Happy National Day Liechtenstein!

August 15, 2011, 4 Comments

Everyone to the castle!

Today the population of the world’s sixth smallest country is on holiday. All 36,157 of them are celebrating their national day. August 15 may be a Catholic celebration of the Virgin Mary’s ascent to heaven (known as the Feast of the Assumption), as well as India’s Independence Day, but it is also the National Day of Liechtenstein. The principality is small (area 160 km²) but it knows how to throw a party, and everyone is invited. I once went to join in the fun, not least because Gregor is a Liechtensteiner and all his family still live there.

The day starts with a Catholic mass in a meadow, with the royal family, politicians and priests all out in force. It’s held on the hill beside the princely castle up above Vaduz, and the location is just about the best part of the hour-long service – except if you are British. For us the surprise comes with the national anthem, sung to the same tune as God Save the Queen. Even better is when everyone sings the line Hoch leb’ der Fürst vom Land, most half-raise their right arms in the air on the word Hoch; it happens again a moment later with Hoch unser Vaterland. All a bit too much audience participation for those of us used to mumbling our way through hymns.

Praying and singing over, the Prince and his family process to the castle, followed by the five-member government, the 25 MPs, and then the straggling masses. Everyone is invited into the rose gardens for a free lunchtime drink and sandwich, as well as the chance to hobnob with the royals, who mingle and chat with all and sundry. Quite a few tour groups have cottoned on to the free aspect of this, so it can be a bit of a bun-fight to grab a cheese roll and a can of Coke. But it’s worth it for an inside peek at the gardens that are normally off-limits as well as the views down into the Rhine valley.

By mid-afternoon the party moves down to Vaduz itself, with the centre closed off and filled with stalls, stages and stands. The sound of music and frying sausages fills the air until ten o’clock, when everything stops for the grand firework display, held up over the castle. It ends the same way every year: with Für Gott, Fürst und Vaterland (For God, Prince and Fatherland) written in flaming letters on the castle walls. Then it’s either a bus home (public transport is free all day) or partying on into the night.

Liechtenstein is one of those places that could be merely a quiz question. In fact, with its Alpine backdrop, it’s rather lovely in a very understated way but don’t expect a medieval idyll. The castles aside, many of the buildings are modern as it was a relatively poor country until after the war. Alongside banking of a private nature, its main source of income now is niche manufacturing: for sausage skins and false teeth it is a world leader, and perhaps its biggest brand name is Hilti, makers of drills, nails, etc. Ländle, as the Swiss call Liechtenstein, has a very close economic relationship with its western neighbour, using the Swiss franc as its national currency, but it is also a member of the European Economic Area, one step more than Switzerland has ever managed.

So to celebrate one of Europe’s smallest members, here are ten facts you probably never knew about Liechtenstein:

  1. Sandwiched between Switzerland and Austria, it is doubly landlocked. The only other doubly landlocked country in the world is Uzbekistan
  2. It was the last country in Europe to give women the vote, in 1984
  3. The army was abolished in 1868 but the police force has 87 officers
  4. It is the smallest nation to win an Olympic medal; it has won nine in total, all in skiing
  5. In 1937 a gold crown was added to the red-and-blue striped flag after it was realised that Haiti has an identical flag
  6. Power is shared between the prince and the people. He can veto any law and dismiss the government; they can have their say through direct democracy referenda
  7. There is no airport in Liechtenstein but there are 17 licensed banks
  8. About 33% of the population are foreigners, mainly Swiss and Austrians
  9. The Principality of Liechtenstein was first recognised in 1719
  10. The highest point is Grauspitz, at 2599m

4 Comments on "Happy National Day Liechtenstein!"

  1. swisswatching Monday August 15th, 2011 at 12:23 PM · Reply

    You know I love living here, but I sometimes wonder if you actually look at the country around you without your rose-tinted spectacles.

  2. Pat Rice Monday August 15th, 2011 at 10:43 PM · Reply

    sorry to say (not), but one thing did *not* take place today: the satanic – oops, i meant to say catholic! – mass…

    now let me go find my handbag… can’t remember where i put it… 😉

    • swisswatching Tuesday August 16th, 2011 at 09:21 AM · Reply

      I know – it was even on the Swiss news last night! with a live report from Vaduz, and it’s not often you get that on the Tageschau. There was a mass but not in the normal place. Archbishop Haas (or Hass as I think he should be called) refused to go to the meadow, so for the first time since 1998, the mass was in the cathedral and the service in the meadow was without the man in the big hat. He is upset at the planned separation of church and state so was sulking all day. Instead there was a speech from Crown Prince Alois where he said that he would effectively veto the forthcoming referendum on new abortion laws, if the result was a yes. At the moment abortion in Liechtenstein is punishable by a year in prison (such things still happen in Catholic countries!) so about 50 women a year go abroad for one, mainly to Switzerland.

      All in all quite a religiously contentious day for a country not used to such discord. Bet the fireworks were good though!

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