13-16 November 2023
The train from Lausanne takes me through dramatic scenery of beautiful green valleys with a background of snow-capped Alps. The fall colors are spectacular. It is a smooth, punctual train. I have come to expect no less. The change in Olten took but three minutes. Shortly, I arrive into a rainy Basel. My hosts, the parents of “daughter” Bea, meet me at the top of the stairs. For the next three days, I am on Swiss time.
Basel is a very pleasant city surrounded by the Alps, France, and Germany with Italy not far away. Trains, trams and buses are prompt; streets are clean; recycling seems to be a religion; prices, based in Swiss Francs, are steep. Switzerland is an amazing country that seems to have been able to rise above the European turmoil of chaos and wars. It has a history of independence yet because of location continues to be “in the thick of things.”
Rather than concentrate on history or armies, I go to the zoo.
Your Beak is What You Eat
Basel Zoo is unique in that it is truly in the center of the city. Opened in 1874, it is the oldest zoo in Switzerland. Residents call it the Zolli and my hosts have frequently visited for over 70 years. Given the right choice of an apartment, you could watch the rhinoceros feed or monkeys play as you sip your morning latte. It was a rainy day for our visit. Most mammals were inside out of the rain. These two-legged mammals opened their umbrellas and walked around a very uncrowded zoo.
The Bird House has been recently renovated. On display are many free-ranging species. Once one pauses, birds are not only heard but seen roosting, scrounging around the ground for items of interest, and flying about exercising their abilities. Even wetter than outside, the tropical rain forest is filled with a variety of colorful feathered friends. A wonderful placard explains the correlation between beaks and what the bird eats. Previously, I hadn’t thought much about beaks.
The aquarium building is equally well-done. From vibrant tropicals to gross groupers, there is much to see. Another area houses the penguins; a lone “Wookiee” King Penguin sits by its mother and several majestic kings while energetic gentoos dart through the water.
Of course, there are the elephants, peaking out of their dry enclosure. Food and warmth is inside. They watch the rain from the door. The rhinos enjoy the wet; there are a couple of youngsters enjoying the news grass. Monkeys have more common sense and hide inside. Flamingos don’t care.
Forest Walks or Swiss Hikes
I love taking walks, specially through forests and parks. However, the Swiss seem to have a unique view of a “walk.” I define them more as a “hike.” Yvonne, Bea’s Swiss mother, and I ride the tram to Arlesheimer, just south of Basel.
There, we hike out of the village, through the beautiful fall foliage, to a pond filled with large carp. The forest is idyllic, the pond peaceful. Trails lead up to a castle and among the trees. Light and sporadic showers cannot dampen the mood. In spite of rain, many other Swiss have the same idea. We are all rewarded by spots of blue sky and eventual patches of sun.
A brief stop is made at Arlesheim’s church, filled with light and pastels. The ceiling’s fresco is charming, especially the addition of the elephant.
We enjoy a bowl of warm creamed-carrot soup and coffee. A chill is in the air, snow is in the mountains, but here is quiet Arlesheimer. Life is good.
Goetheanum and Anthroposophy
Just a couple tram stops away is another village, Dornach. We board a local bus which takes us up a winding village road to the Goetheanum. Immediately, I recognize I have been here before, perhaps 30+ years ago. It is impossible not to recognize the architecture. The unique concrete structure and surrounding buildings were built in the early 20th century.
It is here that Rudolf Steiner advocated his theory of anthroposophy. His teaching involved how a non-material, spiritual world influences and informs the material one. Steiner, a philosopher, scientist and Goethe scholar, sought a spiritual/holistic path to the truth. I read the philosophy and goals but fail to understand. Anthroposophy requires time.
Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.Johann Wolfgang von Goethe 1749-1832
Our return tram to Basel drops us at another unusual rough concrete structure. St. Anton Roman Catholic Church is tucked within its neighborhood and might be missed but for its 203-foot square tower. Locals call it the “soul silo.”
Modern and unassuming on the outside, the church interior is remarkable for its 46-foot tall stained-glass windows. Swiss architect Karl Moser designed the building while painters Hans Stocker and Otto Staiger created the glass. Sun illuminates the wall of windows and vibrant colors paint the gray concrete interior.
A city can become very special when a local shares their life with visitors. Basel is such a place. Exploration was much more than zoos, churches and forests. It was also special to shop the markets for that evening’s dinner or for that specially baked bread one must have. I gained a recipe for spicy salad dressing and we toasted to friendship.
I was promised I would meet James. Not sure who he was, I joined my friends for home-made fondue on a rainy night. Dinner was hot, delicious, and I found myself enthusiastic to try to cook some myself when I got home.
And I met James.
I suspect most travelers and/or city dwellers know James. In the large street market, there is a seller of James. James is the handy cart that shoppers are seen wheeling around the streets and into every shop. James can be colorful or gaudy, advertise Star Wars or cartoons, but James is always helpful.
Not only did I find James, but I left a bit of James in Basel. But that is another story for another time.
Thinking is more interesting than knowing, but less interesting than looking.Johann Wolfgang von Goethe