04 May 2012

Why I Will Accept Nomination to the Swiss Federal Assembly

I have decided to become a member of the Swiss federal assembly. Though I am not technically eligible to run for election, being an un-naturalized foreigner, I plan to find a way around this because I really really want to go to work each day at the majestic Bundeshaus where the federal assembly meets in Bern, the country's beautiful little capital.

Last week my French teacher, the estimable Madame Bühler, led some of us on a class outing for a tour of the Bundeshaus. The whole trip was paid for by the wonderful Neuchâtel cantonal office of Cohésion Multiculturelle, including train fare, the tour, and even a cup of coffee in Bern's medieval center afterwards. The canton offers weekly French lessons for the amazing price of 30 francs per year. (Commercial language classes cost hundreds of francs for courses lasting a few weeks.) The classes include occasional free outings to civic landmarks -- museums, a Neuchâtel newspaper and governmental power centers. Perhaps this is one reason why the canton of Neuchâtel has one of the highest tax rates in the country. So yes, please, I'll take that free cup of coffee.

But first the Bundeshaus, as it's called in German-speaking Bern. (Palais fédéral en français, Palazzo federale in Italian, and Chasa federala in Romansch, the other of Switzerland's four official languages). Our guide, speaking French for our class (tours are available in several languages), took us first to a central stairway, where the most striking feature for this tourist was not the dazzling stained glass windows, nor the grand staircases made from Swiss marbles, nor even the monumental sculpture of the three men whose legendary oath in 1291 created the seed of Switzerland; for me it was the four bronze statues symbolizing the country's four languages. The gentleman symbolizing français was recognizable by his Gallic nose; the scheizerdeutsch (swiss-german) dude looked especially stern, the italiano gentleman had wild, wavy hair, and the romansch fellow ... well, I'm sorry to say I've totally forgotten what he looks like, which I hope is no harbinger of the fate of this old language still spoken by about .9-percent of the nearly 8 million Swiss population. 

Then we visited the two grand chambers where the two legislative branches of the federal assembly meet. (Modeled on the American legislature, there is an assembly of the people, and assembly of the state.) These two chambers are inspiringly beautiful -- lots of wood with the fragrance of linseed oil, magnificent frosted glass windows, grand historical murals, the escutcheons of the 26 cantons, a statue of William Tell and other figures from Swiss history and legend.

My favorite room was the curvilinear meeting hall where the legislators go to hash out their deals. The ornate ceiling is covered with renaissance style paintings -- bare-breasted women blowing trumpets, cherry-cheeked cherubs flying through the air holding a giant loaf of bread over their heads, that sort of thing. I'm sure all of this inspires lofty political thought.

Next time you're there, see what you think. And look for me. I may have gotten elected by then.


  1. They'd be lucky to have you, even if your enthusiasm runs more to architecture than politics.

  2. Or perhaps for that very reason.