Diccon Bewes: Is this Switzerland’s best museum?
The Swiss Museum of Transport is not as geeky as it sounds.
Trains get the most room, which isn’t too surprising given that we’re in Switzerland. Sleek electric ones from the 1930s, such as the ‘Roter Pfeil’ above, or unbelievably enormous monster engines from the age of steam - the ‘Elephant’ was the largest steam train ever built for Swiss railways. And the ‘Crocodile’, the first electric locomotive for mountain use. Plus a few delicate double-decker trams and a scale model of the Gotthard Bahn. Sadly you can’t clamber inside most of the trains, though you can walk underneath the Elephant to see its inner workings.
The history of Swissair, from foundation in 1931 to collapse 71 years later, has some great exhibits, stylish planes (eg the Lockheed Orion above) and memorabilia from a once-proud company. Petrol heads can swoon over cars from every era of the motor age; I didn’t stay long in that room. Far more interesting to learn about the cable cars of the Swiss mountains, or stand on board the SS Rigi, the oldest surviving means of motorised transport in Switzerland. In 1863 it carried passengers from Thomas Cook’s first tour across Lake Lucerne so they could climb up Rigi.
My favourite bit is the giant aerial map of Switzerland. You have to put on fetching red carpet slippers so that you can glide over the whole country in a matter of minutes. Some places are easy to find, such as Bern above, but even famous mountains like the Eiger or Matterhorn look so different when viewed from above. Mobile oversized magnifying glasses help you find your town or even your house. Of course it’s not one image but 7,800 of them knitted together, all on a scale of 1:20,000. In other words, Basel to Chiasso is 12m instead of 285km.
I’ve been to this museum four times now and every visit brings a new experience or revelation. I love it – and I can’t really think of anyone who wouldn’t. If you haven’t been yet, what are you waiting for?
Diccon grew up in Britain but now lives in Bern. He has spent the last seven years grappling with German grammar, overcoming his innate desire to form an orderly queue and exploring parts of Switzerland he never knew existed. And eating lots of chocolate. He is the author of the bestselling book Swiss Watching.