LANGUAGE: Standard German; Alemannic German; English; French
RELIGION: Roman Catholicism; Protestantism
Liechtenstein is a tiny, beautiful country located in the heart of Europe. The citizens of this politically neutral principality enjoy a peaceful and prosperous existence in the midst of a scenic Alpine landscape.
The region now known as Liechtenstein has been inhabited since 3000 BC . It was eventually settled by the Alemanni, a Germanic people who arrived in the area in the fifth century AD . It was later divided into two separate entities: the Lordship of Schellenberg and the County of Vaduz. Prince Johann Adam of Liechtenstein acquired Schellenberg in 1699 and Vaduz in 1712, uniting the two domains as the Imperial Principality of Liechtenstein. Except for a brief period of French rule under Napoleon, the principality has been independent since 1912.
The principality joined the United Nations in 1991 and applied for membership in the European Community (EC) in 1994. Crown Prince Hans Adam has been Liechtenstein's reigning monarch since 1984.
Liechtenstein is a landlocked country located in the Rhine River valley between Switzerland and Austria. With an area of roughly 62 square miles (160 square kilometers)—slightly smaller than Washington, D.C.—it is Europe's fourth-smallest country. The western part of Liechtenstein, situated on the Rhine's eastern bank, is a flat region covering about 40 percent of the country, with mountains occupying much of the larger area to the east.
Liechtenstein has a population of approximately 30,000 people. Of these, about two-thirds are native-born residents of Alemannic descent. The rest are immigrants from Switzerland, Austria, and other countries. Liechtenstein's population is unevenly distributed among the principality's eleven administrative districts, which are called "communes." Vaduz, the capital city, has a population of about 5,000.
Standard German is the official language of Liechtenstein. It is used for official purposes and taught in the schools. However, most people also speak a local Alemannic dialect that resembles the German spoken in Switzerland. The people in the mountain region of Triesenberg speak a unique dialect called Walser. The principal second languages taught in school are English and French.
Some of Liechtenstein's legends date back to the seventeenth century. During this time, a savage wave of witch hunts swept over the principality during the reign of the Count of Hohenems. One legend concerns a fiddler named Hans Jöri, who unknowingly plays at a party thrown by a group of witches. The witches vanish when he disobeys them by drinking a toast to his own health. After this he suddenly finds himself seated on a scaffold holding a bleeding ox's hoof—a symbol of witchcraft—in his hand.
In another tale, a farmer suspects that a witch's spell is preventing his butter from thickening. After he thrusts a red-hot pitchfork into it, it thickens right away. The farmer's suspicions are proven when he is then approached by a witch who has burn marks on her hands shaped exactly like the prongs of the pitchfork.
Roman Catholicism is the state religion of Liechtenstein, and about 85 percent of the people are Catholic. Approximately 7 percent are Protestant, and the rest belong to other denominations. Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the constitution.
Many of Liechtenstein's holidays are holy days of the Christian calendar. These include Epiphany (January 6), Candlemas (February 2), the Feast of St. Joseph (March 19), Easter (observed from Good Friday through Easter Monday in late March or early April), Ascension Day (in May), Whit Monday (in May), Corpus Christi (in June), the Nativity of Our Lady (September 8), All Saints' Day (November 1), the Immaculate Conception (December 8), and Christmas, which is celebrated December 24–26.
Christmas is the most important holiday of the year, celebrated by putting up Christmas trees, exchanging gifts, and visiting with friends and family. Other holidays include New Year's Day (January 1), Labor Day (May 1), and Liechtenstein's national day (August 15), which is celebrated with speeches and fireworks.
People in rural areas still observe some of the traditional holiday customs passed on for generations. There is the annual Corpus Christi procession. During this procession, the entire village turns out, carrying a variety of devotional objects. They then pass by homes adorned with candles, flowers, and religious paintings.
On Bonfire Sunday, the first Sunday of Lent (in February), boys walk through their villages collecting wood for a large bonfire, which they light in the evening. They then perform an age-old ceremony, tracing patterns in the air with torches they have lit from the flames of the bonfire. After the fire dies out, the boys return home to a traditional pancake supper.
Another rural Lenten custom is "Dirty Thursday," also called "Sooty Thursday," which is observed on the last Thursday before Lent. On this occasion, boys arm themselves with chimney soot, which they rub into the faces and hair of unsuspecting victims. Another traditional prank carried out on this date is stealing a pot of soup from the kitchen of a village house. Some women have been known to even the score by hiding an old shoe in the soup pot.
Liechtensteiners live in a modern, industrialized, Christian country. Hence, many of the rites of passage that young people undergo are religious rituals, such as baptism, first communion, confirmation, and marriage. In addition, a student's progress through the education system is marked by many families with graduation parties.
Liechtensteiners commonly greet each other by shaking hands. Verbal greetings include Gruezi (also used in Switzerland) and the German Grüss Gott (these two greetings are used to say "hi"). Hoi! is a popular informal greeting used among friends.
Liechtenstein is a modern, industrialized country whose residents enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world. Most Liechtensteiners live in single-family homes, although apartment living has become common for young families who cannot afford their own homes. There is sufficient housing for all of Liechtenstein's inhabitants, and dwellings range from wooden houses scattered across picturesque mountain villages to modern multi-story apartment buildings in the capital city of Vaduz.
Private automobiles are Liechtenstein's most important mode of transportation, and the principality has a well-developed system of roads and highways. Its main highway runs through the country, linking it with Austria and Switzerland. Low-cost public transportation is provided by postal buses. These carry passengers to destinations within Liechtenstein, and also to Austria and Switzerland. Liechtenstein has one railway, operated by the Austrian Federal Railways. There is no airport within Liechtenstein. The nearest one is Kloten Airport in Zurich, Switzerland.
The typical family in Liechtenstein is the nuclear family, composed of parents and, on average, about two children. Most Liechtensteiners marry in their late twenties, preferring to complete their education before taking on the responsibilities of raising a family. It is not unusual for unmarried couples to live together before (or instead of) marrying.
Several distinctive traditional customs are still practiced at weddings in rural villages. When the bride and groom leave the church following the marriage ceremony, they often find their way barred by a rope held by the village children, who must be "bribed" by the best man in order to let the couple pass. Further bribes may have to be paid later, at the wedding feast, if the children manage to make off with one of the bride's shoes. Sometimes the groom's friends even "kidnap" the bride herself, and it is then the groom's turn to pay up. Yet another wedding custom is firing guns into the air, a practice that has been banned for safety reasons but is still done occasionally.
Women in Liechtenstein have only had the right to vote nationally since 1984 and are still denied local suffrage in some parts of the country. Many married women work outside the home.
The people of Liechtenstein wear modern, Western-style clothing for both casual and formal occasions. They dress neatly and conservatively in public. Their traditional costumes, or Trachten, are worn only rarely, for festivals and other special occasions. The women's costume has a gathered waist, a full skirt, and an apron, while men wear knee-length breeches, a flat black hat, and a loden (woolen) jacket.
Liechtensteiners eat three meals a day. Coffee and bread with jam are commonly eaten for breakfast (called Zmorga ). Zmittag, eaten at midday, is the main meal of the day and typically includes a main dish, soup, salad, and dessert. A lighter meal (Znacht) is eaten at dinnertime, often consisting of an open-faced sandwich made with various kinds of meat and cheese.
Although Liechtenstein is too small to have developed an extensive national cuisine, it does have some distinctive regional dishes. Käsknöfle consists of noodles made by squeezing a mixture of flour, water, and eggs through a perforated board. The noodles are then baked with grated cheese and a layer of fried onions and are often served with applesauce or a salad. Hafaläb , another favorite, is a dish made with a corn- and wheat-flour dough formed into small loaves. These are then boiled, left out to dry, sliced, and then fried. Corn flour is the principal ingredient of Törkarebl, made from porridge that is then fried to create a dump-linglike dish often served with elderberry jam.
Virtually all adults in Liechtenstein are literate. Both primary and secondary education are administered by the central government, and all children must attend school from ages seven to sixteen. In addition to government-run public schools, there are also private schools sponsored by the Catholic Church.
After completing their secondary school requirements, students either receive vocational training or prepare for the university entrance examination, known as the Matura .
Liechtenstein has no universities of its own. Its young people go to college in Germany, Austria, or Switzerland. Liechtenstein does have an evening technical college that offers courses in engineering and architecture, and a music school, as well as a variety of facilities for adult education.
Liechtenstein's great cultural treasure is the art collection of its prince, which dates back to the early 1600s. Housed in the capital city of Vaduz, it is the second-largest private art collection in the world. It is surpassed in size only by that of Britain's royal family. It is also one of the finest art collections—public or private—in the world. Its many masterpieces cover a wide range of periods and schools of art. It includes sculptures, tapestries, silver, and porcelain, as well as paintings by Breughel the Elder, Botticelli, Rembrandt, Rubens, and other masters of Renaissance art.
Liechtenstein also has a strong musical tradition. Brass bands and vocal ensembles are common in rural areas, while the cities of Vaduz and Balzers both have highly regarded operetta companies.
Since World War II (1939–45), Liechtenstein has been transformed from a farming society into a modern industrial state. Agriculture once occupied most of the people, but now only about 5 percent of the people farm. Nearly half of all employed adults work in service-sector jobs.
Liechtensteiners put in a long workday. It lasts from 8:00 AM to 6:30 PM with a midday lunch break lasting an hour or longer. Over a third of Liechtenstein's labor force commute to work from Switzerland or Austria. Liechtenstein's major industries include metal finishing, ceramics, pharmaceuticals, and electronic equipment.
Most Liechtensteiners are sports enthusiasts. Over a third of the population belong to the National Sports Union. The principality's downhill ski resorts are world-famous, especially those at Malbun and Steg. The Steg resort also has a popular cross-country ski course with a 1 mile (1.7-kilometer) stretch that is lit with floodlights, allowing for nighttime skiing. Summer sports include hiking, bicycling, and soccer.
Cultural pursuits—such as performing in choirs and bands—are popular. Many people belong to social clubs. Television is a common form of recreation. Liechtenstein has about one television set for every three people. All television programming is received from abroad. Radio broadcasts originating in Liechtenstein began in 1994.
Historically, Liechtenstein's major crafts included basket weaving, coopering (barrel-making), clog carving, and the fashioning of elaborate rakes. Today these activities have largely been replaced by the modern crafts of pottery, sculpture, and woodcarving, all areas in which Liechtenstein's artisans have a distinguished reputation throughout Europe.
Liechtenstein is world-famous for its beautiful postage stamps. They are valuable collector's items that provide a significant source of government revenue. Many are based on paintings found in the prestigious art collection of Liechtenstein's prince.
Concern about the large number of foreign residents in Liechtenstein—over one-third of the population—has led to restrictive immigration policies. These were passed because the presence of so many foreigners was causing Liechtenstein to lose the cultural unity that distinguishes this tiny nation from its neighbors.
However, increased numbers of foreign workers from neighboring German-speaking countries continue to commute to jobs in Liechtenstein, and foreigners still account for approximately 60 percent of the principality's work force.
Carrick, Noel. Let's Visit Liechtenstein. London: Pegasus House, 1985.
Gall, Timothy, and Susan Gall, ed. Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations. Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research, 1995.
Meier, Regula A. Liechtenstein. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Clio Press, 1993.
World Travel Guide. Liechtenstein. [Online] Available http://www.wtgonline.com/country/li/gen.html , 1998.