34. St. Margrethen

 

 

 

After Buchs we grabbed a local train and took a 20 minute ride further down the Rhine to our last stop in Switzerland, at St. Margrethen. Our hosts were Tanja and Alex and their beautiful three children. Una and I were guests here on the ’14 trip, and it was great to see them again. We arrived around lunch time and left our bags, and walked to a very cool nearby attraction, The Fortress Museum Heldsberg. 

In 1940 the Swiss started worrying about a potential attack from Germany and Italy so they built some very sturdy underground forts along thier border. This one was constructed between 1940 and 1942 and overlooked Lake Constance and was within easy shelling distance of Bregenz, Austria and Lindau, Germany. Both towns are at lake level so from this height and armored, underground protection those cities would be laid waste if the Nazis made a move on Switzerland (although it seems nobody is arguing the Germans couldn’t have taken Switzerland, because of places like Heldsberg, it would have come at too high a cost).

From Wikipedia: The German plan for a Swiss invasion, Operation Tannenbaum, noted the presence of the Heldsberg position and concluded:

“A very desirable approach is to attack from the east at Rheineck, the shortest way to the enemy flank, but the mountainous terrain and the strong fortifications at Rheineck (Heldsberg) promise no success.”[1]

I left my battery in the charger that day! so no photos from the exhibits. Everything in the fort was in its original state, including the generators that still worked and could provide ventilation for the entire, vast network of passages and rooms. There were sleeping quarters, a mess hall, a sick bay with operation room, air-lock chemical warfare disinfectant chambers, ammo room, weapons room, command center, and gun batteries all over the place (with the original cannons and scopes you could look through  and train in on enemy targets, like the tourist boats crossing Lake Constance.) In one room they had a special, detailed exhibit about the AK-47. It appeared ol’ Kalishnikov himself had visited the fortress, sometime in the 90s. It looked like he was treated as a real big shot when he came to town.

It was fascinating and we stayed all afternoon.

At one point we were in the communication room. On the wall were maps and posters that detailed the plans for the axis invasion of Switzerland. In a display case were various samples of Nazi propaganda. There was a copy of Mein Kampf. The display said that during the war, you could find a copy of Mein Kampf anywhere in Germany. It was given by the regime to all newlyweds. It also said that the particular German version on display was very rare, as 1) Germans were quick to destroy their copies before the invading allied armies arrived, and 2) Mein Kampf was banned after the war and is still a banned book in Germany today.

I told Keenan about all this.

“But what about here in Switzerland? Can they read it here?”

“Hmm. I don’t know.”

A Swiss man was listening in and he piped up, “Yes, you can read that book here. We are like America, not Germany. Books are not banned!”

 On that note our tour ended and we had to get back to Alex and Tanja’s house, for they had invited us for a Swiss Raclette dinner. 

Pickles, potatoes, wine and melted cheese. Delish!

 

After dinner, fun in the basement. What a kick A & T’s kids are!

 

 

Next: Germany

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