Europe

Vaduz

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Liechtenstein, the world leader in false teeth, gaudy postage stamps, and a whole lot of black money. We’re assuming it’s pure coincidence that they speak so odd and unintelligible an Alemanic dialect of German here, but it hardly fits with one’s image of the second-richest country in the world.

Sometimes it seems like these tiny European countries—Monaco, San Marino, the Vatican, Andorra, and Liechtenstein—were developed purely with the modern tourist in mind. But in the chaotic history of the Holy Roman Empire and the Napoleonic age, survival was almost entirely a matter of picking the right side. No one exceled the Princes of Liechtenstein in this, as they rode the Hapsburgs to power and then played off the French.

In those days, you didn’t even need to live in the country you ruled. The Princes of Liechtenstein stayed in Vienna and relied on emissaries to collect their taxes. To this day, they maintain their world-class art collection in a museum there. But in modern democratic times, parliaments have a way of deposing absent-minded monarchs, so for the last 100-plus years, the Princes have at least made an appearance of living in the castle in the photograph. If they still send their long-term criminals to Austria, they have at least joined the Swiss for financial transactions.

You knew that Liechtenstein was on the way to the future when, in 1985, 51.4% of the male voters finally agreed to give women the vote. Otherwise, not much has changed. Last night, we caught a crowded outdoor religious ceremony in subzero weather where a priest and his acolytes sang a mournful mass over a dead tree they carried back and forth outside the church portico. We couldn’t understand a word of the odd Alemanic verses he sent soaring to the heavens.

Categories: Europe

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