Switzerland lauds creativity in 50-year partnership

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Feb 7, 2013 - 20:40
  • Updated : Feb 7, 2013 - 20:40
Nature lovers enjoy the alpine air as they hike one of Switzerland’s many mountain trails. (Swiss Embassy)
In an impoverished Seoul struggling to recover from the Korean War a few years earlier, teenager Kim Hong-chul became fascinated with yodeling, the folk music of Switzerland.

He wrote to Walter Bernays, the editor of Zurich-based newspaper Tages-Anzeiger, in search of recordings of yodeling, enthralled with its other-worldly rhythms derived from extended falsettos and rapid high-low-high-low sounds of the vocal register.

Bernays responded with enthusiasm, fascinated that a Korean youth halfway around the world would be enamored with Swiss folk music.

A teenage interest in yodeling became a lifelong passion, leading Kim to perform for audiences in Korea and Switzerland for over 50 years.

Kim’s passion, creativity and individual initiative characterize relations between Korea and Switzerland that also span half a century.

This year the Swiss Embassy celebrates the 50th anniversary since the establishment of diplomatic relations, a half-century partnership of innovation, creativity and individual initiative. Switzerland and Korea established official ties on Feb. 11, 1963.

Switzerland’s track record in science and technology exemplifies the Swiss-Korean partnership. Arguably the most famous Swiss scientist was Albert Einstein, who studied at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich). Though Einstein was born in Germany and later acquired citizenship in the United States, he kept his Swiss citizenship and developed his groundbreaking theory of relativity in Switzerland.
Korean yodeler Kim Hong-chul (left) performs for a Swiss audience. (Swiss Embassy)

Founded in 1855, ETH Zurich has become one of the most prestigious academies of higher learning, attracting the brightest minds from all over the world.

What is more, Switzerland has the highest number of Nobel Prize winners per capita in the world. Some 20 Swiss scientists and five institutions have been awarded a Nobel Prize. There are 29 more Nobel laureates who conducted research in Switzerland for more than five years.

The most recent Swiss Nobel Prize was awarded in chemistry to professor Kurt Wuthrich from ETH Zurich for his groundbreaking work in nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy.

Through cooperation in the fields of science and technology and on academic exchange, Wuthrich has regularly visited Korea since 2004. Now he teaches at Yonsei University as part of its World Class University Program.

This cooperation in science and technology has fueled commerce, with Korea becoming a major investment destination for Swiss companies to establish offices or production facilities. The total capital stock of Swiss direct investment in Korea amounts to several billion U.S. dollars and Switzerland ranks among the top 20 investors in Korea.

The Swiss-Korean partnership really took off when a free trade agreement came into effect in 2006 as part of Korea’s larger partnership with the European Free Trade Association, which includes Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

It was only the third FTA for Korea after its agreements with Chile and Singapore. Based on the experiences with these smaller partners, Korea moved on to conclude FTAs with bigger partners, such as ASEAN, the EU and the United States.

Swiss-Korean two-way trade was $3.6 billion in 2011.

Switzerland’s main export items to Korea are machinery, pharmaceutical products, watches and components, as well as optical and medical devices. Korea exports machines, automobiles, consumer electronics and chemical products to Switzerland.

It is true that the robust Swiss-Korean trade relationship can be attributed partly to macroeconomic-factors like globalization and international rules and norms but, perhaps most importantly, it is the Swiss-Korean partnership based in mutual appreciation and innovation that drove trade relations.

Of course, Swiss-Korean ties are hardly confined to just money matters ― once Korea’s fascination with Swiss folk music such as yodeling, and more recently, Switzerland as a tourist destination.

Beyond the apres-ski chic, edelweiss and Heidi cliches lays a complex country of cohabitating cultures.

It has not only four national languages ― German, French, Italian and Romansh ― but a cultural variety to match.

You could be chomping on sausages over beer in an alpine stubli one day and pasta over a glass of merlot in a granite grotto the next.

If over-indulgence becomes a problem, perhaps one of the country’s thermal baths is in order. Switzerland has hundreds of spa resorts, from Yverdon-les-Bains, nestled between the hills of the Broye and Lake Neuenburg in western Switzerland, to Vals in the eastern part of the country. Besides its charming mountain destinations, Switzerland also hosts cosmopolitan cities.

Zurich is Switzerland’s biggest city and top financial center. It offers recreational and cultural activities that range from a visit to the lakeside in the very heart of the city to the exclusive Bahnhofstrasse, one of the most luxurious places to shop in Europe.

Geneva’s 140-meter-high Jet d’Eau fountain is one of the city’s most famous landmarks. Imagine yourself enjoying one of Geneva’s outdoor cafes on a sunny day with the Mont-Blanc mountains in the background. The flower clock, the United Nations building and some 30 museums and galleries are other points of interest.

The grandeur of the finest churches, such as the cathedrals in Lausanne and Berne, contrasts with sparkling but lesser-known treasures like the frescoes of Mustair or the abbey complex of St. Gallen ― both UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Indeed, the list of Switzerland’s enchanting towns is endless: Lucerne with its covered bridge; Neuchatel and its fountains; Gruyeres with its cheese; Grimentz with its traditional timber houses; and the graffito-decorated buildings of Engadine towns like Scuol and Zuoz.

Switzerland is high on the travel lists of Koreans touring in Europe. Some 170,000 overnight stays were spent by Koreans in Switzerland in 2011, as the alpine nation is especially popular among Korean honeymooners.

By Philip Iglauer (ephilip2011@heraldcorp.com)