The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Switzerland’

Flowers for Hitler

October 19, 2016 | by

Valais, Switzerland, as depicted in the University of the New World’s Winter 1971–72 General Bulletin.

In 1973, I took a brief sabbatical from college to study in Switzerland at the University of the New World. I still have the small red course catalog somewhere. It was a school started by visionary hustler Al de Grazia, who had been a professor at Brown and … well, you should see what they offered: a faculty that included Allen Ginsberg, John Fahey, Ornette Coleman, Robert Motherwell, Immanuel Velikovsky, John Cage, Ram Dass, twenty-four-hour music rooms/art studios/libraries. There were stalls set up on the quad promoting it.

The university was situated in a tiny canton just outside Sion. The university was actually situated somewhere deep in the recesses of Professor DeGrazia’s mind. There was no university. It was, to be charitable, a work in progress. There were no libraries or music studios or art studios. There were no classrooms. There were no dormitories. There were no teachers. There were only a handful of students—mostly from Antioch—and we were all housed in rooms in a nearby ski lodge. From this distance I can’t tell whether it was a scam or a pipe dream. I had to humbly ask to be readmitted to Brown, and Dean Hazeltine was sympathetic but let me dangle in the wind for a few weeks just … well, just to give me time to reflect. 

It turned out to be an interesting time. Read More »

Them Apples

November 18, 2014 | by


An illustration by Philip Dadd for P. G. Wodehouse’s William Tell Told Again, 1904.

According to legend, it was on November 18, 1307, that the Swiss patriot William Tell shot an apple off his son’s head. After refusing to pay homage to a Hapsburg liege, Tell was forced to submit to the test of marksmanship. Later, Tell killed the tyrant and went on to many a daring exploit in the service of the Old Swiss Confederacy.

Although the William Tell legend is mentioned in books dating back to the late fifteenth century—and one can find similar marksmanship myths throughout the world—it was Schiller’s highly politicized play that canonized the apple-centric version, and, buoyed by Switzerland’s post-Napoleonic patriotism, made the archer iconic. Schiller had never visited Switzerland; he got the idea from his friend Goethe, who returned from a trip bearing tales of local lore. In 1804, the play premiered at Weimar under Goethe’s direction. (The popular Rossini opera—and the resulting Lone Ranger theme—was based on the play.)

Although a part of the German dramatic canon (and initially a Nazi favorite), the play came into disfavor with Hitler. After a 1941 assassination attempt by a Swiss-born activist, the Führer banned William Tell, reportedly lamenting, “Of all people Schiller had to glorify this Swiss sniper.” Read More »

Entirely New Problems

May 6, 2014 | by

Apropos Sadie’s piece about “degenerate art”: today marks the birthday of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, one of many German expressionist painters whose work the Nazis filed under that dread “degenerate” rubric. Kirchner, who was born in Bavaria, suffered a breakdown when he was serving in World War I; he was plagued with health problems for the rest of his life, and spent much of his time in Davos. In 1937, the Germans destroyed or sold more than six hundred of Kirchner’s works; from Switzerland, he wrote,

Here we have been hearing terrible rumors about torture of the Jews, but it’s all surely untrue. I’m a little tired and sad about the situation up there. There is a war in the air. In the museums, the hard-won cultural achievements of the last twenty years are being destroyed, and yet the reason why we founded the Brücke was to encourage truly German art, made in Germany. And now it is supposed to be un-German. Dear God. It does upset me.

In 1938, fearing that Germany would annex Switzerland, Kirchner shot himself. The Kirchner Museum, in Davos, offers a fifteen-page biography of the artist—a remarkable, if sorrowful, read, full of suffering and exile. I was struck foremost by this prefatory note—intended to introduce his 1922 exhibition in Frankfurt—which Kirchner wrote himself under the pseudonym Louis de Marsalle. It finds the painter somewhat desperately planting the idea that he’s reinvented himself, that his illness, and his new life outside Germany, have only bolstered his work. He seems bent on convincing himself of his success as much as anyone else:

The bleak and yet so intimate nature of the mountains has had an enormous impact on the painter. It has deepened his love for his subjects and at the same time purged his vision of everything that is secondary. Nothing inessential appears in the paintings, but how delicately every detail is worked out! The creative thought emerges strongly and nakedly from the finished work. Kirchner is now so taken up with entirely new problems that one cannot apply the old criteria to him if one is to do justice to his work. Those who wish to classify him on the strength of his German paintings will be both disappointed and surprised. Far from destroying him, his serious illness has matured him. Besides his work on visible life, creativity stemming solely from the imagination has opened up its vast potential to him—for this the brief span of his life will probably be far from sufficient.