The Fondation Beyeler

By Rob Packer

I was in Switzerland for work earlier this month. After a few days in Lugano and Zürich—and a few hours on a train between the two, wishing the train would stop and I could kick off the dress shoes, change the suit for something more comfortable and run off up a mountain—I spent a couple of days at the end of the trip staying with some very good friends in Basel.

I’d barely been to Switzerland before and Basel has always seemed the most enigmatic of the country’s larger cities next to Zürich with its banks and Geneva with its international organizations. Those two even have archetypal Swiss locations perched at their lakeheads, while Basel europeanly straddles the Rhine, which no Germanist can cross without feeling a historical shudder or literary frisson—mine was Heinrich Heine’s satirical conversation with Father Rhine, where Old Man River complains of having been “politically compromised” by Nikolaus Becker’s “Rheinlied”, later infamously put to music as “Die Wacht am Rhein”. But that is in Cologne where the Rhine is more bombastic, while hardly anyone ever talks about Basel: in fact, I’ve probably only ever had a conversation about the place with five or six people—one an architect, two who live there and the rest from the art world.

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