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March 12 through June 27, 2010
Inauguration: 11 March 2010, 6pm
Switzerland's international image, a congeries of clichés, has developed over the course of decades, and is kept alive by a tourist industry eager for marketing tools. Indeed, many Swiss towns and regions have adapted themselves entirely to the needs of travellers. Travel guides have played an undeniable role in this process, affecting the place they describe in a sort of feedback. Posters, too, help to shore up the tourist industry's iconography of Switzerland, while the same images printed on postcards and sent to loved ones back home serve travellers as proof of their peregrinations - "I was there!"
Travellers want concise, up-to-date, well-structured information, since the average tourist has a circumscribed amount of time, and must therefore make the most of it. Accordingly, the exhibition draws attention not only to the content of travel guides, but to their material status as books as well, objects complying with a host of functional criteria: they must be easy to handle, light, robust and weatherproof. Curator Beat Gugger puts it this way: "As ‘literature', travel guides constitute their own genre, a type of non-fiction that foregrounds practical know-how."
"Do not allow yourself to be seduced by the lure of a plausible, ostensibly risk-free climb; rather, think ahead to the inevitable descent from that same crag." This piece of advice is to be found in Heinrich August Ottokar Reichard's Passagier auf der Reise in Deutschland, der Schweiz, nach Venedig, Amsterdam, Paris und St. Petersburg (Passenger en route in Germany and Switzerland, to Venice, Amsterdam, Paris and St. Petersburg), published in 1834. Switzerland, now a classic tourist destination, was one of the first countries whose visitors could rely on travel guides. The first factual guide to Switzerland was written by Johann Gottfried Ebel, a German physician working in Zurich, and appeared in 1793. Earlier generations of travellers, their ranks composed exclusively of young noblemen and educated adventurers, had turned to subjective travelogues for advice.
The first modern travel guides were those of John Murray, an Englishman whose books were regularly published and reissued in revised form until the dawn of the 20th century. They were chiefly distinguished by their up-to-date practical information on such matters as transportation and lodgings, and by their recommendations of tourist attractions. Murray's travel guides are thought to have served publisher and author Carl Baedeker as a model for his series of books, arguably still the best-known of their kind. The first Baedeker durch die Schweiz (Baedeker through Switzerland) appeared in 1844. In France, meanwhile, the tyre-manufacturer Michelin began in 1900 to fill a market gap with his Guide Michelin, a series of hotel and travel guides. The first stand-alone Swiss edition of the Michelin Guide rouge series was published in 1908, and then again not until 1994. In the interim, Switzerland had for the most part been consigned to the volume devoted to Germany.
Since the 1960s, young travellers have depended on travel guides from the English-speaking world, such as the Let's go or Lonely Planet series, designed to facilitate individual, affordable travel.
Among its tremendous offerings the genre boasts a wealth of specialized sub-categories, which in turn contain a wide range of "insider" tips in their bid to keep readers far from the madding crowd of fellow travellers. Hence their quest for out-of-the-way picnic grounds, secluded beaches, forgotten crossroads, glamorous emporia and eccentric hotels, all passed on in the form of recommendations.
The exhibition is accompanied by a series of German-language events. As usual, the NL's programme for Museums' Night on 19 March is devoted to the theme of its current exhibition. Erlebte Schweiz (The Switzerland experience) is the title of two evenings, on 29 March in Lucerne's stattkino and on 11 May in the Kino Kunstmuseum Bern, at which excerpts from historic films are to be shown and discussed. On 7 April, Christine Hubacher of Swiss Radio DRS moderates a discussion with Dres Balmer and other guests as they consider What is a good travel guide? And then there's Die Schweiz verkaufen (Selling Switzerland), the latest volume of conference proceedings from the Gesellschaft für die Erforschung der Deutschschweizer Literatur (Society for the study of Swiss-German literature, GEDL) and the Swiss Literary Archives (SLA), which will also be presented on 19 May as part of the Swiss Appeal exhibition.
Guided tours in German and French will be offered on four Sundays (28 March, 25 April, 30 May and 27 June), with the possibility of Sunday brunch in the NL bistro afterwards.
All documents on display are drawn from the Swiss National Library's opulent collection, maintained as part of its mandate to collect everything published in Switzerland and on the topic of Switzerland worldwide.
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