hidden europe 28

Invading Liechtenstein

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: The spot in Hinterschellenberg where the Russian National Army experienced its first taste of Liechtenstein hospitality: the ‘Wirtschaft zum Löwen’ (The Lion) (photo © hidden europe).


Liechtenstein is one of Europe's unsung territories: a tiny Alpine principality by-passed by most travellers. We follow the route of an army of Russian soldiers that sought sanctuary in Liechtenstein in May 1945.

Feldkirch is a town in the mountains and of the mountains. Travelling south from Lake Constance, it was in Feldkirch that we first had a sense of really being in the Alps, rather than merely viewing the hills from a distance. Suddenly topography intrudes on everyday life, Feldkirch’s fierce inclines replacing Bregenz’ sedate lakeshore boulevards.

Napoleon’s forces swept through the Vorarlberg without much to delay them — until they came to Feldkirch where terrain gave the defending Austrians an advantage. By the midnineteenth century Feldkirch was reaping the benefits of its mountain setting, with the fast flowing River Ill powering three of Europe’s largest cotton mills.

From Feldkirch, it is but a short hop on to Liechtenstein. The frontier of the Alpine principality is no more than three kilometres from the great fortress that presides over Feldkirch. Now, ordinary travellers would simply hop on a bus in Feldkirch and be at the border within just a handful of minutes. We didn’t. Not that there is anything wrong with the bus. Indeed, if there were a Nobel Prize for transport services, we would write to the King of Sweden nominating the Liechtenstein bus company for the award. The principality’s distinctive lemon-coloured buses deftly negotiate tiny mountain roads, while the drivers are sources of good advice about Liechtenstein life. And at least twice an hour, sometimes more, another of those lovely lemon buses heads off from the Katzenturm in Feldkirch — an odd name which means ‘cat tower’ — bound for the foreign land just over the hill. The buses are cheap, comfortable and there is even on-board entertainment in the form of a newspaper rack, where travellers may choose from the Vaterland or the Volksblatt.

The reason we did not want to take the bus from Feldkirch to Liechtenstein was quite difficult to explain to a helpful official at the Feldkirch tourist information centre, where we enquired about getting a detailed map showing minor roads into Liechtenstein. We mentioned that we were intent on following the route taken by the Russian army.

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