An elegant Swiss secret: Rheinfelden
As I came flying out of the church into the sweet Swiss air, saying “Thank you” in as many languages as I could muster to the very surprised woman who had unlocked the door, I didn’t feel entirely regal. Certainly, there are worse places for an unintentional incarceration than a cathedral iced as delicately as a wedding cake with pale blue marble, but I like my freedom. If you can avoid being trapped in one of the picturesque monuments, Rheinfelden is an excellent place to spend the day.
Being a small country, Switzerland is a great place for day trips. The train system is gloriously punctual, and Rheinfelden is easily reached from Bern (or any of the major cities). It’s beautiful, historical, friendly, and much easier on the wallet than Zurich, Geneva, or any of the skiing hotspots.
The town is a pleasant, quick walk downhill from the train station, and the tourist office was charmingly accommodating, providing a walking map of the area complete with information about notable buildings and legends. I later realized that the tourist office also hands out keys to some of the major buildings, like the churches. Unfortunately, I realized this after I followed a tour group into the church and found myself locked inside when they left.
The main street of town has all of the shopping, dining, and drinking spots you could want in a quaint little European town, including a local brewery and a friendly cafe, all set within ancient stone walls. After winding my way through the cool, breezy streets and contemplating the greater questions of life (including “Don’t nuns go to the bathroom?”) while confined in a church, I wandered down to the river.
The water provides typical Swiss perfection: a glassy showcase for the pure, blue sky and delicate buildings. As you watch swans and ducks glide by, it’s easy to get lost in the moment and imagine this place as an eternally peaceful paradise. However, during World War II, the bridge that now serves as a rather uneventful crossing point into Germany was the site of many escape attempts by American prisoners of war. The waters that seem so pristine and still were for many a terrifying conduit to freedom, either in life or death.
While many towns can surpass it for depth of shopping or sightseeing, the sharp contrast between the difficult past and the gentle present make Rheinfelden a town well worth a visit. And if you find yourself trapped in a beautiful old building for an hour or so, maybe you’re just meant to have that time for contemplation. Even a duchess needs a reality check now and then, and jumping up and down trying to holler at people passing by to rescue you from a religious house can be just the right dose of real.2 comments