«Take the Long Way Home» – A Brief Guide to Traveling in the Digital Age

"Baedeker", ancestor of the "Loney Planet Guide"

(Original article in German, published in NZZ, 24/25 August 2019).

Was it the same before your holiday? You spent hours browsing through various online catalogs, virtually tracing your itinerary with Google Maps and booking your hotel directly after ensuring that it was in the best location with Street View. Of course, Tripadvisor or Holidaycheck rankings provided all relevant insider information regarding service quality and menu, so that your stomach was well prepared for what awaited it at its destination. And finally, did you also get the dull feeling that you had already experienced everything before you started your journey?

As traveling contemporaries, we are always caught up in the spirit of the times, and the days when people prepared for their big destination in the internet-free Palaeolithic in the now deadly travel shops seem far removed. But perhaps this time is not too far away. His «flight shaming»-afflicted cheap flight ticket is no longer stuck in the memory album today, instead there is talk of deceleration everywhere. In the golden era of travelling around the turn of the last century no special word was needed for this experience – let’s look back and travel once with three antiquarian «Baedeker» copies (1898, 1908, 1913) instead of hundreds of Internet recommendations.

Stage 1: Zurich–Milan

We drive from Zurich to Arth-Goldau in one and a half hours and change there to the first-class express train, the so-called «Blitzzug», which covers the Basel-Milan route in a total of six hours and also runs a dining car. From Lucerne to Flüelen we sit on the right, from Flüelen to Göschenen on the left to enjoy the view of Lake Lucerne to the full; for the section between Airolo and Bellinzona we change to the right, at Lugano and Como we sit on the left again. After arriving in Milan, we take a taxi or a hotel bus directly to the hotel. The first-rate inns and the better second-rate inns have lifts and central heating.

Milano, Piazza del Duomo, 1900. Source: Hippostcard.com

We charge two days for Milan, which is the first bank and stock exchange in Italy and at the same time the most important silk market in the world. We visit the famous cathedral, from whose roof the whole panorama of the Alps can be seen. Then we stroll through the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, by far the most beautiful and grandest of the covered shopping arcades in Europe, and visit the Museo Poldi Pezzoli and the Pinacoteca di Brera, both excellent collections of paintings. The second day leads us to the convent church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, where we visit the «Last Supper» by Leonardo da Vinci. Unfortunately, this church is in a deplorable condition, because it suffered a lot from the humidity, mainly because it was painted with oil paints directly on the wall.

Stage 2: Milan–Venice

To continue our journey to Venice we take the tram back to the main station, where we have to beware of pickpockets. One is as early as possible to the place, especially as the counter service is surprisingly slow. The train ride takes us via Padua to the lagoon city, where the commissioners of the hotels are already waiting for us at the station. Venice, once the most shining trading city of the world, now provincial capital with 148 500 inhabitants, a quarter of them completely impoverished, is four kilometres from the mainland and – with the exception of the shallow coastal areas – is saved from malaria by the alternation of ebb and flow.

Venezia, Veneto, Italy, 1900-1910. Source: Hippostcard.com

Our program takes us first by gondola to Palazzo Vendramin and back to Ponte Rialto, from here we walk through the Merceria to St. Mark’s Square; a tour of two hours that satisfies the first curiosity. For a glimpse, three to four days are enough, provided you use the city steamers and gondolas. The services of the intrusive tourist guides are absolutely superfluous with a good travel manual. Coachmen, gondoliers and similar people are more intrusive than here. Learning at least the basics of the Italian language can therefore not be recommended enough, just because one travels much more expensive without this knowledge and makes out the price carefully before many bookings («contrattare», chordize).

Stage 3: Venice–Vienna

Venice’s maritime location opens up a multitude of possibilities for onward travel: Austrian Lloyd sails three times a week to Trieste, the most important port of the Danube Monarchy, while the Hungarian Steamship Company calls at Fiume at least once a week. Finally, the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company sets course for Brindisi, Alexandria and Port Said every three weeks.

We choose the overland route and drive via Udine to the Italian border town of Pontebba, from where the luxury train takes us to Vienna in fourteen hours. With limited time a week is sufficient for a superficial overview, in addition various orientation round trips to carriages or with the tram offer themselves. Since the introduction of the taximeter in 1910, which changed the tariffs, the number of power cabs (autotaxis) has been increasing rapidly, and the elegant hackney carriages are beginning to replace them more and more. The Viennese cuisine is almost always good, soup, beef and pastry, the usual bourgeois meal, usually excellent. Coffee houses, mostly with excellent coffee, can be found everywhere in the cities and health resorts of the Danube Monarchy. There is also a large selection of food for the mind:

«When you have finished drinking your coffee, you are usually served two glasses of water, although you can still read newspapers for a longer time.»

Stage 4: Vienna–Presence

Vienna, Opera Ring, 1910. Source: Hippostcard.com

After a stay of seven days we board the Railjet to Zurich. The picturesque train ride takes us up the Danube past Melk Abbey, and we review our journey back in time to the Belle Epoque. How we will miss the elegant strolling in Milan’s passages and the unsolicited water of Vienna in the 21st century! Also on our next trip we will be accompanied by an antiquarian «Baedeker» next to the new «Lonely Planet». You will find this not only on Ebay for auction, but also directly at your antiquarian bookshop in the neighbourhood. This way, the process of deceleration can begin right on your doorstep.

Literature:

  • Baedeker, Karl: I. Oberitalien, Ligurien, das südliche Toscana. Mit 25 Karten, 30 Plänen und 5 Grundrissen. Leipzig, 15. Aufl. 1898.
  • Baedeker, Karl: Italien von den Alpen bis Neapel. Mit 25 Karten, 29 Plänen und 23 Grundrissen. Leipzig, 6. Aufl. 1908.
  • Baedeker, Karl: Österreich (ohne Galizien, Dalmatien, Ungarn und Bosnien). Mit 51 Karten, 41 Plänen und 7 Grundrissen. Leipzig, 29. Aufl. 1913.

History doesn’t care about «Ctrl Z»

Today, exactly 20 years ago, I started my career as a scientific collaborator in one of the most ambitious and controversally discussed historical projects Switzerland has ever launched: The Independent Commission of Experts: Switzerland – Second World War, also known as «Bergier Commission» (www.uek.ch).

SRF Arena, 22 March 2002

After thousands of pages, various oral history interviews, and 30 scientific publications / studies, it can be stated that all these analogue signals we collected between 1996 and 2002 are still vibrating today, namely in a digital manner.

These vibes can actually be found in the Media Archive of Swiss Radio and Television (SRF). As well, Memoriav, the Association for the Conservation of the Audiovisual Heritage of Switzerland, with its outstanding data collection called Memobase, the digitized resources at the Swiss Federal Archives, Berne, and the Archives of Contemporary History at the ETH Zurich, are perfect entry points to delve digitally into Swiss contemporary history.

The recent report «Backup for Posterity» (3Sat, 3 May 2018) shows that 90 percent of all  data has been generated in the last two years: the volume of digital data generated by our modern society is literally exploding. How can this data survive? What form of memory is there for our digital legacy? The main question is, which data is worth collecting and which is not. Above all, history the Queen of Analogue doesn’t care. Let’s put it this way: History itself will always be analogue because the human brain can’t voluntarely press a <Ctrl Z> key combination to reset its past experience. In other words:

History will never die because to <forgive> doesn’t mean to <forget>: Up to now, there’s no human way to push the Holy Digital Knob called <Undo>!

 

PS: Feel free to contact me if you want to learn more about working in a globally organized virtual team in the beginning era of digitized research.