Arlesheim, Basel-Landschaft (BL), Schweiz/Suisse/Svizzera/Switzerland

[1984 Nikon FE2 SLR 35-mm roll film camera, s/n 1816483, with Nikkor AI 50-mm f/1.8 lens, s/n 2336591, and 52-mm polarizing filter;
Kodak Ektar 125 (Kodak 5101 | Ektar 125-1) 36-exposure colour negative film]

© Copyright photograph by Stephan Alexander Scharnberg, November 1991

Monday, October 5, 2009

In the Suisse Romande on moped and bicycle


1983 Peugeot PX 8 L ten-speed touring bicycle. My Peugeot was the same year and model, identical to this one in the photo, in silver-grey, plastered by me with thumbnail-size decals of the 26 cantonal shields of Switzerland. I purchased mine in Morges, taking my time to browse through a large selection at a bicycle shop on one of the main streets, a few doors east of a small department store (Migros, Coop, Innovation?). The sales brochure gave the technical details in French:

Cadre homme/Hauteur 60 cm/Fourche demi-chromée/Guidon dural/Roues de 700 C/Jautes dural/Blocages rapides/Pédalier dural 40 x 50/Pédales dural, cale-pieds, courroies/Roue libre 5 vitesses/Dérailleurs Simplex/Freins dural à tirage central/Garde-boue et porte-bagages AR Esge/Éclairage 

The bike came with the accessories of headlight, rear-end reflector, bike pump, tool and tire kit, rear rat trap, and kick stand.

It cost me sFr. 515,00, plus sFr. 10,00 for the annual bicycle licence, and a little credit card-sized aluminum plate in silver and red with “VD” and “1985” in white lettering, numbered “54540”. It is mandatory in this country, canton by canton. I rode home in pouring rain, thoroughly soaked.


Typical Swiss bicycle licence plate. Every Swiss cyclist, in every Canton, had one of these mounted somewhere at the rear of their vélo, usually either on the rear fender or on the tail end of a bike rack. I purchased a licence plate each year just like this one, at a reasonable cost, slightly narrower than a cigarette pack. My moped sported a larger yellow licence plate, for which I had a moped operators permit.

* * *

It was the first days of September 1985. Catherine Doucet’s family had a used moped sitting at home up in Mauborget on the Massif du Chasseron in the Jura. They ran the Hôtel de la Croix Fédérale there.

It was a late 1970s Kreidler MF 21 Florett 50-cc, silver and apple green, which we purchased from her brother for sFr. 500,00 with a full tank of gas, new tires (the rear a snow), thorough maintenance and tune-up, the muffler retarded to a maximum of 32 km/h. This became law in 1981 to curb youth injuries and deaths, riding at excessive speeds—making this one also a vélomoteur, necessitating only a yellow Vaudois moped licence, sFr. 50,00, not difficult to obtain in Lausanne with my B.C. Driver’s Licence after writing a small exam. Remove the retarder, get caught, and lose your moped to the metal crusher, sent back as a shoebox-size cube of metal in the mail, billed sFr. 40,00 for the trouble.

I now had an expedient way to get into Perceval for courses and work. I also delivered the monthly allowances to my co-workers and séminaristes in the various group homes, riding from the Morges branch of the UBS (Union Banque Suisse), carrying thousands of Swiss francs every month, on two occasions as much as 60,000 sFr. of annual vacation funds. On occasion Elke Sixt borrowed the Kreidler, too. I frequently drove into Morges, St-Sulpice, and Lausanne on my free days—easy and cheap on gas—and even on occasion ventured further afield into Rolle, Nyon, Genève, and into the villages further inland from the lake—Etoy, Lavigny, Aubonne, Apples, Ballens, Bière, Berolle, Montricher, l’Isle, and Romainmôtier.

I purchased a motorcycle helmet to go with my thick, heavy, genuine black biker’s leather jacket and blue and white Palestinian scarf (foulard)—the latest in moped fashion at the time.

* * *

Late May 1986, we received a lengthy dose of hot, muggy weather. About twice a week the elevated barometer pressure would release with an evening of thunderstorms passing over the Léman region. By morning everything was fresh and wet with a cool breeze, but soon the sunshine hazed over again.

On this weekend du visite, Margit, a young woman from Denmark, Raymond, and myself decided to bike around Lac Léman, about 180 kilometres in two days.

She borrowed a bronze three-speed, Raymond rode his semi-matte black vintage Swiss Army bicycle, and I my trustworthy 1983 Peugeot PX 8 L ten-speed. The Swiss Army bike was the MO-05 model, the production year and the Swiss cross stamped on the seatpost lug. These bikes were produced in the country by the renowned top-quality Swiss bicycle manufacturer Condor SA. I seem to recall the year 1938, which does not quite make sense as the bike appears to have been a post-war Militärvelo, judging by the details I noted in the 1980s and list here. Maybe it had been retrofitted by the military at some point in it’s long career. It was a basic model, stripped down of all its non-essential fittings for use as a messenger transport, single-speed with rod-operated front spoon brake, cable-operated rear drum brake on left side, and rear coaster brake, wide leather seat, weighing a hefty 52 lbs.! It had strong, straight rear drop-outs, oversized frame tubes, spokes and front hub nickel plated, the saddle numbered and stamped with the Swiss cross, big, black pedals with big treads. I bought the bike from him the following autumn, using it myself or lending it out, but unfortunate that it was rather impractical and expensive to export home to Canada. At the time the Swiss were more protective of their national icons leaving the country than they are today. I gave it to one of the Byrde family sons, which I now rue as it was then already a cool collector’s item and today it would make an awesome single-speed bike. One day I would love to import a vintage specimen straight from Switzerland. It would cost well over $1,600.00 for purchase and shipping.

We left late Friday afternoon, the route du lac no 1 and sometimes smaller local roads west from St-Prex, cycling through Buchillon on a secondary road, Allaman, Rolle, slight detour through Bursinel and Dully, Prangins, Nyon, then hit by a strong, sudden shower drenching us through before we could pull out some protective wear. But it was still warm from the bouts of mugginess. This alternating weather would continue throughout the two day tour.

About two kilometres past Nyon we pedaled into the TCS (Touring Club Suisse) campground, run by a bilingual Canadian woman from Montréal. We pitched our tents during a short rainless moment and the proprietress let us cook our supper in her kitchen. The tents did their job keeping us dry.

We were on our way just before seven, now having pulled out our rain ponchos, doffing them again around noon when we felt the increasing constriction, sweating with the returning mugginess.

Many other times, riding moped, one of my bikes, or hitchhiking in the other direction, the shoreline west of Nyon that I remember being depicted in Hergé’s The Calculus Affair, when Tintin, Captain Haddock, and Snowy heading for Nyon in a taxi are cut off, forced to swerve, and plunge into the lake.

Our secondary route through Crans was soon behind us, then the pocket of Céligny/GE, Founex, back on the main road with Pré-Claudy, Coppet, “à bientôt” Vaud and “bonjour” Genève with Versoix-la-Ville, Versoix, and Bellevue feeling our rubber, here the route no 1 now known as the Route de Lausanne after merging with the Autoroute N 1.

At the Jardin Botanique and behind it the Palais des Nations on our right, the Avenue de la Paix met us at the Place A. Thomas, the G.A.T.T. on the lake side. Here our road became the Rue de Lausanne with the beautiful grounds of the Parc Villa Barton in La Perle du Lac, the Villa Bartholoni occupied by the Musée des Sciences and the Parc Mon Repos with the Mont aux Morts memorial between us and the lake, then left along the Avenue de France becoming the Quai Woodrow Wilson along the lakeshore and the Quai du Mont-Blanc at the Jetée and Bains des Pâquis, left onto the Pont du Mont-Blanc, here passing a couple in Australian bushman hats walking two tall horses packed with western saddles and side bags going the other way—when I greeted them in English he responded with a “g’day mate!”—the bridge crossing the last tip of the lake rushing into the Rhône at the prow of the little Île J.-J.-Rousseau.

Then across the Place du Port we met the Quai Général Guisan at a 45° angle, bordering the south edge of the Jardin Anglais, then another 45° left along the Quai Gustave Ador and past the causeway to the Jet d’Eau playing in the summer, at up to 150 metres the highest fountain in the world.

At the Place de Traînant, just past the Parc de la Grange and the Parc des Eaux-Vives, the road bent a mild bit to become the Quai de Cologny, passing Genève-Plage, through Cologny, then at Vésenaz leaving the main road for the lakeshore route through Collonge-Bellerive and past Anières.

We were on our way to the border. We entered France at Hermance, the three French officers with just a “Passports, s’il vous plaît” and a quick glance—I asked for and received a stamp in mine for souvenir purposes.

Almost right away you could sense this was not Switzerland. The villages were almost entirely grey, lacking the colour and brightness of painted shutters, window boxes in full bloom, and life outdoors evident on the other side. Here things appeared to be a little forlorn, a little decayed around the edges, an unspoken sadness on the edge of awareness. This feeling I was to have almost every time, wherever and whenever I crossed into rural France during overcast weather. Even in coldest, greyest, windiest winter, Switzerland seemed livelier and brighter. Strange how subtle tugs at the senses could tell of such differences. We were at the same lake, the same silvery-grey and mirror smoothness when hazy and windless, but here it felt like the villages were almost abandoned despite parked cars about and prowling cats. And when we saw two old sidewheelers tied up, rotting on the water, later at Tourronde and Meillerie, the feeling was confirmed—I almost expected spectres to coming sailing in, rising from the lake depths. Despite a green countryside, only Yvoire and Evian-les-Bains appeared to have colour and life.

It was two and a half kilometres along the D 25 to the village of Véreitre, another two to Chens-sur-Léman, three for Messery, and three and a half into the medieval town Yvoire for a somewhat expensive midday dinner in a restaurant near the medieval fortress. Yvoire, sitting at the tip of the Léman peninsula, more or less straight across from Nyon, that delimits the two principal sections of Lake Geneva, the petit lac and the grand lac (small lake and large lake), is deemed one of the most beautiful villages in France. It teems and overflows with bright flowers, the colours sating the senses.

We needed to get some major kilometres behind us, so after a quick half hour walk around after the filling meal, off we were again, three kilometres to Excenevex on the Golfe de Coudrée and another three and a half to join with the main road again, the N 5 at Sciez, and non-stop onward through Jussy and Marclaz into Thonon-les-Bains, with only a quick pause for water from an open public spring in town.

Then Vongy and into Amphion-les-Bains, now the road following the lakeshore, the famous Evian-les-Bains for another spring water drink, then onward through Grande Rive, Maxilly-Petite Rive, Tourronde, Meillerie, Locum, Bret, and suddenly the French-Swiss frontier at St-Gingolph, waved through with barely a second glance and four klicks along the now-named route no 21 for le Bouveret, passing Le Fenalet and La Clesette hugging the shore, the forest leading up to the Pointe de la Chaumeny, 2067,3 metres, and Le Grammont, 2171,8 metres, just behind.

We were back on the cheerier side. At the south end of town we left the main road turning left, passing a campground on the bank of the little Le Tové, crossing it and moments later the rail line and a small canal into the fields of La Praille to cross the Rhône on a foot bridge.

Now it was paths and lanes through the leafy woodlands of the river delta crossing the Vieux Rhône, passing the farmstead Chaux Rossa, a small lake and three small fields, the farm La Praille and over another foot bridge at the Grand Canal.

Here we turned left a short bit and through a tiny wooded area in marshy ground for the shoreline campground at Les Grangettes. It was early evening and we were about two and a half kilometres west of Villeneuve.

Margit and Raymond decided to tent the night here. It was a pleasant site but for some reason I put it in my head that I would continue with quite a few more kilometres and hours back to St-Prex. And I was under the impression those two were a little flirtatious and amorous. I decided to give them their space.

I continued along the shoreline path and a farm road across the Eau Froide into Villeneuve, making Montreux my goal for supper, leaning and locking my bike against the train station railing for a meal in the Restaurant de la Gare—a succulent saucisse aux choux correctly paired as is customary with its distinctly different mate the saucisson de Payerne, washed down with a glass of local red.

Back on the pedals, along the route du lac through La Tour-de-Peilz, Vevey, all the little villages to Lausanne-Ouchy—this route from Villeneuve to St-Prex as familiar cycling territory for me.

Soon the sun was down. On came my headlight powered by a tire-mounted dynamo, growing tired, sore butt and legs, the single goal on my mind—Perceval. St-Sulpice, Morges, and St-Prex, up the narrow, winding road in the dark, so fatigued I was starting to hallucinate, and like a broken record with the mantra, “you’re almost there, you’re almost there!” I was feeling wobbly on the bike, shots of pain from the long hours on the narrow seat. My fingers and hands felt big and fat, my legs like lead.

I arrived a few minutes before midnight and crawled straight to bed.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

More hitchhiking

In the first few years after my Camphill experience in Switzerland I undertook two return trips to Europe, late September–early October 1989 and November 1991.
Westdeutschland was the focus of my first return—relatives in Siegen, friend Almut and her sister Gudrun in Kassel from where my youngest sister Alison Oona and I rented a grey two-door Opel Kadett E sporting Hamburg plates. We drove to grandfather in Höhbeck-Brünkendorf, Landkreis Lüchow-Dannenberg, in Niedersachsen, then the freeway south, stopping in on Alison’s godmother in Reutlingen, Matzke’s in Stuttgart, then down to the Bodensee by way of Stockach and along the Überlinger See through Ludwigshafen, Überlingen, stopping in Meersburg for the noon meal—local cooking in a decent-priced establishment, then Immenstaad, Friedrichshafen, Kreßbronn, and Lindau where we stopped about an hour for a walk along some of its peninsular lakeshore.
From here it was inland but still eastward, along the Deutsche Alpenstraße, the 308, leisurely and scenically winding our way along past the villages of Lindenberg, Oberstaufen, Immenstadt, Wertach, and Nesselwang now on the 310, Pfronten, Füssen, and northeast on the 17 through Steingaden and Peiting, the road cutting across to Weilheim as the 472 through Hohenpeißenberg and Peißenberg. Now through the countryside between the Ammersee and Starnberger See for Starnberg at the latter’s northern end, the 2 feeding us to the city centre to drop the car off at Hertz in München with 30 minutes and a few kilometres to spare on our rental agreement and kilometres limit, before we were hit with extra costs and penalties. We then rode the S-Bahn out to Wessling, staying where Alison was living at the Kloyer’s grocery store, part of the Edeka chain.
I headed home two weeks before the Wall came down on November 9, 1989. Alison ended up being in Berlin the night East Germans started flooding into the West and the Wall started coming down—she and her then boyfriend Matthias helped chip away at a section with picks, she brought home ten apple-sized graffiti-marked pieces that ended up sitting on our parent’s fireplace mantel.
Deutschland achieved reunification on October 3, 1990. Just over a year later I returned for my second visit. Again, I flew into Frankfurt am Main. I took the train to Basel, transferring to a Regionalzug for Dornach-Arlesheim, climbing the hill for Gesa’s ground floor suite, also visiting at her workplace, the Sonnenhof.
A number of locals also alit here, distinct among them certain younger and older women in their long, flowing dresses and coats, long braided or loose hair, emitting the somewhat haughty air of serious Eurythmists and Anthroposophists. It brought to mind the little German joke of the SBB train conductor announcing the approaching stop with, “Alle für Dornach-Arlesheim, bitte abschweben!” instead of the standard “… alle bitte absteigen!” (Everyone for Dornach-Arlesheim could float from the train instead of stepping-off). This stereotype was somewhat confirmed by the reality of seeing these ladies flowing, as if levitating a foot or two above the ground, slightly excarnated, from the train.
Gesa was not well, soon bedridden. As a result, she could not see me more than for a day or two. I decided on hitchhiking down to Perceval for a four-day visit, then return to Arlesheim.
Walking through St-Prex, I came upon Draga slowly strolling along with her now-frail mother on her right arm. Draga appeared to be stressed and fatigued but greeted me with a warm smile and Bonjour! Quelle surprise!” We exchanged the common French greeting of three light kisses cheek to cheek. I am reminded of a joke Isabelle once told me in the early days: two cheek kisses signified friends/acquaintances, three meant the two of you had slept together. But I am quite sure this is not the truth, although it is fun to believe.
It was my last glimpse of Perceval as I sloped down through the vineyards and under the rail line to the road for Morges, one last time hitching a ride in this area—after twenty minutes caught one with a young brunette in a black skirted business suit, driving a silver Alfa Romeo consistently over the speed limit, slamming her shifter through the gears, in a rush for Lausanne and a business meeting. She dumped me just before the Morges-Est freeway on-ramp, necessitating a short walk under the Autoroute, setting myself up for the next ride on the road for Romanel-sur-Morges and Cossonay. My idea paid off quickly—nabbing a ride with a Migros supermarket delivery van within minutes. A Lausanne station was blaring the latest pop hits. The young fellow was headed left, I wanted to the right, so I alit at the fork in the road a little past La Sarraz.
Now it took a while for my next kindly stranger—about 35 vehicles passed until a leather-faced old farmer rolled by on a red Massey Ferguson tractor towing a shallow trailer laden with beet root. He slowed but did not stop, waving at me to hop on. I threw my red backpack into the trailer—he looked twice over a shoulder, staring at the Canada flag prominently sewn on the flap—and I sat on the dented fender over the big, knobby right wheel. The dead stub of a cigarette stuck to a corner of his mouth. I accepted his offer of a fresh unfiltered Gauloise. We talked of my reasons travelling here, he asked one or two things about Canada, and wondered where I was headed. Just before Orbe he turned left, leaving the road for a muddy dirt track—his farmstead. With a “Merci bien!” I walked the last kilometre or so into Orbe, trying for my next ride in the midst of town.
I was surprised to have a ride minutes later with two distinctly older ladies, grey hair pinned up in buns, clothed in tweed, quite proper looking, in a grey-green Peugeot 504 stationwagon. They were rather chatty. They had lots of questions. I soon learned they were both long-ago retired local school teachers, the one in her early nineties! and the other in her late eighties—driving quite confidently—very much alert and up on many things. I wondered aloud that they would dare give a young man a ride. They responded almost in unison, “Mais vous avez l’air de quelqu’un honnête et sans malheur” (“but you have the air of someone honest and without malice”). It was one of the most pleasant rides ever in all my time hitchhiking through Europe. They went out of their way, a good six kilometres, delivering me to the Autoroute on-ramp at Yverdon-Ouest when their actual goal was the fair bit earlier Mathod.
Maybe twenty-five minutes later I lucked upon a businessman somewhere in his mid-fifties, headed for Biel/Bienne in his grey-blue BMW 535i—my longest ride this trip. We conversed in French, English, and German. He showed me the only way mobile phones can be legally and safely used in a moving vehicle in Switzerland, attached to the dash, a line running to a microphone on the sun visor, callers heard over the car stereo speakers—one of those big, cumbersome phones in the early days of this technology.
Biel was his end of the road. I walked northwest through town, stopping in at the McDonald’s for a couple of cheeseburgers and a Cardinal beer before sticking out my thumb again.
I set myself up at the start of the steadily-climbing E 27, eventually my next charitable driver a middle-aged blond woman transporting her two Afghan hounds in a dark blue Volvo stationwagon, up the Taube-mochschlucht, past Frinvillier and La Heutte, running more or less parallel with the local rail line and La Suze that feeds the Bieler See. In the cold heights of Sonceboz we encountered some of the first dustings of the season’s snow, winding our way up a couple of fairly mild hairpins bookending the Col de Pierre Pertuis at 827 metres. Next came her town of Tavannes—time for my next ride.
It was the same young rocker in his dirty white Citröen BX who had brought me from Delémont to Moutier five days earlier! This time back to Delémont! where some time passed for my next ride until a tall, skinny, chain-smoking woman stopped. She had a worn-out appearance, a shoe-in as a stereotypical biker chick from Surrey, B.C., sporting long unkempt hair, black t-shirt and jeans, and well-worn black leather jacket. She drove some nondescript dirty, white Opel Kadett. Upon hearing of Dornach as my goal for today, and my interest in Anthroposophy, she wavered between some admiration for Waldorf schools and criticisms of les fous là-haut (the crazies up on the hill) at the Goetheanum. She became a little tense at my defense of Anthroposophy and Anthroposophists but still dropped me off at the Autobahn exit for Arlesheim with a friendly “aurevoir”.
The last bit uphill on foot in the growing dark, it was now close to 17.45, the crisp chill nipping at my face and hands. Raymond happened to pass through Dornach and Arlesheim a couple of days later. He and I visited Ana Cecilia in the local hospital, recovering from some unspoken, unnamed illness—she was currently studying at the Goetheanum. Then we travelled by train to Luxembourg.

We walked down to the station for a Regionalzug into Basel, there boarding the Basel-Frankfurt train with stops in Freiburg and Offenburg where we transferred to a small two-car train crossing the Rhein and German-French border at Kehl. Here we realized we could have been more efficient in our travel plans, catching the Edelweiss in Basel—running Basel–Strasbourg–Metz–Luxembourg–Bruxelles/Maastricht–Amsterdam. Now we had to wait a few hours for the next train, so we walked the nearby streets of Strasbourg in the cold darkening evening, eventually settling on a glass each of Kronenbourg on tap, accompanied by some sort of sausage in a bun for Raymond and a croques monsieur for myself. Finally the train to Luxembourg with a stop in Metz, arriving late evening, a street bus to his parents on the rue des Pins in Strassen, about four or five kilometres west by northwest of the city of Luxembourg. Strassen is located along the N 6, the Route d’Arlon.
Late evenings I devoured Hiram A. Bingham’s The Dawnwatchers: A Novel of the Twenty-First Century.

We toured the many city sights and the airport.
The next big outing was a day trip to Trier, Raymond’s mentally challenged Down’s Syndrome sister accompanying us.
Another day we drove the E 27 northeast to Echternach, passing through Junglinster and the Suisse Luxembourgeoise region. En route we detoured slightly to visit an ancient oak tree standing alone in a field, halfway to the village of Hersberg, about 500 metres north of the main road there where the CR 137 is met in a t-bone by the side road from the village.
One whole day was spent in Esch-sur-Sûre and surrounding countryside. We drove in his father’s dark blue stationwagon north on the N 7 route through Mersch to Ettelbruck, then northwest along the N 15 through Feulen-Nieder, past Heiderscheid and descending four hairpin bends, left onto the N 27, parking moments later at the eastern edge of this medieval town. From here we were on foot, climbing a steep trail from the eastern end of the parking lot, a northerly ascent for the thin line of woods curving along the ridge overlooking the Sûre wrapping around the town almost directly below.
I felt like a knight in the early days of this town, having just alit from my steed, seeing for the first time again in some years my home after long journeys far and wide across Europe including a Crusade to the Middle East.
Our path opened out into green, gently undulating fields—somewhat surprising to me considering how late in the year we were—walking northwest until we came upon a tiny chapel at the bend of the CR 316 country road that led us a little westward to the village of Kaundorf and further fields, crossing the CR 318, into Mecher and a descent along another section of the CR 316 for the village of Bavigne at the northwestern finger of the dammed waters of the Sûre above the dam, resembling a thin lake. We had encountered a few spots of piled-up timber logged from the nearby slopes, and even two tree fallers.
Now southeasterly along the opposite shore of this finger we came upon the slightly smaller upper dam near the village of Liefrange, then following trails along the wooded slopes of the Sûre again, crossing the lower dam and descending the N 27 road to the castle ruins watching over Esch-sur-Sûre.
We also stopped in on his family’s old abandoned farmstead, a few kilometres north of their suburban home, that lately was receiving some preliminary repairs—the start of a long, extensive restoration Raymond planned on carrying out so as to one day live there permanently.
I took an early train into Trier, walking through town, taking my time to admire an open archeological dig newly discovered to reveal Roman ruins under a parking lot. Eventually I made my way to the traffic circle and Autobahn on-ramp. It started to drizzle, lightly getting me wet before a young women in a red Volkswagen Passat stationwagon, sporting two empty children car seats and a small hairy dog, took me along until her exit for her vineyard village about halfway down the Mosel valley. I waited over an hour wait until a middle-aged man in a bright red rental van brought me into the outskirts of Koblenz. From here I decided onward to Essen by train, trying to make an on-time arrival for a prearranged visit with Almut and her boyfriend. I stayed two nights and one full day. They drove me through the industrial areas of the Essen and Ruhrtal, and we toured the Villa Krupp.
Finally, one more time to grandfather for what turned out to be the last time I saw him. He lived to be 100 years old, passing away in his sleep a few weeks after his birthday on October 18, 1996.
The last few days I stopped in on Gesa one more time before heading home for the West Coast.