When people think of Switzerland's neighbours it's usually the heavyweight nations of France, Germany and Italy that come to mind. But Switzerland also shares a border with little Liechtenstein – an historic anomaly with its own unique traditions and culture.
On Thursday, Liechtenstein will be celebrating its August 15th national day. And the festivities have even greater significance this year as they are part of year-long celebrations marking the 300th anniversary of the country’s existence.
Here's what you need to know about the mysterious nation that is The Principality of Liechtenstein.
Photo: George Mills
The typical Liechtensteiner is an unmarried 42-year-old Roman Catholic woman with 1.44 children and a nine-year VW Golf. She works 44 hours a week in the service industry and shares a four-room apartment with 1.26 other people.
This was the official population of the constitutional monarchy of Liechtenstein on December 31st 2018. That’s just behind Gibraltar and around the same number as Monaco. The capital, Vaduz, had 5,625 residents compared to around 130,000 people who call the Swiss capital of Bern home.
The Liechtenstein capital of Vaduz with the Swiss Rhine Valley in the background. Photo: George Mills
In case you were wondering how many soldiers there are in Liechtenstein, here is your answer. Liechtenstein abolished its army in 1868 and has never looked back, remaining neutral during both the two World Wars.
Famously, the Liechtensteiner army actually grew in size after fighting the Italians in 1866 – an original contingent of 80 men had become 81 after an Austrian joined its ranks.
By the way, Liechtenstein also has zero motorways, maternity wards and airports.
Liechtenstein’s unemployment rate at the end of July was 1.4 percent, equating to a grand total of 285 people – two fewer than a month earlier.
This is year zero for Liechtenstein. In 1699 Prince Johann Adam of Liechtenstein purchased Schellenberg and in 1712 he bought Vaduz. In 1719, the two parts of the country were unified by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI and granted the status of Imperial Principality. Almost a century later – in 1806 – the country attained sovereignty and in 1990 it joined the United Nations (12 years before the Swiss finally joined).
In 1719, Schellenberg (see top of map) and Vaduz (bottom) were unified.
The August 15th national day has been celebrated since 1940 and is linked closely to the August 16th birthday of former Prince of Liechtenstein, Franz-Josef II who reigned from 1938 to his death in 1989. He was an incredibly popular figure and under his reign, the country underwent a huge transformation from a poor, rural nation into a wealthy modern country.
Older people across the border in Switzerland will tell you that it was always possible to spot Liechtensteiners because they were the ones without shoes.
21,000 cross-border commuters
This is the number of foreigners who commuted to work in Liechtenstein at the end of 2017. In fact, a staggering 55.1 percent of the country’s employees live abroad. Without foreign workers, the country's economy would be in dire straits.
Just over one in three people living in Liechtenstein are foreigners with the largest groups being the Swiss, Austrians and Germans.
Malbun is Liechtenstein's ski resort, and a popular summer destination too. Photo: George Mills
The financial sector makes up 24 percent of Liechtenstein’s GDP. At the end of 2017, there were 14 fully licensed banks in the country and around 16 percent of the workforce were employed in finance. By contrast, just 0.8 percent of people in Liechtenstein work in agriculture. On that note, 35 percent of the country's farms are organic.
Although the two parts of Liechtenstein have been unified for 300 years, the country is still divided between people from the Unterland (the north of the country) and the Oberland (the south). There are slight differences in accent between the two regions – although outsiders would be hard pressed to pick up on them. Meanwhile, the high altitude village of Triesenberg is a world unto itself having been founded by Walser people, who originally migrated from the Swiss canton of Valais around 700 years ago.
This is when the customs treaty between Liechtenstein and Switzerland came into force and when border controls between the two countries were abolished. In fact, Liechtenstein does not have its own border police. If you enter the principality from neighbouring Austria, you pass a Swiss customs post.
This is how often the Principality of Liechtenstein has been accidentally “invaded” by Switzerland in the last three decades. In 2007, Swiss soldiers mistakenly marched into the principality because it was “too dark”, as one soldier told Swiss tabloid Blick at the time. However, an earlier accidental “invasion” in winter 1985 had far more serious consequences after stray rockets inadvertently started a serious forest fire in the diminutive country.
In the summer of 1984, women in Liechtenstein were finally granted the right to vote in a referendum, although it was very close, with 2,370 people voting in favour of the momentous change and 2,251 voting against suffrage for women.
By contrast, women in Switzerland won the right to vote in 1971 – at least at the national level. The Swiss canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden did not give women the right to vote on cantonal issues until 1990.
This is the length of the new Liechtenstein Trail – a walking path which crosses the length of the country which links 136 historic points of interest. Part of the idea is to link Liechtenstein's Unterland and Oberland (see above), but Liechtensteiners tell The Local the verdict is still out on whether it is working.
A sign marking the route of the new Liechtenstein trail. Photo: George Mills
The highest mountain in Liechtenstein – the Grauspitz – is 2,599 metres above sea level. This is close to twice the height of the UK’s highest peak, which is Ben Nevis at 1,345 metres.
160 square kilometres
Liechtenstein is the sixth smallest country in the world with an area of 160 square kilometres. Switzerland has an area of 41,285 square kilometres, meaning you could fit 258 Liechtensteins within Switzerland’s borders. But the small principality is a giant compared to the world’s smallest country, the Vatican, which has an area of just .44 square kilometres.