Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Ever Faithful to Thee, Liechtenstein, After My Fashion


My penguin-fancier colleagues on Reddit have drawn my attention back to Liechtenstein, the tiny principality I last mentioned in a 2007 post. Christiaan Klieger's book The Microstates of Europe (Lexington Books, 2013) provides the historical back story of this statelet, most famous for being small. Liechtenstein derives its name from an Austrian family whose scion Hans-Adam Andrew purchased the two demesnes that later comprised the nation-state, Schellenberg and Vaduz, about three centuries ago. The ambitious Hans-Adam sought to obtain “a seat in the Diet of the Holy Roman Empire” (p. 43), not to become a gentleman farmer, and while the emperor soon united the family's holdings into an independent principality (1719), no member of the princely family even visited Liechtenstein until 1842. The princes' subjects remained fairly poor into the early twentieth century, flirting with famine and vulnerable to floods and financial ruin. Since the Second World War, however, the principality's standard of living has risen dramatically, thanks to a boom in tourism and industrial production (Liechtenstein's industrial exports reached a value of about $180 million by the 1980s). The princely family's private bank, now operating as a public business under the name Liechtenstein LGT Bank, probably contributed to this rise. The Liechtenstein family itself has resided full-time in the principality since 1938, when they decided to leave Austria for some reason.  The current prince, Hans-Adam II, owns more than $7 billion worth of real estate, bank stock, and artwork, though rumors of his involvement with “goat bills,” gyrocopters, and kidnapped princesses are exaggerated at best.

I am pleased to note that my earlier assessment of Liechtenstein's military history more or less conforms with the actual historical record. The principality suffered two foreign invasions in 1799, when French and Austrian troops chased one another across its territory and drained local householders' resources. Seven years later Napoleon demanded forty soldiers from Liechtenstein as part of its “dues” for joining the Confederation of the Rhine; the prince hired foreign substitutes instead. Johann II did raise some troops for the 1866 Austro-Prussian War, but following what Klieger calls “six weeks of non-engagement in the Alps,” they went home (47). Liechtenstein did not subsequently raise an army; I regret to say it does not even maintain a squad of long-bowmen. Since the 1920s it has maintained both political neutrality and an open border with Switzerland, whose accidental invasion of the country in 2007 had no political effect whatsoever.

Klieger devotes a page to the national cuisine of Liechtenstein, which consists chiefly of cornmeal mush and gravy (local farmers have been raising maize since the eighteenth century), schnitzel, vanilla meringue, sour cream with noodles, “split-pea-sausage stew,” “cheese and mushroom pudding,” “cornmeal and wheat dumplings in ham broth,” and “lemon crème filled ravioli,” or zitronenpalatschinken (54). Some locals probably just inject pureed dumplings and heavy cream directly into their arteries to save time.

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