Sunday, July 11, 2010

Heliotherapy in Switzerland

Here is an intriguing photo that I took at the exhibition "Magic Mountains: Switzerland as  Energy Centre and Sanatorium" in the Swiss National Museum in Zürich. It shows a nurse giving a child a glass of ovalmaltine.  The child and nurse are on skis, they are standing on snow and surrounded by high peaks, but what makes the photo most odd is the near nakedness of the youngster. 

As Helen Webberley has written, the concept of healthy living reached its peak in the late 19th and early 20th century, and was particularly strong in the German speaking world. In my last post I showed how many people sought solace from the ugliness of modern, industrial society by seeking a more natural way of living.  Some emphasised a healthy diet, particularly vegetarianism, and Swiss doctor Max Bircher recommended muesli.

By the early 20th century Switzerland became the destination of choice of those who suffered from some physical or spiritual ailment and who could afford the latest treatment.  Hermann Hesse was a frequent visitor to health clinics in Baden, Davos and Zürich.  Thomas Mann, in his masterpiece, The Magic Mountain, captured the almost religious dedication to healthy living found at a sanatorium in Davos.  Those who visited Davos included not only Mann himself but also the inventor of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle.  Mann describes how the patients would lie quietly on their sun beds on the balconies of their rooms and soak up the invigorating rays of the sun.

Thomas Mann (second from left) and Hermann Hesse (right) in Davos, Switzerland.

Originally it was the Swiss doctor Arnold Rikli (1823-1906) who proposed that the sun’s rays on the naked body could cure all sorts of illness.  He recommended that a healthy lifestyle should include fresh air, mineral water, vegetarianism, avoidance of alcohol and tobacco and, above all, the use of sunbath installations.  He put this concept of heliotherapy into practice in his own sanatrorium in Slovenia. His ideas were applied in his native Switzerland, in Ascona, in the Monte Verita commune, which attracted theosophists, anarchist, communists and other supporters of the life reform movement. On the nearby Brissago Isles in Lake Maggiore the millionaire bohemian Max Emden practiced nudity and sunbathing in his modern Roman Baths as well as on his speedboat and yacht. What they all shared was a hatred of modern civilization. Nudity was seen not simply as a counter-establishment choice and a move towards liberation, but it was also seen as an option within a healthy lifestyle, particularly powerful in the fight against tuberculosis. Richard Ungewitter's Die Nacktheit, which promoted nudism as well as abstention from alcohol, meat and tobacco, became a bestseller in 1904. The print below, from the artist Fidus,  sums up the Monte Verita attitude to nudity and sun worship. Entitled "Prayer to Light" it became the icon of the Life Reform Movement that centred around Ascona.  Although it looks like an example of 1960s psychedelia, Fidus, who was highly influenced by the mystical ideas of Theosophy and the German Wandervogel movement ( a youth organisation that promoted hiking and camping in nature) before discovering the Monte Verita commune, painted it in 1906. 

In 1903 the Nobel Prize for Medicine was given to Doctor Niels Finsen (1860-1904) for his work in treating patients with tuberculosis of the skin with ultra-violet light.  That same year the Swiss physician Auguste Rollier (1874-1954) initiated the use of sunbaths at his tuberculosis sanatorium in Leysin, in south western Switzerland.  The photo that I began with comes from Rollier’s Leysin clinic. A healthy diet (hence the ovalmaltine) and plenty of sunbathing became the chief features of this sanatorium that appealed to Europe wealthy class.  Its fame spread quickly and in 1931 the sanatorium’s residents were treated to a lecture from the great Mahatma Gandhi, where he extolled the benefits of vegetarianism and a sober lifestyle.

Auguste Rollier (centre) seeing a patient undergoing heliotherepy in his clinic in Leysin. (Copyright: Association pour le Patrimoine de Leysin)

Riki’s innovation certainly had some success in the fight against tuberculosis.  But, in retrospect, we now know that his treatment must have left many of his patients with a malignant legacy – skin cancer.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Muesli from Zürich

The gentleman above, with the George Bernard Shaw beard, is Doctor Max Bircher-Benner. In the 19th century many middle class Europeans looked with horror at the contemporary world that had been created by industrialisation.  Some turned to socialism or communism to liberate their working class comrades but others sought refuge by attempting to return to nature and live a more natural lifestyle.  Max Bircher was one of the leaders of this life reform movement.  For Bircher, the path to liberation was via the alimentary canal.  In other words, nutrition was the key to a happy, stress-free life. Bircher experimented with a vegetarian lifestyle and eventually, in 1900, came up with the perfect recipe, consisting of grated fruits and a sprinkling of nuts and grains.  He even invented a special grater to prepare his fruit and nuts.  Here is an original one from 1940:

Of course we all recognise the grater. Bircher's invention became literally a household utensil.  But what of his recipe for a healthy living?  That too was a resounding success, and Max Bircher gave his culinary innovation of grated fruit and nuts the name "muesli".  The cereal that graces the breakfast table of many a health conscious household today thereby goes by a name that comes from Swiss German: in Birchner's native land today "muesli" is usually still referred to as "Birchermüesli".

  Well to do patients enjoy a vegetarian meal in Bircher's Living Force Clinic

Bircher founded a sanatorium in Zürich in 1904 and called it "Living Force".  The clinic became renowned among the well to do who flocked here in order to acquire rejuvenation of their bodies and sometimes their souls. Among those who enjoyed Doctor Bircher's therapy were the novelists Thomas Mann and Hermann Hesse, the diplomat Sir Stafford Cripps and the violinist Yehudi Menuhin. The clinic continued to be a success after Bircher's death. Under the leadership of his very capable niece, Dagmar Liechti-von Brash, it still attracted patients from among the powerful, like Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir.

          Bircher's clinic on the Züriberg, above Zürich

The Swiss National Museum is currently presenting an exhibition "Magic Mountains: Switzerland as Energy Centre and Sanatorium".  All of the above photographs are displayed at this exhibition and are owned by the Bircher-Brenner-Archive, University of Zürich.

Read more essays on Switzerland in my ebook.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Under the Galata Tower

In late May I visited Istanbul for the first time in 28 years. It's hard to believe that so many years have gone by. Most difficult to comprehend is that I am 28 years older than the boy I was then. In 1982 I had hitch hiked from Groningen, in the Netherlands, to Istanbul, on a trip that would bring me across Asia. I spent two weeks in the city, in a cheap hotel next door to the famous café The Pudding Shop, a spit away from the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sophia. Turkey was under a military dictatorship at the time and a strict curfew was in place from 11:00 PM until 5:00 AM.  Nevertheless, I had a blast during my two months in the country. Although I have been back to Turkey since, I somehow had not revisited the magnificent Ottoman city that straddles two continents.

It has changed enormously – boutique hotels, cappuccinos, shopping arcades with fixed prices, none of these had been available in 1982. The Pudding Shop is still there, but now celebrates its infamous past with a sign that says "The World Famous Pudding Shop" and a photo that shows Bill Clinton visiting the restaurant. Inside, its walls are decorated with black and white photos of the long-haired clientele in the 1970s and '80s, when everything was available for a price. In other words, The Pudding Shop has become a museum of itself. I looked in vain for photos of a young Irishman with a beard and Jimi Hendrix hairstyle.

But the incredible friendliness and hospitality of the locals has not changed and the ancient sites are of course still there and the views in the centre of the old European quarters are more or less the same as they have been for centuries. In 1982 the Galata Tower was closed to visitors. Now, two lifts whisk visitors to the viewing platform on this 15th century monument to Italian renaissance architecture. The views from the tower are, well, you can judge for yourself.

This view shows the Bosphorus on the left and the Sea of Marmara in the far distance.  The coast on the far left, across the Bosphorus, is Asia. The water in the foreground is the Golden Horn.  In the centre, amidst the small wood, one can see the Topkapi Palace, home to the Sultans from the 15th until the 19th centuries.  To the right one can see the Aya Sophia, built as the biggest church in the world in the 6th century, changed to a mosque in the 15th (when it acquired its four minarets), converted into a museum in the 20th century.

Here is a close-up of the Aya Sophia.

And a little distance to its right, below is a view of the Blue Mosque, the only mosque in the world outside of Medina to have six minarets (two more than the whole of Switzerland, but the Swiss have decided that that is too much and have banned the contsruction of anymore).
Below is a shot of Galata itself, the medieval, Genoan part of town, with the Galata Bridge spanning the Golden Horn.  To the far left, the Topkapi Place, the Aya Sophia to its right and the Blue Mosque further to the right.  As you can see, Istanbul is a city of minarets.  On the far side of the bridge, slightly to the left, The New Mosque. ("New" as in 17th century.)

Here is the view further up the Golden Horn.

Below is the Süleymaniye Mosque across the Golden Horn.

And finally, a different view. Below is a view up the Bosphorus, towards the Black Sea. In the distance you can see one of the two bridges that span the continents of Europe and Asia. Can anyone guess from which point this last photo was taken?