23 August 2011

Liechtenstein on Display

It made sense that within two weeks in Liechtenstein, we'd visit all of the country's museums. However, we weren't quite expecting to hit them all in one day. That’s what 95degree weather will do to you. The two most important museums in Liechtenstein, located right in the center of Vaduz, are the Kunstmuseum and the Landesmuseum (Art and National, respectively). We began with the latter, which didn't allow photographs. It's a shame, really, because this was absolutely the best national museum we've ever visited. Exhibitions were along the same lines as so many others - stuffed fauna, excavated spearheads, old maps – but were displayed exquisitely. It was beautiful, really, stylish and creative. But you'll just have to take our word for it.
The Kunstmuseum was also a photo-free zone, but that's to be more expected when you're talking about artistic copyrights. (This was taken through a window outside). The Private Art Collection of the Prince of Liechtenstein is actually housed in Vienna, but it's hard to mind too much when you have this place. The collection of international modern and contemporary art was great and the building was great to walk through. Not only did the curators take pains to make each room its own thematic experience, they also detailed their thought process and reasoning in well-written (and translated) pamphlets. It's nice when an art museum experience is enjoyable no matter your level of art smarts.
We moved on to the less grandiose museums. The ones with smaller admission prices, spaces and breadth of topics covered. The Ski Museum did have one thing in common with the big guys, though. No pictures! The man who told us this and let us in also owns the collection. And what an impressive collection it is. I have never seen so many skis or ski poles or ski suits or ski trophies or ski wax or anything else related to skis, skiing, skiers or - really - snow, in my life. Decades’ worth of equipment and photos cramped the space. It was like a three floored 3D collage dedicated to the sport, which is really big here in Liechtenstein (the only country in the world to have won a Winter Olympic medal but never a Summer one). Once the owner finished his cigarette outside, he came in to tidy up boots and things as we walked around. Soon, he was alongside us, pointing at objects and sharing factoids. When we reached this table full of goggles (and I audibly cooed) he told Merlin that he could take a photo. Just one. As we left, he handed us a souvenir DVD called "High Tech Ski."
Our favorite museum, which also happened to allow pictures, was the Post Museum. Stamps are a big part of tourism in Liechtenstein - and not just the ink passport ones. Liechtensteinische stamps are widely considered to be big collectors’ items and the Post Museum is a philatelist's dream. These drawers were filled with them, along with the design drafts and rare stamps from around the world. I loved the filing system because it reminded me of the post office - utilitarian, sort of ugly and cold, but filled with all of these incredibly interesting little pieces of art and a connection to a part of the human experience which has been around for centuries. Also on display were postcards, old mail bags, bikes, stamp presses, scales, you name it.
The second room brought something completely unexpected - the largest collection of letter openers in the world! One man, Kurt F. Büchel, has been collecting them since 1991 and the museum has just a fraction of his 2,718 piece collection. They’re arranged by theme, including flora (above), weaponry (mini swords and whatnot), female nudes, advertisements, etc. Aside from all of the really beautiful, old ones, the "multipurpose" were our favorites. Attached tools included a stapler, a stamp holder and a lighter, which seemed very 'burn after reading.'
On the way out of Vaduz and up to our next stop, we swung by this firefighter museum, which may not be a museum at all. We've passed by the Triesen firehouse over a dozen times and spotted a small exhibit in a corner window. Certificates, plaques and trophies shaped like hydrants fill the shelves behind this uniformed man and an old fire hose. Sadly, the door was locked. But it still goes to show you how many museums this small country has - whether official or unofficial. Oh well, on to our next and final stop!
Neither of us knew what a Walser was before entering the Walser Museum in Triesenberg. To be honest, we walked out knowing a lot more about Liechtenstein in general from this great little place. You see, as soon as we walked in, we were ushered down into this room for a show. Three slide projectors worked in tandem to present us with a documentary about all sorts of things Walser related and only tangentially Walser related. What it lacked in direction, it made up for in imagery and passion. There was great emphasis placed on Triesenberg's desire to keep over-development at bay and stay connected to nature and traditions, particularly those of the Walser people.
So, who are the Walser? They emigrated from Southwest Germany over a 1000 years ago and settled in the Alps of Italy, Switzerland, Austria and Liechtenstein (right there in Triesenberg). They speak their own dialect of German (Walser) and live at super high altitudes that had previously been unsettled. This remoteness led to specific farming methods, ways of life and tools, of which many were displayed in the museum. Two things that really struck out as unique, to me, were candles that looked like funnel cake and these hair-filled frames. Unfortunately, their significance was explained in German and it wasn’t covered in the slide presentation, so I can’t tell you much about them. They just seemed so odd and pretty – exactly what you’d want out of a small museum in the mountains.

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