Text and Photos by Kimberly Cecchini
The Olympics. The World Cup. I thought that was basically it for major international sporting events-or at least I never heard about anything else at home.
Sometimes you have to step outside your borders – virtually or physically – to learn something new.
This summer I loosely followed the Commonwealth Games on the BBC, and now we are enjoying the pre-game celebrations for the European Athletics Championships.
Yes, America, the world sometimes plays games together without you. Didn’t you get that Tweet?
Let’s get schooled.
The first European Athletics Championships were hosted by Italy in 1934. For the 22nd edition, Zürich will be welcoming approximately 1400 competitors from 50 nations Tuesday the 12th of August until the 17th. Besides the long distance completions, spectators will watch all of the events in Letzigrund Stadium.
“That’s what the Swiss do to psyche themselves up!”
Unfortunately, my husband and I will be on our flight back to the States when the games commence, but we are enjoying watching Zürich gear up for them.
Sunday night, we joined in on the festivities; a crowd of revelers dancing to American tracks spun by a DJ. Well after dark, the music was put on pause for a laser light show projected on the face of the Opera House (WATCH IT!!). A tribute to the European Championships and the home athletes, the animations cleverly incorporated a soundtrack, the building’s ornate structure and images of Swiss athletic glories into a mesmerizing show. Not for nothing, the full moon hovering behind a gargoyle adorning the roof was a nice touch.
When we returned the next day, the grounds were in full swing. Besides the obligatory souvenir shop featuring the games’ very happy cow mascot, ‘Cooly,’ there were a few interactive booths opened. We watched a family emulate sprinters on a mini track and adults poised on their backs while grasping a pole to appear as if they were vaulting into the sky via photographic magic.
Das Haus der Schweiz
The House of Switzerland, an ecologically minded showcase of Swiss culture and design has made its debut in Sochi, Milan and now at home in Zürich. The 3-story “home” is still scented by its bare spruce frame and the rustic style is contemporized by rough metallic accents. It’s modular structure makes it transportable and reusable.
Text and graphics printed directly onto the wood details sources of national pride such as Swiss multiculturalism, innovation and ecological awareness.
One of the information panels, “We speak Swiss,” perhaps can be translated into the Swiss tongue is flexible. Since the Swiss Confederation was not formed until the 19th century, the country recognizes 4 languages of its original linguistic groups-German, French, Italian and Romansh and the post identifies that 23.3% of its 8 million plus people hail from other countries around the world. German is predominant in the Zürich area but many posts and pamphlets are also presented in English-including the House of Switzerland-and we were able to converse with most people we encountered.
Zürich appears to reflect the nation’s stats; a bartender at our hotel, the Altstadt called it an international city. The young woman said that although politics has stemmed the flow of immigration, she believes that most Swiss tend to be “open-minded” and folks of all backgrounds are welcomed by the majority of the populace. Walking about the area, we did cross paths with people of many different ethnic backgrounds, some interracial families and LGBT people sans the look of a tourist.
However, our host did say it is mostly native Swiss who hold higher jobs in such industries as banking and many immigrants are in the service sector; this was particularly apparent in grocery stores like The Coop and Migros. Albeit, there may be some income stratification and prices seem exorbitant compared to what I am used to in the States (a couple of British tourists agreed), but perhaps it balances out as a majority of Swiss employers do pay higher rates than most of the world and the unemployment is below 3.5%.
Switzerland and the Zürich Championships boast significant ecologically mindful practices in transportation, wastes and energy. With its extensive railways across the country (that seem as reliable as a Swiss watch in our estimation) and a web of tram-car wires crisscrossing Zürich, “the Swiss are world champions when it comes to rail use…”. The House of Switzerland also claims that although it’s citizens create a lot of waste, none of it ends up in landfills due to high rates of recycling and the fact that they incinerate the rest of garbage for energy.
According to its website, the games’ committee has incorporated a number of efforts to reduce the Zürich Championship’s carbon footprint such as including public transportation fees into the tickets and using clean energy to power the stadium. Most notably to me is their commitment to using existing infrastructure to minimize construction projects (as opposed to the disposable Brazilian World Cup stadium in the Amazon).
In general, although I did see things like bottles littered about, it appears to be at a fair minimum and the cities do seem to put forth significant efforts to maintain cleanliness in public spaces. In addition, the throw away mentality seems to be more confined to American chains as eat-in meals at many fast food spots are served on reusable dishes.
Swiss design goes well beyond Swatch watches and new chocolate bars. Zürich is a celebration of old architecture and a fusion of contemporary design that marries clean lines to functionality. Our sanctuary at the Altstadt Hotel is an example; its decor and furnishings are minimalistic, but it is set in the city’s medieval district.
Yet the pervasiveness of Swiss progress lies in the numbers inked onto the House of Switzerland; 20 native Swiss have earned a Nobel prize. It is second to only the United States and Japan, respectively, in published academic papers and patents. In addition, over 8,000 parents can currently brag about their children perusing Swiss university degrees in the applied sciences.
The House of Switzerland is a self-celebration of the Confederation’s culture, so I’m sure there is more nuances to the facts. Still with a lifespan second only to Japan (again) and high ranking on happiness lists, there must be something to be learned from Swiss society. If you have lived in Switzerland, I would love for you to share your inner perspective.
In the meantime, go Switzerland!
Cool Runnings. WALT DISNEY PICTURES., 1993.
“Ecological Sustainability.” Ecological Sustainability. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Aug. 2014.
“Swiss Facts.” News. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Aug. 2014.