Three Walking Tours were available in the heart of the city and we decided to take the architectural tour. Many of the buildings in the city were designed by Herzog and Meuron. Basel has bragging rights to a number of world famous architects, including Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry, Richard Meier, Tadao Ando and another of their own native sons, Mario Botta.
It’s interesting to note that both Botta and Herzog and De Meuron designed museums in San Francisco but are known in Switzerland for many other building types. The prevalence of American architects may be due to the development of the biotech industry in this area and its partnerships with American firms. Many of the buildings featured on the architectural guide were biotech companies such as Roche and Novartis.
The vertical extension of Basel Museum of Culture was designed by Herzog and De Meuron. The textural pattern of hexagons reflected the irregular shape of the plaza facing the museum. They were in both convex and concave shapes. The giant hanging plants at the entrance reminded me of the seaweed forest at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where they swayed gently in the breeze.
The De Young Museum in San Francisco, also designed by Herzog and De Meuron, is one of my favorite buildings. I love the mottling effect of the exterior copper panels on the inside of the building and how it imitates the light coming through trees in Golden Gate Park. The huge canopy at the entrance also reminds visitors of the deep shadows in the park.
The Basel museum featured an exhibit on opium that sparked a lively conversation with my hosts in Brunnen. My grandfather had died of an addiction to this deadly plant. The museum collection included all the history, plant production, implements and literary figures who were influenced by opium (including one of my relatives, Lin Biao). The saddest part of course was the Opium Wars and the treaty ports imposed on China as a result of the wars. The exhibition was very thought-provoking and a moving educational experience.
Our final evening was topped by the famous Swiss specialty “Raclette”, a fondue-like dish of Swiss cheese toasted with onion and spices on a grill, then spread with a miniature wooden scraper onto the top of sliced potatoes.
After saying goodbye to my dear friends in Switzerland, I was looking forward to my next big adventure. I will be taking a German language and culture class for the next two weeks in Schwabisch Hall, Germany, and can’t wait to spread out my meager belongings during this time.
My friends Helena and Hans took good care of me and showed me a local’s view of Switzerland. I am very grateful to them for their generosity and appreciate their care and attention during my stay there.