A “Basler” invited for a hot and sunny summer Sunday in Lucerne

Last Christmas I received a wonderful present: Come to Lucerne!

Last Christmas, I received a very kind present from my niece and her friend: A voucher to spend a day with them in their town Lucerne. I redeemed that present on a hot and sunny Sunday in June 2015. Early in the morning, I took the train to Lucerne investigating some background information using a small guide book and Dr. Google. This is what I found about the history of Lucerne. Take it as a summary written by an interested traveler.


Near a monastery, Lucerne emerges, thrives due to the Gotthard pass route and becomes a member of the “Waldstätte” fighting with them for independence

  • The origin of the name “Lucerne” is under debate: It may come from the Latin word “lux” (town of “light”). Or from the celtic word “lozzeria” (“settlement on swampy ground”).
  • 8th century: A small monastery was built where the Hofkirche is located today. It was later called Monasterium Luciaria.
  • 1178 – 1291: The monastery belongs to the powerful Abbey Murbach located in the Alsace, north of Basel. In 1291 Murbach sells the monastery to the Habsburgians.
  • Beginning of the 13th century: The trade route across the Gotthard opens up, after the Schöllenen – a steep and narrow gorge – had been overcome by building the devil’s bridge and a hanging wooden gangway. This gives business to the city located where the river Reuss leaves the lake of four cantons. Around 1300 Lucerne has about 3000 inhabitants.
  • Until 1386 the town fights against the Habsburgians that try to add Lucerne to their possessions (after Rudolf von Habsburg has added Austria in 1278). In 1332 Lucerne teams up with the other three cantons (or “Waldstätte”) bordering the “lake of four cantons” (or “Vierwaldstättersee”). The confederation of cantons successfully expels the Habsburgians by beating them in the battle of Sempach in 1386.  (The Habsburgians were not lucky in Switzerland – in 1415 they also lost their homeland Argovia).

Lucerne is the leader of the catholic cantons, but then loses importance against the protestant towns Zurich, Basel and Bern

  • In 1520 Lucerne does not follow the reformation, but remains catholic. They lead the catholic against the protestant cantons that are defeated in 1531 (battle of Kappel).
  • In 1712 the protestant cantons beat the catholic cantons (war of Villmergen) and they beat them again in the Sonderbundskrieg in 1847 (Jesuits banned from Switzerland until 1973).
  • In 1848 the Swiss federal state emerges, and it is not Lucerne, but Berne that becomes the capital of Switzerland.

The railway, built in 1859, brings tourists and makes Lucerne one of THE tourist destinations of Switzerland

  • In 1859 the railway reaches Lucerne and brings travelers from abroad. Some of the travelers are famous. Thomas Cook with Miss Jemima stay here in 1860 (“our grand finales… were… watching the sunrise from Mount Rigi”). Mark Twain comes to Lucerne on his tramp abroad  in 1880 (“… reached Lucerne about ten o’clock at night. The first discovery I made was that the beauty of the lake had not been exaggerated.” ch 25), Queen Victoria  wants to recover from the death of her husband Albert in 1868 (“… with her fourth daughter Princess Louise, aged twenty… (Victoria traveled) incognito to Lucerne as the Countess of Kent. There she stayed in the Pension Wallace where she lived in relative simplicity… Victoria made expeditions to the Rigi and Pilatus… Victoria had… agreed to receive the Dowager Queen of Prussia who was also about to visit Lucerne.”).
  • In 2013 Lucerne counts about 5 Mio visitors. Locals complain about the traffic – but tourism is an important factor for the economy here.
  • Yes, Lucerne is attractive, with its chapel bridge, the old city center along the Reuss, the festivals (e.g. hosted by the Culture and Congress Center (built by Jean Nouvel – acoustics by Russel Johnson) or the famos Lucerne carneval), the lake and the mountains (Rigi and Pilatus can be reached within a day trip) – and – there is the railway station built by Calatrava (how jealous I am – I would love to have a bridge of Calatrava in Basel and will never understand, why my town has voted against having a Calatrava bridge…)


Arriving in Lucerne shortly after nine in the morning

My train arrives shortly after nine in Calatrava’s train station. My niece and her friend pick me up and we have a coffee near the lake. They propose a guided city tour, lunch, a walk along the lake and a visit of the Richard Wagner museum. Great! Off we go! Here is the map of Lucerne taken from Google maps.

luzern plan 1

Visiting the city center with a guide secondo Italian

The guided tour includes the Culture and Congress Center (1), the Chapel Bridge (2), the Chapel Square (3), the Sternenplatz (4), the townhall (5), the line of squares and narrow streets in the old city center (6, e.g. the Weinmarkt), the Spreuerbrücke (7), and the Jesuit church (8). We did not visit the Hofkirche and the Lion’s monument (11). Let me summarize some of my take aways.

The Hofkirche (11) with its twin towers is what has been built and rebuilt at the location of the 8th century monastery. The church is a little off the city center. Up to the 19th century, a wooden bridge connected the Hofkirche to the city center and the Peterskapelle. Then the small bay separating the chapel from the Hof Church was filled and the bridge was demolished.


The Chapel Bridge, built early in the 14th century, is called “Chapel” Bridge, because it ended at the Peter’s Chapel (Peterskapelle). The Peter’s Chapel bordered on the lake then. In the 19th century, an embankment was added here and the bridge was shortened, but kept the name “chapel bridge”. The cycle of paintings describing religious topics was added around 1600. After having burnt in 1993, the bridge has been reconstructed including some of the paintings. Some of the black burnt paintings have been left under the roof of the bridge to remind us of what had happened (was it really a cigarette thrown away?).


The Chapel Square was the place where goods were loaded and unloaded and tolls were paid. A line of white cobble stones shows the location of the former toll  house, before it was removed. On the Chapel Square there is also the Fritschibrunnen, named after the head of the Saffron Guild that kicks off the Lucerne carnival here.

The Sternenplatz is dominated by the Restaurant Fritschi that shows Fritschi and his family. My foto shows the facade of the neighboring house that hosts the Stadtkeller.


We stroll through the narrow streets. Small shops invite for shopping, but today they are closed. We reach the Kornmarkt with the townhall that has been built around 1600 in Renaissance style. It is topped with a hipped roof (traditional “Walmdach”). Renaissance and a traditional hipped roof – this is a combnation that I have never seen before.

Just opposite of the townhall, there is this old bakery with the traditional bretzel announcing it. Today the house hosts the restaurant Pfistern. It takes the name from the Latin word for baker (pistor). Our guide keeps on praising this restaurant.


The Spreuer Bridge zigzags across the Reuss. It starts at the Mühleplatz (square of mills – there were mills here before) and was completed around 1400. The name of the bridge comes from “Spreu” or  “chaff”. As this was the last bridge in Lucernce, it was allowed to throw chaff into the river…  it is the next settlement downriver that will have to cope with that…

The bridge is interesting for the paintings showing a Danse Macaber (“Totentanz” in German). Also the water level of the lake is regulated here.


From the Spreuerbrücke there is a view of the Château Gütsch that has recently been reopenend.


We round off our tour in the Jesuit church. It is a baroque hall church. Since 1973 the Jesuits have been back in Lucerne, after having been banned after the Sonderbundskrieg in 1847.


The guided city tour gave great insights into the city of Lucerne – most of it was new to me. It is now almost twelve and we are hungry.


Eating off the beaten track in the shady Vögeligärtli (9)

We are hungry and try to find a free table for three in one of the restaurants bordering the river Reuss. No way. Already before 12:00 all tables are taken.  My hosts decide to look for a more quiet and less touristy place and take me to the Bellini Ristorante Ticinese in the shady Vögeligärtli close to the protestant Lukas Church. We enjoy the cool shade of the trees and the company of locals. I have a great Risotto con ragú de carciofi (half portion) – the menu selection of specialties from the Ticino is very enticing and I will surely come back here. This restaurant deserves an entry in Tripadvisor.


Mingling with the locals along the lake on the town beach up to the Richard Wagner museum (10)

The sun is burning. It is a beautiful Sunday. We stroll along the lake. I believe the whole town of Lucerne has come here to enjoy the sun and a refreshing bath in the lake. A pity that we have no bathing costumes with us. We are sweating. There is a stand on the way that refreshes us with cooled water and cold ice cream. Finally we reach our target, the Richard Wagner museum.



Following the tracks of Richard Wagner with his second wife Cosima and his unlucky grand-son Wilhelm Franz Beidler – not accepted by the family Wagner

There are no visitors in the Richard Wagner museum (too hot…). At the cash we are welcomed by an enthusiastic lady from Australia. In Swiss German with an Australian touch, she tells us, what we are going to find: Richard Wagner lived in this Tribschener Landhaus for six years. He came here with his second wife, Cosima, the daughter of Liszt. When they arrived the two of them were not yet married… a scandal in the catholic town of Lucerne. They married after their son Siegfried was born. Wagner worked and lived on the ground floor, Cosima with the five children stayed on the first floor.


There was a drama with Franz Beidler, son of Isolde and Cosimas grandson. Isolde was deemed of as being the daughter of Hans von Bülow (a famos conductor and Cosima’s first husband). But as a matter of fact, she was the first daughter of Richard Wagner. Isolde fought to be acknowledged as Wagner’s daughter, but without success. Hence Isolde’s son, Franz Beidler was also never acknowledged to be Richard Wagner’s grand-son. This drama is layed out on the first floor.


Under Hitler Franz Beidler left Germany for Switzerland and became Swiss. He was the general secretary of the Swiss Author Associaton SSV (Schweizerischer Schriftstellerverband). However in 1970 the group Olten split off – members were among others Max Frisch and Friedrich Dürrenmatt. This cartoon shows the two groups wrestling – yes, it was the time of typewriters – do you remember?



Lucerne – the sink of Switzerland? – No, surely not today!

Sometimes we joke and say that Lucerne is the sink of Switzerland. It is raining here more often than in other places. But today Lucerne must have been the hottest place in Switzerland – the sun has been baking us.

We take the bus back to the city center and enter the Möwenpick restaurant (inside) to cool down from the hot sun. I enjoy a frozen coffee (Ys-Kaffi). Then my hosts take me to the train station (built by Calatrava, again I am jealous). I catch the 5 o’clock train and an hour later I am back in Basel.

Good-bye, thank you… and next time you will join me in Basel! There is plenty to see – perhaps we should plan to visit the Abbey of Murbach that ruled over Lucerne some 800 years ago.

On the road – following the route of Mark Twain to Rigi Kulm

The Rigi Kulm – queen of the mountains

“The Rigi Kulm is an imposing Alpine mass, 6000 feet high which stands by itself and commands a mighty prospect of blue lakes, green valleys, and snowy mountains…” says Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens)  in his book “A tramp abroad” in chapter XXVIII. He climbed the Rigi in 1897.


The tourist offices call the Rigi “the queen of the mountains“. On Rigi Kulm, tourists can even pretend to be real Swiss people from the mountains that do nothing else but look after their cows, sheep and goats, supported by their dogs – and they will always remember that they took this picture on the RIGI.


Rigi Kulm – the very top – may be queen of the mountains for the gorgeous view. But the Rigi is not just one summit, it is a world of its own. It is a massif with several peaks: Rigi Hochfluh, Rigi Scheidegg and Rigi Dossen. My mum was a geologist and she made it clear to me that the Rigi massif is not part of the Alps, but it belongs to the Central Plateau of Switzerland (“Mittelland”).


A beautiful autumn day with bright air – just suited to walk up the Rigi on Mark Twain’s tracks

We have not been spoiled by Petrus this summer, but this Saturday end of September is exactly right for the Rigi, the queen that commands so many lakes and mountains. My friend from Hawai (now Swiss) bought a Swiss railway day ticket for two which was a bargain. We packed our daybags and took the seven o’clock train from Basel to Lucerne. With Mark Twain’s “A tramp abroad” and the map of the Themenweg in our hands.

Like Mark Twain, we went by boat from Lucerne to Weggis. “I and my agent panoplied ourselves in walking costume, one bright morning, and started down the lake on the steamboat; we got ashore at the village of Wäggis, three quartes of a distance from Lucerne. This village is at the foot of the mountain” (Mark Twain, Ch. XXVIII). I assume that they also carried “Alpenstocks”: “Most of the people… are in walking costume and carry alpenstocks. Evidently it is not safe to go about in Switzerland, even in town, without an alpenstock” (Chapter XV, Mark Twain observing tourists in the Hotel Schweizerhof in Lucerne). Today it seems that without two Nordic Walking sticks it is not safe to go about in Switzerland.

Weggis is very proud that Mark Twain called their village “the most charming place I have ever lived in.” They erected a memorial stone ; Mark Twain was said to have admired the view of the lake and the mountains from here. We started our hiking tour to the Rigi at Mark Twain’s memorial stone.



To Säntimatt and Fromattberg

“The ascent is made by rail, or horseback, or on foot, as one may prefer” (Mark Twain, ch XXVIII).  The two of us start our ascent on foot at around 9:30 – in the grey autumn fog. “We were soon tramping leisurely up the leafy mule path… I suppose we must have stopped oftener to stretch out on the grass in the shade… we met a hot red faced man plunging down the mountain… he stopped… and asked how far it was to Weggis. I said three hours… “well”, said he, “I can’t stand another three hours…”. The red faced man was an Englishman. Mark Twain and the Englishman ended up in the nearby inn to have a nice dinner and spend the night there. When the Englishman left in the next morning, the landlady told him that her inn was about 500m above the lake level. Hearing this, the Englishman got very angry, and Mark Twain could not understand why.

500m above sea level is somehwere between Säntiberg and Fromattberg. But the inn does no longer exist and the “Mark Twain path” only points to it 200m above the location of the inn. Anyway our clock is approaching eleven a.m. now – and there is no need to stay overnight here. The grey fog had not invited us to stop so far.


Source: Google Earth

Mark Twain and his companion continued their hike the next day around noon. They walked about 200 yards and then “in the distance detected a long worm of black smoke crawling lazily up the steep mountain. Of course that was the locomotive. We propped ourselves on elbows at once, to gaze, for we had never seen a mountain railway yet” (ch XXVII). We could not figure out, where below the Felsentor they could see the railway to Vitznau. My friend mumbled: “Do you think that Mark Twain took notes while walking? How do you write a travel report?” Well, I continue to wonder, because I thought that Mark Twain is pretty precise with his facts though he ornates them with humor.


The fog clears up – a great moment that I enjoy even more intensely, because I have got my eye sight back

The chapel Heiligkreuz is closed.  Just above the chapel, sun rays are cutting into the forest…


… while we are climbing the stairs along the rock that some prisoner-engineers had carved in the 19th century…


… and  above the steps, there is a meadow. Was it here that Mark Twain encountered yodelling? He wrote: “…all at once our ears were startled with a melodious “Lul…i…i…lul-lul-lahee-o-o-o!” peeling joyously from a near but invisible source… now the jodler appeared – a shepherd boy of sixteen…” . They gave the jodler a franc to continue yodeling. More shepherd boys came and yodled earning half a franc, eight cents, six cents, a penny, then nothing, and eventually, Mark Twain gave a franc to stop the yodeling.


Source: Google Earth

On the meadow above the steps we are at about 1000m and now above the fog. We enjoy the panorama… here is a picture with Pilatus and the Bürgenstock.



The Felsentor

After the  yodeling experience, Mark Twain reaches the Felsentor at about 1100m: “… we passed through a prodigious natural gateway called the Felsenthor, formed by two enormous upright rocks with a third lying across the top…


… There was a very attractive hotel close by, but our energies were not conquered yet, so we went on”, said Mark Twain.


Also my friend and I go on… resisting to stop and have a beer at this inviting place with its wonderful view. We soon reach Romiti and take a picture of the train coming down from Kaltbad.


This train route has been designed by Riggenbach around 1870. Lucerne accepted the design. The railway opened in 1871; it only went from Vitznau to Rigi Staffel about half a walking hour away from the top (Kulm). At Rigi Staffel, the canton of Lucerne ends and the canton of Schwyz begins. When the people from Schwyz heard about the project, they followed by constructing the Arth-Goldau to Rigi Kulm railway and extended the Rig-Vitznau rails to Kulm. They also hired Riggenbach and completed the railway in 1873 (Source: Wikipedia).

In 1897, when Mark Twain climbed the Rigi, the trains were already about 25 years old. They were the first mountain railways in Europe. This is how Mark Twain describes the Rigi railway: “There are three railway tracks; the central one is cogged; the “lantern wheel” of the engine grips its way along these cogs and pulls the train up the hill or retards its motion on the down trip… whether going up or down, the locomotive is always at the lower end of the train.”

Along the rails we walked up a steep path to Rigi Kaltbach which is at 1450m above sea level.


Rigi Kaltbad – many tourists in a “touristy” place

Mark Twain and his companion Harry stopped at Rigi Kaltbad to stay overnight again. After all it was already six pm, as Mark Twain explains: “At ten minutes past six we reached the Kaltbad station, where there is a spacious hotel with great verandahs…”. They miss the sunrise, as they get up too late (they keep on missing the sunrise…) and they are happy to be “…informed by the guide-book that we were now 3228 feet above the level of the lake – therefore full two thirds of our journey had been accomplished.”

The two of us do not stay at Rigi Kaltbad. To me it is a messy and touristy experience – big flat roof houses with terraces facing towards the Lake of Lucerne and the mountains. We continue to follow the route that Mark Twain had taken – to Rigi First and then- along the rails coming up from Goldau heading to Rigi Staffel.

On Rigi Staffel, there is a hotel that might need some refurbishing.


The path between the ridge and the rails offers a great view of the Lake of Zug. This is where Mark Twain and his friend had been caught by rain and fog: “It came on to rain, and it rained in dead earnest… Next a smoky fog of clouds covered the whole region densely, and we took to the railway ties to keep from getting lost…. by and by, when the fog blew aside a little, we were treading the rampart of a precipice, and that our left elbows were projecting over a perfectly boundless and bottomless vacancy, we gasped and jumped back for the ties again.” Well, Mark Twain may have overstated the precipice somewhat.


Mark Twain and his friend were eventually “confronted with a vast body which showed itself vaguely for an instant, and in the next instant was smothered in the fog again.” They sat in the cold night, until an hour later, they discovered that this vast body was the Kulm hotel. They took their room, found their luggage (that had been carried up by a boy), changed to dry cloths and had dinner.

No fog for us today. A wonderful view of the Swiss plateau with the lakes and the jura  on one side and the mountains on the other side side. Here in the background closing off the white mountain chain is the wall of the Wetterhorn overlooking the Grosse Scheidegg near Grindelwald.


Yes, it was a suitable day to come up here. We are surrounded by tourists from all nations most of which had come up by train. Two young Chinese guests on their honey moon are taking fotos. “Do you want a foto of both of you?” I ask. They happily smile into their camera. Then they propose to take a picture of me – and here is the result. The young wife  apologizes, because a hand and a person had come into the way. I surprise them with all Chinese I know: “tsie-tsie” (thank you). I hope they keep Switzerland in good memory.


The train takes us down to Vitznau. Our train does even not stop on the way, though more tourists are waiting at the stations. Our train is just full. And the next trains have been booked by groups.

Mark Twain also drove down to Vitznau. “We got front seats, and while the train moved along about fifty yards on flat ground, I was not the least frightened; but now it started abruptly down stairs, and I caught my breath. And I, like my neighbors, unconsciously held back, all I could, and threw my weight to the rear… there was no level ground at the Kaltbad station; the railbed was as steep as a roof… the train came sliding down, and when it reached the right spot, it just stopped… by the time one reaches Kaltbad, he has acquired confidence in the railway, and he now ceases to try to ease the locomotive by holding back. Thence forward he smokes his pipe in serenity… However, to be exact, there is one place where the serenity lapses for a while; this is while one is crossing the Schnurrtobel Bridge…” (ch XXVIII).


In Vitznau we take the steam boat back to Lucerne. It is the steam boat with the name “Lucerne”.


The captain proudly introduces us to his boat. It had been ordered from Germany in 1928. When the boat arrived, the engine broke down and was replaced by a Swiss Sulzer engine in 1929. Since that year this steam boat has been operating on the Lake of Lucerne. It absorbs 1200 persons and is the largest boat here. Today the capacity of this boat has been used up – I am sure.


“An hour’s sail brought us to Lucerne again. I judged it best to go to bed and rest for several days…” Mark Twain concludes his report of climbing the Rigi (A tramp abroad, ch. XXX).


The two of us walk through the old and narrow streets of Lucerne and along the Reuss. All restaurants on the right hand shore are packed with people enjoying one of the few sunny days of this year. We go to the more quiet and less sunny left-hand shore and top the day with a wine and a goat cheese – both from the canton of Lucerne. And then one of the evening trains takes us back to Basel.