mw. “Helvetia. A Swiss history for children and adults” - as Iris Lydia Frei calls her magnificent and lovingly illustrated book, published in 2017. And in fact, the author understands in a well coprehensible language, with a lot of expertise and an exquisite sense of humor to address young and older readers and take them on a journey through Switzerland’s history from the Middle Ages to recent time. It begins with the confederation of the three original cantons, whereby presenting in word and image each individual canton and its particular history in the development of the confederation, in the context of the European history of the respective epoch and until the foundation of the most recent Jura canton in 1979. Finally, Iris Lydia Frei briefly outlines how Switzerland is governed on the foundations of direct democracy and federalism. In the appendix, the individual cantons are listed with their statistical values and also with all kinds of characteristics and traditions.
At a time when Swiss universities abolish the professoral chairs of Swiss history it feels good to be able to read such an airy and competent history book, where the joy of one’s own country can be felt on each page. “Helvetia” is also highly suitable as a shared reading matter in the family and in school classes.
The book “Helvetia” presents itself with some literal excerpts:
“Since there are four national languages in Switzerland (German, French, Italian and Rhaeto-Romanic), the Latin expression is often chosen as the name of the country: Confoederatio Helvetica (Helvetic Federation), abbreviated CH” (p. 5).
“Landvogt Gessler was in office in the canton of Uri. He ought to have been a particularly unpleasant person. One day he had a high pole erected on the village square with a hat on top. Then he urged the Uri people to greet this hat hence, it were the emperor’s hat. Actually, he only wanted to show people that he could hold control on them. It must have been fun for him to boss others around ... “(The end of the story may be found on page 9)
“In order to preserve their autonomy, the villages on the lake had much earlier already formed alliances. Normally they were verbal agreements. This does not mean that the Central Swiss did not have time and again disputes among each other, for instance on alpine pastures or grazing areas. In uncertain times, however – the emperor had just died and the succession was unclear, – it seemed better to tolerate each other ...” (Read more on p. 23)..
“Regular meetings of the cantons were necessary now, for it needed to be discussed how the ‘common dominions’ ought to be governed. Thus, whenever necessary, up to 22 times a year, the ‘Tagsatzung’ took place ...” (The continuation may be found on p. 44).
“In the Burgundian wars, the Swiss had shown unity and had together defeated a great opponent, Charles the Bold. As a result, however, there was a dispute within [...]. The opinions differed so much that the Swiss Confederation threatened to break apart in this dispute.
When the situation was muddled so much, Niklaus von Flüe was asked for advice ...” (read more on page 45).
“At the end of June 1529, the Zurich troops marched against the cantons of Central Switzerland. This first Kappel war was a conflict between the reformed and the catholic cantons. It is reported that the warriors of the opposing armies assembled while their leaders negotiated. Right on the border between the two cantons they put a large cooking pot on a fire.
It is said that the people of Zug contributed milk and the people of Zurich gave the bread for a milk soup, which was jointly eaten up by warriors of both armies ...” (p. 67.)
“Several times per year votes are held on all kinds of topics. If a vote is about something that affects all Swiss, there is a federal vote for all voters. Other polls affect only one canton or even one municipality only. Then it will be voted only there. If, for example, a new station kiosk is to be built in the village of Güllen, entire Switzerland will not have to vote on it.”
(p. 115.) •
Iris Lydia Frei was born in Basel in 1964. She lives and works as a bookseller in Basel and has participated in various exhibitions as an artist. Her wonderful storybooks are illustrated by herself. Apart from “Helvetia” (written German), “D’Mäss”, “Fasnacht with Lucius”, “Adventszeit” and “the end of wet bird Gryff” (rhymes in the Basel dialect by Dorette Gloor) available in bookshops.
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