyfriend is from Zürich!!
    🇵🇭 ❤ 🇨🇭

  37. Sir, I m from India. It's an amazing video. U give a lot of information abt the country and its historical background that makes the video worth watching. Excellent!!

  38. Oh I miss this a lovely place I've been there last 2008for holiday and i came back again last 2010 so amazing place love it…..

  39. You're not even gonna mention how the guy in the mountain fortress is clearly sci-fi legend Isaac Asimov after faking his death?!

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