The vanished crocodile and other losses

Once there were crocodiles on the Gotthard. They were not dangerous reptiles, but mighty goods locomotives. With their long, powerful nose sections, they were not dissimilar to the feared creatures. Seeing one of those monsters creeping up the ramps, bridges and spiral tunnels of the old Gotthard Line was “a special occasion”: “The rotating rods produced a rhythmic hooting noise, the centre section appeared to be perpetually shuddering and shaking. (…) The lamps attached to the train’s bogies scouted alertly.” In the 1980s, however, the reptiles-on-rails had to give way to technical progress.

In his book, Martin Meyer traces in 86 brief texts many techniques, items, customs, manners, fashions, cultural aspects, figures of speech and phenomena of all types that have disappeared over the past 10, 20 or 30 years. Things that were still there “Gerade gestern” (the book’s title), just yesterday. An opportunity for Meyer, born in 1951, to reflect on the “gradual disappearance of the familiar”.

“Gradual” is the key word with Meyer: sudden huge upheavals are rare in history. Changes in everyday life usually happen slowly, covertly, until one day you realise that something is just not there anymore. The pipe-smoker, for instance, whom one seldom sees these days. Or the playboy, who has died out – or at least the term is no longer used. Postcards, despite the smartphone and selfie cult, are still available as before, but how often do posted summer holiday greetings land in our letter boxes?

The object of each short text often serves simply as a springboard for precise observations of everyday life, for deep reflection. Even the North Face of the Eiger in the Berner Oberland gives Meyer occasion for existential analytical observations. Once the 1,800-metre-high rock face was “the perfect stage for horror fantasy”; countless tragic dramas had been observed by the public through telescopes and field glasses. But it is no longer the grand stage for mountaineers, at some point the North Face also “vanished”. Mountaineers no longer struggle with the vertical over days, but thanks to modern equipment, ascend the face frequently in only a few hours.

Meyer is neither a cultural pessimist nor nostalgic. Yet the author cannot always conceal a touch of melancholy. But he has wrapped it in some beautiful text.

JÜRG MÜLLER

 

Martin Meyer: “Gerade gestern: Vom allmählichen Verschwinden des Gewohnten”, (Just Yesterday: About the Gradual Disappearance of the Familiar), Carl Hanser Verlag, Munich 2018, 320 pages, CHF 36.90

Comments (2)
  • Vibert Janine
    Vibert Janine at 24.09.2018
    D'autant plus intéressant que mon fils (handicapé) adore les trains..... et les crocodiles!!
    Show Translation
  • Ernst Ruetimann, Trang
    Ernst Ruetimann, Trang at 11.11.2018
    Das ist halt das, was man mit Progress oder Fortschritt bezeichnet. Ich fuhr fast 20 Jahre für eine schweizerische Reederei auf Hochsee. Damals, Ende der 60iger- Anfangs 70iger-Jahre, waren um die 500 Eidgenossen auf diesen Schweizerschiffen anzutreffen, heutzutage ist es wie sechs Richtige im LOTTO, noch Seeleute mit dem Schweizerpass auf diesen Kähnen anzutreffen . Sehr wahrscheinlich sind mehr Schweizer auf ausländischen Pötten als auf den einheimischen Schiffen unterwegs!
    Show Translation

Write new comment

Comments are approved within one to three days. The editorial team reserves the right not to publish discriminatory, racist, defamatory or inflammatory comments. Our detailed comment rules are available here.

The revision of the spatial planning law has put the brakes on urban sprawl by forcing local authorities to increase the density of built-up areas,...

Read more

The face of Swiss primary schools is changing. New teaching methods are now part of the daily routine. The basic concept of school itself is changing...

Read more

Rita Soltermann was a contract child on a farm in the Emmental. From then on she remained “trapped in the bottom drawer”. She appreciates the federal...

Read more

Switzerland’s big natural spaces are under pressure. More national parks would be the answer. Yet, a promising project in Ticino has just failed. And...

Read more
 

Auslandschweizer Organisation
Alpenstrasse 26
3006 Bern, Schweiz

tel +41 31 356 61 10
fax +41 31 356 61 01
revue@aso.ch