GENERAL ARTICLES

Land of Yesterday

Fairy tales come true in Liechtenstein, land of beautiful princesses, happy peasants and a one per cent income tax

E. MICHAEL SALZER June 1 1947
GENERAL ARTICLES

Land of Yesterday

Fairy tales come true in Liechtenstein, land of beautiful princesses, happy peasants and a one per cent income tax

E. MICHAEL SALZER June 1 1947

Land of Yesterday

E. MICHAEL SALZER

WITH income tax at one cent on the dollar, a nicely balanced budget, every citizen a member of the landed gentry, and only one movie house (Sundays only) for all its 10,000 people, Liechtenstein is the nearest thing to fairy-land-come-true in a troubled world today.

True to its name, which means “atone of light,” this tiny 60-square-mile Ruritania is a beacon of happiness and sanity in a mad and miserable Europe. The only German-speaking monarchy still on the map hits no army, navy or air force, no trade-unions (or strikes), no paupers, squatters, hungry or homeless, no divorces, no crime wave, and, incidentally, more sunshine all the year round than any of its neighbors.

The people, in gay Tyrolean costume, dance in the streets whenever a little Prince is born, which happens every other year. Every third man belongs to the Red Cross Club which has helped thousands of starving children in neighboring Austria and nearby Germany. All the good things denied to so many millions on the war-ridden continent are abundant in the general store run by a widowed Hbsrroness. Seven smartpolicemen manage to keep law and order in this Shangri-la in the heart of the Alps between Switzerland and Austria, which maintained its sovereignty and neutrality through two world wars without, firing a shot from either of the two century-old cannon on the ramparts of the Walt Disney castle on the hill above Vaduz, the capital.

A few miles to the north, on the shores of Lake Constance, the Zeppelin wharfs trembled under the impact of Allied thousand-pounders, while Liechtensteiners tolled the wedding bells for “Francis Joseph II, by the Grace of God, sovereign Prince of Liechtenstein, Duke of Troppau and Count of Rietberg,” when he brought his fair bride from bomb-shattered Vienna in 1943. The King of Italy, the Führer of the Reich and the Gauleiter of Vienna, Baldur von Schirach, were among the international notables who added their greetings to the 10,000 cheers that echoed through the valleys as the Prince’s happy subjects sang their national anthem, “High up on the German Rhine, gracefully leans our Liechtenstein . . .” And the only fireworks Liechtensteiners cared to notice throughout the war were the colorful Catherine wheels and rockets in the town square with which they wished the princely couple, according to fairy-tale formula, “May they live happily ever after.”

Willy-nilly one gets into fairy-tale idiom when talking of this pocket-size principality. The 20minute bus ride across the Rhine from neighboring Switzerland is like a switchback into a strangely tranquil, peaceful never-never land beyond the rainbow. You see a moonlit fairy castle perched on a green hill, houses strewn over the slopes, as from an overturned toy box, their homely lights twinkling across the meadows, silvery smoke rising into the starry sky to dissolve into the Milky Way. Any moment one expects gnomes and elves to dance into the glade.

Into this storybook scene came Princess Georgina, young, fair, green-eyed, lithe and tall, with all the trappings of the fairy-tale heroine, when she drove into her new homeland. The pretty daughter of Count Wilczeck, the Bohemian landowner, whose Viennese palace was bombed, arrived in the fabulous eyrie of her dark, serious Prince Charming in the spring of 1943. The medieval castle had just been turned into a snug home, with central heating and a marble bath in the old armory. Battles were raging furiously somewhere over the horizon, but they were quickly forgotten when the enthusiastic burghers mustered all the brass bands, mixed choirs, top hats, beer barrels and casks of the local wine to celebrate the first royal wedding ever held in this country since Prince Hans Adam bought it for 115 florins 250 years before. Even the Vaduz burgomaster began his loyal address, “Just like in a fairy tale.” And for 11 Sundays following the wedding, bride and bridegroom paid state visits to the other 11 villages to shake hands.with the mayor, pat the postman’s baby and smile at all and sundry who had come to pay homage.

Before long though, the novelty of Ruritania had to wear off. I would not be surprised if the Princess, who had spent all her life in the gay Austrian metropolis, is a bit bored up there now. She has admired time and again the view from the castle tower, seen all the old masters in the castle gallery and sat umpteen times for her portrait painted in candy-box style by a gaunt, bearded Russian, who looks like Tolstoy and talks like Charles Boyer. Of course, her two babies keep her busy, and a powerful radio set lets her listen to the voices of the wide world.

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Fairy tales come true in Liechtenstein, land of beautiful princesses, happy peasants and a one per cent income tax

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In a past generation the Princess of Liechtenstein would have lived the gay and ceremonious life of the Hapsburg court in Vienna. The present Prince is the first to live in Liechtenstein in more than a century; the others only turned up occasionally to open Parliament. Francis Joseph was born in Vienna 40 years ago, and his predecessor was Austrian ambassador to the Czar of all the Russias. Until 1919 Liechtenstein was closely allied to the Hapsburg monarchy. After the collapse of the Austrian empire and the Austrian currency, the Liechtensteiners voted themselves into a customs union with Switzerland. That, in part, explains their present prosperity.

The Prince’s Poor Relations

Prince Francis Joseph lived in Vienna until 1938. He succeeded to the throne the day Hitler marched into Austria. He spent half a million dollars to make his castle habitable, moved to Vaduz, and hasn’t left his country for almost 10 years.

I drove up one day to call on the Prince. The drawbridge creaked as the car rolled into the castle courtyard. I parked alongside the ancient walls where grooms once held restive steeds for knights in clanking armor.

An elderly butler ceremoniously led the way up a spiral stair to the Prince’s quarters. At the head of the stair 1 met Count Wilczek, the Princess’ father; ht» had set up his study in an anteroom. “We are a hit crowded up here,” he apologized.

The Prince, tall, dark, with a small mustache, greeted me in fluent English in his library in the tower, lined with shelves that contained the latest Englush and American books. A sportsman and a globe-trotter, he affected no princely pompousness, and was quite frank in discussing his affairs.

Prince F rancis Joseph comes from a family that once ranked among the wealthiest of Europe’s aristocrats. But the Czechs confiscated vast estates, and unless he gets some compensation for them, Francis Joseph will have to part with some of the rare art treasures he saved from Vienna and now stores in the dungeon.

It costs the Liechtenstein treasury nothing to support the Prince. On the contrary, he brings good money into the country. Right now his personal expenses are unusually high. With the end of the war a flood of titled and ruined refugees descended on him. Dozens of Austrian, Polish, Hungarian, Czech and German noblemen suddenly remembered their blood relationship with the prolific House of Liechtenstein and came to stay with their third cousin, the only sprig of mid-European aristocracy who managed to hang on to ermine and crown in a republican world.

The guest lust of the castle annex, where the Counts and Barons of Andrassy, Pa Iffy, Potocki, Czartorski and others huve found a temporary home, reads like a page from the Almanach de Gotha. All have lost their possessions and palaces, but glory in the limelight which they attract in title-minded Liechtenstein, where they are still reverently addressed as “Serene Highness.”

Among the gayest additions to the strange family party is Princess Maritza, who has done little to bridle her Hungarian temperament and expensive tastes. This embarrasses the rather stolid young prince, who is expected to smile at the middle-aged lady’s extravagant whims and has to foot her bills.

Even more embarrassing for the Prince, who likes nothing better than to mind his own business (reading good books, playing with his kiddies, and I listening to classical music), were the ! unguarded pronouncements of his wartime premier, who hastened to assure the powerful Führer of “his country’s and his Prince’s deep loyalty to the common German cause.” When postwar spring-cleaning began Liechtenstein was in a turmoil and it took some time before all, including the Prince, could live down the pro-Nazi uttering» and activities of some of its wartime leaders. In spite of the telegrams from Hitler and Schirach at his wedding, Prince Francis Joseph and Liechtenstein managed to steer a neutral course.

Hitler’s First Setback

Twenty-five Nazis were arrested after the war and expelled to Germany, including some Hitler agents who had used Liechtenstein as a spy bast*.

“We wiped the slate clean,” 1 was told by the present Prime Minister, Herr Alexander Frick, former tax inspector, one of 10 sons of a small land holder. Frick, at 38 probably the youngest premier in the world, is also Chief Scout and one of the heroes who helped save Liechtenstein’s independence in the spring of 1939, when Hitler tried another of his bloodless conquests.

The Prince devoutly credits Liechtenstein’s guardian angel with the quiet victory that day, but Frick, though equally devout, ascribes it to the valiant Boy Scouts. On the 24th of March, 1939, the principality’s freedom was on the razor’s edge. The year before, Hitler’s storm troopers had rushed into Austria and by-passed Liechtenstein, originally included in the plan of campaign. Someone had blundered. The next best thing was “a union by popular request.” The odd hundred Nazi sympathizers were duly instructed to shout loud enough for the SS-men across the border to pick up the signal and rush to the aid of “the oppressed.”

The eight policemen were powerless to stop the wildly shouting mob as it approached the capital. The last Liechtenstein soldier, a veteran of the Prussian war of 1866, had died a few days previously at the unsoldierly age of 95. The first and last line of defense remained with the Boy Scouts. They turned out, backed by some of the peasantry, armed with pitchforks, scythes and cudgels and entrenched themselves behind haycarts, sticks of furniture and bicycles. Reverend Anton Frommelt, the lionhearted vicar, skidded his old gawky Ford astride the road and waited. The brown shirts had banked on a bloodless victory. Faced by the determined man of God and the resolute youngsters, they blew a reluctant retreat. Unsung by a more preoccupied world, the sturdy Boy Scouts of Liechtenstein had given Hitler his first defeat.

Frick, then a Scout Leader, is now Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary and Minister of the Interior, of Finance, Education and Public Works. He is also Chief of Police. As such he recently disbanded the 40 auxiliary gendarmes who had been recruited in 1939 “to protect the frontiers during the war.” They had done their job well, without firing a shot. All the rifles and ammunition issued to them were duly returned to the state armory. So were the olivegreen uniforms. They were allowed to keep their boots as “souvenirs.”

As a princely tax inspector Frick drew $1,500 a year. As Premier he touches $5,000, top salary in Liechtenstein public service.

“We don’t encourage pleasure seeking outside the home,” he told me. “We had to license a movie house, but it only opens week ends. Workdays are for work, evenings for rest. Films flaunt seductive bodies and fabulous luxuries before your eyes, make people unhappy and discontented because their lives and homes are not up to Hollywood standards.”

Quoth the Prime Minister of Liechtenstein on the subject of censorship: “We have none. The movie man asks the clergyman, ‘Have you any objections, sir?’ and if he has, another film is shown. Youngsters under 18 are not admitted, of cours**. We passed a youth-protection law that also prohibits open display of illustrated periodicals or their sale to teen-agers. Some pictures might upset the kids’ natural balance.”

Parliament next door has been held up while the Premier discoursed on clean living and the secrets of Liechtenstein's happiness. The elders of the country had assembled to discuss national affairs, and were waiting for their chief. They were to wait a while yet.

“Women here have no vote, and quite rightly not,” declared Herr Frick. “The man is the boss, and that’s that. We have no religious problems. No divorces. The Roman Catholic State Church would not recognize them.”

We looked through some statistics. Only nine out of 324 children were horn out of wedlock last year. “Almost three per cent, ” he frowned,“more than I had thought.” But even the stork has a balanced budget in Liechtenstein. Precisely as many boys were born as girls. Equal numbers survived. Even so, there is a man shortage here, and a host of spinsters. Every fourth Liechtensteiner had, in recent years, married a German girl from across the border.

Frick explained the absence of beggars. “Every man has the right to a piece of public land, so none need go hungry. Postwar expenditure raised the income tax to one and a half per cent. The people protested, staged a plebiscite and made us return to one per cent. To balance the budget we look for other revenue.”

Foreign trusts and holding companies, attracted by low taxation, provide it. A few hundred wealthy refugees found sanctuary here and swelled the communal kitty to the tune of about $20,000 per naturalization. Their sons had to pay an extra thousand or so, but their daughters were admitted into the folds of Liechtenstein citizenry free. Another lucrative source of national revenue is the sale of postage stamps, eagerly sought after by international stamp collectors. A handsome lump sum is added by the Swiss, to whom Liechtenstein (already represented by Switzerland in the diplomatic service and using Swiss currency) has farmed out its customs.

“The secret of our peaceful existence is simple,” Frick expounded. “We are rich enough to be happy, but too poor in material wealth to attract would-be conquerors.”

No Room for Crime

At this point, the other (and bigger) half of the two-man cabinet, the Premier’s deputy, Herr Ferdinand Nigg, rolled into the room. Nigg, affectionately known as Falstaff, has been permanent secretary of the Cabinet for years. Frick is a Christian Socialist, Nigg a member of the only other party, the Unionists. Neither of the two political factions looks to the left. One is just a little less progressive than the other.

After a vain attempt to see his own toes, the rotund Nigg, Minister of Agriculture, Trade and Industry and boss of the aliens department of the police, gave me a quizzical look and smiled.

“First time in Liechtenstein?” he queried. “Like our country?” Without waiting for an answer he added ruefully, “There are a lot of foreigners here — 16% of the population.”

Every sixth Liechtenstein resident comes from Germany, Austria, Switzerland or any of a dozen other European countries. They include 150 Don Cossacks, who had fought with the Germans and then escaped to Liechtenstein. Canadians don’t seem to hav discovered this taxpayer’s paradise yet . Two Canuck ex-p.o.w.’s passed through Vaduz at the end of the war and promised to sent a postcard to the Princess, who had ladeled out hot soup to them from a Red Cross canteen at the border. But they never did.

Foreigners are largely blamed for most of the felonies committed. The crime roll for the year notes a mere six thefts and frauds, one case of arson, four public brawls, some cases of rape and one lese majesty. The last murder dates back a generation.

“This place has no room for crimes,” Falstaff Nigg stated proudly. “In fact, no room for criminals either. The local prison is too small. For $1,600 a year all of Liechtenstein’s malefactors are boarded out at the jail of St. Gallen in Switzerland.”

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Once Nigg was also a keen Scout. Now past the fifties he plays jazz instead. Not the kind of noisy jazz you mean, but the local card game, which has an all-absorbing power over the regulars in the cafés and beer gardens. There one can pick up the latest gossip about the local eccentrics. And there are plenty of them.

Haven of Jobless Nobles

Top of the list of odd characters is Count Ayron, onetime police chief of the Shah of Persia, friend of the last Czar of Russia, for 20 years Liechtenstein’s most mysterious citizen. This tall, gaunt, hatchet-faced septuagenarian with the glowing dark eyes fears assassination. He never sleeps in the same hotel room twice. His valet checks every cranny before he enters, and even in his specially built house he has a spiral staircase behind a secret door of his bedroom for quick exits.

The ivy of legendary anecdotes also clings to the Count of Bendom, the only Englishman ever to be awarded a Liechtenstein title. He travels with Liechtenstein papers and a huge portable aviary with dozens of lovebirds. He strolls through Vaduz with a tame duck at his heels.

German and Austrian nobility found refuge here. Some live on their rescued capital, most on their wits and titles, a few work for their living. The Baltic Baroness von Falz-Fein runs a general store. Any customer not completely devoid of the proper drawingroom manners will address her with the customary “Kuess die Hand, Frau Baronin” (I kiss your hand, baroness) before asking for a can of sardines. The delivery boy is her young son. When he calls at the back door with the goods he won’t turn a hair at the “Many thanks, Herr Baron,” and he won’t refuse a dime either.

Her nephew runs the local photo shop. The young baron is most likeable, handsome, witty and an able craftsman. He has a copyright on the photogenic family of the Prince, and, as every loyal Liechtensteiner has the newest snap of the princely babies in the place of honor on the mantelpiece, his business is brisk and lucrative.

The Land History Forgot

Perhaps the austere life is the secret of Liechtenstein longevity for only one in 10 dies before his sixtieth birthday. Family life is the key to everything. To fall out with the grocer over some bad eggs inevitably entails sanctions and boycotts by the rest of his clan. One of the big hotels had a row with the butcher. When the roof was leaking the local roofer regretted. “We are very busy just now, perhaps next week.” The central heating broke down and was never repaired because the plumber could not manage to spare the time. Hotel guests shivered and left. The lights went out of order. The electrician manipulated the switches and for a time the lights went on and off as if the gremlins were having signal practice. He, too, was a member of the slighted butcher’s family. The hotel had to close down until a new manager broke the spell of the family closed shop. No wonder they don’t need trade-unions in this country.

In a small land like Liechtenstein, democracy is simple, direct. The peasants don’t like letters; they take their complaints straight to their Prime Minister. And if they cannot get satisfaction they call a plebiscite. Any 400 signatures can demand a new law. And any 600 can topple the government. About three per cent of the population are barons, counts or princes, but they don’t count in vital decisions.

Nine out of 10 Liechtensteiners live off their land. They bake their own bread, distill their own schnapps and weave their own cloth. They swear by their national dish the “ribel” (white maize flour mixed with water and salt, fried over a hot fire) and their local wine. The tenth, the nonfarmer, is either a “foreigner,” industrialist, or a laborer in one of the few textile, metal, or printing works. Or perhaps he works at one of the two large denture factories where millions of artificial teeth are produced for export.

Thrice history forgot these 60 square miles in the heart of Europe. Napoleon, by a slip of the quill, named Liechtenstein, then still part of Germany, as an autonomous member of the Rhine Bund, but somehow forgot to inform the Liechtensteiners. In 1866 the Liechtenstein army of one officer and 78 men fought at the side of the 553,000 Austrians against Prussia. Harassed diplomats concluded intricate peace treaties, but overlooked Liechtenstein. Officially the principality would therefore still be at war had not Prussia been recently dissolved by Allied decree. When Hitler by-passed Liechtenstein in 1938, Vaduz had just celebrated the 70th anniversary of the demobilization of the last Liechtenstein soldier.

The Cossack and the Cabala

“Sometimes I think we must be a very lucky people,” mused my driver, the police corporal, as we drove along the well-kept road. He makes $350 a year, he told me. He has an easy life patrolling this law-abiding land. He has never used his German automatic or his Sheffield-forged dagger.

As we drove along the river we came upon a working party on the embankment. “Cossacks,” the corporal explained. One hundred and fifty of them had deserted from the Red Army and joined the Wehrmacht under their adventurer-general Holmston. We stopped so I could talk to this tough soldier of fortune who was born in Finland, raised in Russia, fought under the Red flag in the revolution, then broke away and fled to Poland. His grey eyes sparkled as he told of his storybook life. The Nazis trusted him reluctantly and let him train an army of Gzarists and Russian deserters to fight Stalin. Before they could move into line Germany collapsed and they fled to Liechtenstein.

Now the general is back at his old hobby, studying the mysteries of the occult, the secrets of the cabala which he claims to have learned from Jewish “wonder rabbis,” whom he had saved from the Nazis. Twiddling his emerald ring with the mysterious cabalistic signs, he tells of his magnum opus, a book on the occult meaning of National Socialism.

A Soviet mission recently tried to persuade the Cossack renegades to return home. A few did. The majority stayecj behind. They prefer the reality of fairy-land Liechtenstein, where none go hungry or homeless, where gold watches, cameras, typewriters, sturdy lx>ots and all the schnapps you can drink can be had on the white market; where the buxom girls get a decent dowry, and nothing worse than loose gossip might ruffle the calm sea of happiness; all this they prefer to the tempting promises of their Soviet homeland. And quiet flows the Rhine