In 1930 my grandfather, a keen amateur photographer, wrote an article for the Kodak Magazine about his trip to Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein. As a teenager I listened to him reminiscing about the “snowy mountains”, and I’ve been intrigued by this tiny principality ever since. Now, many years later, I managed to track down a copy of his article and I resolved to make my own journey to see how much had changed.
An Agricultural Community
I was surprised at how much was still recognisable from my grandfather’s article. This is partly due to geography: the majority of Liechtenstein’s population lives in a narrow strip between the Alps and the Rhine. Although Vaduz is larger now than it was in 1930 (more than 5,000 people now, as opposed to around 1,500 then), it seems that much of the expansion has been in the neighbouring towns of Schaan and Triesen. Even so, it is startling to find that it has retained much of its character as an agricultural community. Walk a few minutes from the city centre and you’ll find slopes covered with vines and cows grazing peacefully in the fields. A little further away crops and market produce grow in the dyke-protected riverside plain.
The major landmarks are little changed. Vaduz Castle dominates the town now as it did in 1930, although it has been the royal residence since 1939 and it is no longer possible to walk around the courtyard as my grandfather did. The city church may be covered in scaffolding but the royal pew is still there. And we walked across the Rhine into Switzerland on the last remaining covered wooden bridge.
Vaduz in the 21st Century
In other ways Vaduz has changed out of all recognition. In 1930 Liechtenstein was a poor, agricultural based economy, and by the end of the Second World War it was so impoverished that the royal family had to resort to selling off artworks. However today it has one of the highest levels of per capita income in the world. Vaduz has become a centre for international banking, a result of its low corporate tax rates and strict banking secrecy. Industrial activity has also increased, to the extent that Liechtenstein is now one of the world’s leading manufacturers of dental products.
The increase in wealth and population has led to the construction of new houses and public buildings in the capital. Apart from the castle and the church, very few of the buildings now standing in Vaduz would have been there in 1930. The centre is impressively modern, the few older buildings surrounded by contemporary architecture and outdoor sculptures and artworks.
Another sign of the 21st century is the coaches full of daytrippers keen to explore the town. Their numbers may be few – Liechtenstein is still relatively undiscovered as a tourist destination – but it is easy to see why they come. With its mountains, castle and country town atmosphere one thing that hasn’t changed is the old fashioned charm of Vaduz.