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John Waelti: Uri, Schwyz and the heart of Switzerland
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It was our third day in Switzerland, in the city of Lucerne on the west tip of Lake Lucerne. In German, its "Vierwaldstaettersee," literally translated as "Four Forested-Cantons Lake."

The four cantons referred to by its unwieldy German name are Lucerne, Unterwalden, Schwyz and Uri, a region in central Switzerland especially rich in Swiss history. The latter three are the original cantons forming the Swiss Confederation in 1291. Schwyz is the canton from which Switzerland gets its name. In Canton Uri is the town of Altdorf where William Tell ostensibly shot the apple off his son's head at the behest of Austrian tyrant, Hermann Gessler, only to be taken prisoner by the Austrians. And it is from Lake Lucerne that Tell made his dramatic escape.

Lake Lucerne was historically an important transshipment point between south and north Switzerland, and Europe in general. The route from southern Europe, over the Gotthard Pass, followed the Reuss River. The headwaters of the Reuss are at the small town of Hospental (population 196) just north of the Gotthard Pass. It flows north, entering Lake Lucerne at Fluelen on the south finger of the lake, known locally as Lake Uri. At that point, the transportation route proceeded on the lake to northern Switzerland.

Lake Lucerne exits at the city of Lucerne on the tip of the west finger of the lake, the Reuss River flowing south and west where it joins the Aare River flowing through Lake Brienz, Interlaken, and Lake Thun, to Bern, eventually joining the Rhine through northern Europe and to the North Sea.

On this third day we are heading to another picturesque town, Brunnen, on the north finger of Lake Lucerne. It is a cloudy, misty day as we travel along the lake shore through picturesque villages and the ubiquitous mountain pastures with contentedly grazing cattle and occasional herds of sheep and goats.

Can this all be real? It's as if the entire panoramic view is carefully staged to impress tourists. Maybe not quite, but surely, the Swiss are astute enough to convert poor agricultural resources and rough terrain into assets that create prosperity.

We reach Brunnen, a picturesque resort town in Canton Schwyz. It is said that Winston Churchill spent his honeymoon here. Brunnen has a cable car that goes to the Rigi, offering among the most spectacular views in Switzerland.

Today, however, our destination is the Victorinox Museum. Victorniox is better known as the manufacturer of the Swiss Army knife, the best-selling knife in the world, with the red handle, shield with the cross, and numerous gadgets, whether you ever will need or use them or not. Although the knives are manufactured In Ibach, the museum is in Brunnen.

The company was founded in 1884 by Karl Elsener. In 1909, Elsener's mother died and he named the company "Victoria," in her honor. In 1921, the French term for stainless steel, "acier inoxydable," was abbreviated as "inox," and added to "Victoria," the name becoming "Victorinox."

The company has other products, including watches, apparel, travel gear, and even fragrances. But obviously, its best known product is the Swiss Army knife. Since 1908 it shared the contract for providing the Swiss Army with knives with the Wenger Company. In April 2005, Victorinox acquired Wenger, announcing that it intended to keep both brands intact. I have worn a Wenger watch for years, purchased while I was working in the Sultanate of Oman.

Victorinox has a workforce of some 900 employees. The company claims to never have laid off an employee. To avoid this, they set aside profits during boom periods to compensate for slow periods during which they contract with other employers to temporarily employ workers who would otherwise be unemployed.

After an interesting tour of the Victorinox museum, Steve Streiff in our group, and Denny Oosdik in the other, using a machine they set up for the process, were offered the opportunity to construct a knife. They were methodically guided through the process under the guidance of a skilled employee. I don't know about Denny, but as mechanically adept as Steve is, it took him longer than the 45 seconds the Victorinox employees need.

Naturally, there would be the golden opportunity to make purchases in the adjoining gift shop. A good many locals back home might receive Christmas gifts from that shop -not that the prices were any cheaper than anywhere else that these products are sold. But hey, they are directly from Canton Schwyz. What more could one ask?

After leaving a few Swiss francs - maybe more than a few - in the gift shop, we wandered around the town for awhile. We boarded the bus and headed for the Hergiswil Glassworks in Canton Nidwalden. One of the original three cantons, Unterwalden, has always been separated into "half cantons," Nidwalden and Obwalden. If this sounds irregular, it's not unique: Cantons Basel and Appenzell are also separated into half cantons.

"Glasi Hergiswil" is a factory that was founded in 1817. Because of old machines and outmoded technology, the factory was threatened to be closed. However, due to the efforts of the community, the factory remains open and seems to be doing well. Visitors have the opportunity to observe workers as they produce various glass products - and to purchase them, of course.

Upon returning to Lucerne, we used the opportunity to explore more of Lucerne, one of Switzerland's most visited cities. Its most famous landmark is the Chapel Bridge, a covered wooden bridge originally built in the 14th century. Actually, this is a replica of the original, most of which was destroyed by a fire in 1993. And it is the home of the famous "Dying Lion of Lucerne," (see Times Column October 2).

The last vestiges of jet lag are disappearing and tomorrow we leave Lucerne for other adventures.

Next week: Alpdorf, the Tell Statue, and the legend.

- John Waelti of Monroe can be reached at His column appears Fridays in The Monroe Times.