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Swiss Appeal. Switzerland in Travel Guides

March 12 through June 27, 2010
Inauguration: 11 March 2010, 6pm

Switzerland has its charms - witness the number of tourists who visit our country every year, if nothing else. What is it that attracts them? How were potential tourists in bygone eras made aware of Switzerland as a holiday destination? There is no better place to seek detailed answers to such questions than a travel guide. The Swiss National Library has a large collection of travel guides to Switzerland in all major languages and from every continent except Africa. These books constitute the centerpiece of the Swiss Appeal show, in which 300 travel guides are laid out through the exhibition space in two virtual routes across Switzerland: west to east, and north to south.

Switzerland in Travel Guides

Herbert Leupin, Für schöne Autofahrten die Schweiz, verbilligtes Touristenbenzin (Switzerland: discount petrol for tourists means happy motorists), 1 poster, 102 x 64 cm, Basel: Art. Institut Grafica A.G. [1943?]. Collection of the Swiss National Library
Herbert Leupin, Für schöne Autofahrten die Schweiz, verbilligtes Touristenbenzin (Switzerland: discount petrol for tourists means happy motorists), 1 poster, 102 x 64 cm, Basel: Art. Institut Grafica A.G. [1943?]. Collection of the Swiss National Library

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!"

Practical “literature”

Historical travel guides

Hermann Alexander Berlepsch, Lucerne: Righi, chemin de fer de Vitznau, lac des Quatre-Cantons (Lucerne: the Rigi, the Vitznau railway, the Lake of Lucerne), La Suisse illustrée [1877]
Hermann Alexander Berlepsch, Lucerne: Righi, chemin de fer de Vitznau, lac des Quatre-Cantons (Lucerne: the Rigi, the Vitznau railway, the Lake of Lucerne), La Suisse illustrée [1877]

"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

Alternative to the mainstream

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.

Parallel events

Suisse/Schweiz/Svizzera, Nihon Michelin Tire Co., Misyuran gurîn gaido, Tokyo: Zitugyô no nihonsya, 1998
Suisse/Schweiz/Svizzera, Nihon Michelin Tire Co., Misyuran gurîn gaido, Tokyo: Zitugyô no nihonsya, 1998

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.


Last updated on: 25.03.2010

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