Switzerland: Your Barn Door's Open
By Rick Steves
|Barns in rural Switzerland aren't always what they seem.|
|Rick and his friend Fritz discover more than just cows in rural Switzerland's barns.|
Strolling through a peaceful Swiss village — charming pastoral greens studded with rustic farmhouses between an alp and a lake — my friend walked with me to the door of a nondescript barn. He said, "Stand here," and slid open the door to reveal a solitary mighty gun — pointing right at me. Crossing a field, kicking a stray soccer ball back to a group of happy grade-schoolers, we came to another barn. This time I noticed the "wooden" door was actually metal with a clever paint job. Inside was a military canteen, now selling snacks to civilians, and a steel ladder leading down into a military-gray world that felt like a vast submarine. A network of passages, just big enough for heavily armed soldiers to race down single file, led to a series of gun barns and subterranean command rooms with charts locating other installations in the area.
Switzerland may be famous for its neutrality; however, it's anything but lax defensively. Every bridge and every tunnel is designed with built-in explosives to destroy it. Even today, you can't get a building permit without a first class, expensive, bomb shelter worked into the plan. Sprawling hospitals are dug into mountains, still ventilated to be kept dry and ready for use. And halfway up alpine cliffs, bat-cave-type doors can slide open, allowing fighter jets to zoom into action from hidden airstrips cut out of solid rock.
But slowly the Swiss are realizing that the cost of maintaining their strategic defense initiative is no longer justified. In fact many of the country's 15,000 secret underground military installations are being decommissioned and some are being opened to the public as museums.