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Is this Switzerland’s best museum?

March 19, 2012, 4 Comments

The Swiss Museum of Transport is not as geeky as it sounds. Trainspotters might love it but so will everyone else, especially kids. Where else can you get so close to giant steam engines of the past, climb inside a 1960s airliner or walk across the whole of Switzerland in a few steps? No wonder the Verkehrshaus der Schweiz is the most popular museum in Switzerland. Almost a million visitors a year but it’s a huge place so rarely feels crowded, except if  you come on a rainy Sunday.

Trains get the most room, which isn’t too surprising given that we’re in Switzerland. Sleek electric ones from the 1930s, such as the ‘Roter Pfeil’ above, or unbelievably enormous monster engines from the age of steam – the ‘Elephant’ was the largest steam train ever built for Swiss railways. And the ‘Crocodile’, the first electric locomotive for mountain use. Plus a few delicate double-decker trams and a scale model of the Gotthard Bahn. Sadly you can’t clamber inside most of the trains, though you can walk underneath the Elephant to see its inner workings.

The history of Swissair, from foundation in 1931 to collapse 71 years later, has some great exhibits, stylish planes (eg the Lockheed Orion above) and memorabilia from a once-proud company. Petrol heads can swoon over cars from every era of the motor age; I didn’t stay long in that room. Far more interesting to learn about the cable cars of the Swiss mountains, or stand on board the SS Rigi, the oldest surviving means of motorised transport in Switzerland. In 1863 it carried passengers from Thomas Cook’s first tour across Lake Lucerne so they could climb up Rigi.

My favourite bit is the giant aerial map of Switzerland. You have to put on fetching red carpet slippers so that you can glide over the whole country in a matter of minutes. Some places are easy to find, such as Bern above, but even famous mountains like the Eiger or Matterhorn look so different when viewed from above. Mobile oversized magnifying glasses help you find your town or even your house. Of course it’s not one image but 7,800 of them knitted together, all on a scale of 1:20,000. In other words, Basel to Chiasso is 12m instead of 285km.

I’ve been to this museum four times now and every visit brings a new experience or revelation. I love it – and I can’t really think of anyone who wouldn’t. If you haven’t been yet, what are you waiting for?

4 Comments on "Is this Switzerland’s best museum?"

  1. Fergus Miller Tuesday March 20th, 2012 at 07:48 AM · Reply

    I must take my kids here – looks great. If Swissair was founded in 1931 then your post should read it collapsed 70 not 71 years later. It was like one of the where were you moments? My Swiss Miss & I were on Honeymoon in France! it was in October 2001 it “collapsed” it ceased operating in March 2002.

  2. diccon Tuesday March 20th, 2012 at 08:16 AM · Reply

    It really just depends on your definition of collapse, Fergus. Its planes were grounded on 2 October 2001 but (as you say) it did not cease operating as a company until 31 March 2002 – which means its official lifespan was 71 years and 5 days.

    • Fergus Miller Tuesday March 20th, 2012 at 09:40 AM · Reply

      Yes one could say that when it was grounded it certainly collapsed in October 2001! Lifespan is another word, The Swiss government as you know kept it alive until March 2002.

      Your English is much better than mine Diccon, but we don’t want to confuse the non English speakers!

      PS: Where is the button to get notified about more comments on a particularly post? Or don’t we have that option anymore?

  3. Brittany Andrews Thursday April 26th, 2012 at 01:27 PM · Reply

    It is definitely one of my son’s favorite places. This one and the dinosaur museum in Aathal.

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