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Switzerland? Pretty, yes. Funny? No, or is it?Credit: Sam Ferrara / public domain
Swiss humor. Now, there are two words that you don’t often see together. In fact, Google Trends lists zero occurrences of the sentence between 2004 and now. Even “German humor” produces a graphic (albeit rather flat). But not only is there proof that Swiss comedy exists, it just might just be that being well hidden is kind of its thing. Find him and laugh. Or not, and the joke is on you!
This evidence, in fact, is cartographic. The Swiss Federal Office of National Topography, Swisstopo in short, is a decidedly serious institution. A lot of serious stuff – time and money, to start with – depends on the accuracy of his charts. In the case of its mountain maps, real lives are at stake. Yet for the past several decades, the austere institute maps have served as the canvas for a series of jokes among its funniest cartographers.
These cartographers played a mind game against their superiors, those whose job it was to check the maps before they were published. Over the years, cartographers have managed to slip – on maps supposed to contain only dry topographic facts – drawings of an airplane, a fish, a marmot, a climber, a face. , a spider, or even a naked woman. Once discovered, these humorous additions were removed without forgiveness. At least that’s how it used to be.
Either way, it doesn’t matter. Swisstopo is overcome by its own rigor. His map page allows you not only to zoom in and out on the most recent maps, but also to browse historical maps and thus revisit those “Easter eggs” which prove, even obliquely, the existence of a sense of humor in the mountains of Switzerland.
The plane that disappeared – twice
The first appearance of the craft on the 1994 map (circled, left) and its absence on the most recent map (2018).Credit: Swisstopo
In 1994, an anonymous cartographer from Swisstopo included an airplane on this map of Kloten, Zurich International Airport. While it may seem natural for planes to present themselves to airports, this is not normally the case on topographic maps.
The error remained undetected until a map revision in 2000, when the offending device was erased. However, the aircraft reappeared on the 2007 map in exactly the same location – the tarmac before Gate A – only to disappear again in 2013.
The naked lady of Künten
The abstract figure appeared in 1954 (circled, left), but it was clearly inspired by the actual topography of the area (2018, right).Credit: Swisstopo
Perhaps the oldest topographic Easter egg, and the current record holder of the oldest, is the Naked Lady of Künten. Appeared for the first time on the topographic map of 1954, the elongated silhouette was not discovered until 2012. Admittedly, without head, arms and feet, it is difficult to locate. Its odalisque forms are suggested by the curvature of a stream and an elongated green spot indicating vegetation.
The world – or at least that little bit between Eggenrain and Sunnenberg – has been put back in order in the 2013 edition of the local map. But it’s still easy to see how this particular distribution of topographic features could have inspired a lone 1950s cartographer to draw something that didn’t exist.
A Swiss fish in a French lake
In 1980, a giant fish appeared at the southern end of a French lake (left). In 1986, he was captured (right, the 2018 map).Credit: Swisstopo
It has never been discovered who remodeled the aforementioned landscape element into a female form. But the younger generation of Easter eggs is known by name.
In 1980, Werner Leuenberger even went international. He drew a fish at the southern end of the Remoray lake, a small lake just in front of the Franco-Swiss border. The fish felt at home among the lines delimiting the area as swampy. However, he was captured five years later and has been left out since 1986.
Attack of the giant Eiger spider
This giant spider (left, 1981 map) survived for half a dozen years near the top of the Eiger (2018 map without spiders).Credit: Swisstopo
In 1981, Othmar Wyss inserted a spider near the summit of the Eiger, one of Switzerland’s most iconic alpine peaks, in a place known to mountaineers as quite dangerous.
The giant spider survived for six years in the freezing cold. The snowfield that made up the spider’s body – and made it so difficult to approach the Eiger north – apparently also disappeared in the years that followed.
Haunted monk trapped in a map
The 1979 map (left), a year before the strange face was added (right).Credit: Swisstopo
A rock formation on a slope of Harder Kulm, a mountain near Interlaken, looks like a face. It’s the Hardermandli, or “harder little man”. Legend has it that he was a lewd monk, doomed to despise the place where he pursued a girl until her death.
Cartographer Friedrich Siegfried extended the curse to cartography, because since 1980 and to this day, the Hardermandli also lives on the map.
Beats waiting for the Italians
Another case of a card gag surviving to this day. Left, unadorned mountain side on a 1996 map; on the right, the mountaineer as we see him climbing towards Switzerland now. Credit: Swisstopo
For the 1997 map update, Mr. Siegfried engraved the likeness of a climber on the Italian side of a mountain slope near Val Müstair. He would have been tired of waiting for data for the region, which his Italian counterparts took a long time to provide, so he found a creative way to close the gap. Topography, like nature, also hates a vacuum, apparently.
Swisstopo seems to have taken to heart the cartographer’s criticism of his Italian colleagues, for the mountaineer still appears on the contemporary map, at least at a scale of 1: 100,000.
The marmot of the Aletsch glacier
What the Aletsch Glacier area looked like until 2010 (left) and how it has changed since (right, 2018 map). Both maps 1: 25,000.Credit: Swisstopo
Swisstopo’s most famous cartographic gag – or at least the most recent to be revealed, in 2014 – is the groundhog, which has been hiding in a boulder near the Aletsch Glacier since it was put in place by cartographer Paul Ehrlich in 2011. , shortly before his retirement. The groundhog is still there, and maybe she and the other quirks on the map can survive.
On its website, Swisstopo states that “these hidden designs do not affect the accuracy and level of detail of our maps, nor the safety and security of their users. They simply add a note of mystery to our nation’s maps. . “
Are there any other gags hidden in the official maps of Switzerland? Swisstopo itself claims to have no knowledge of any other cartographic oddities. But knowing and not telling is exactly the sort of thing they would find funny, isn’t it?
Strange Cards # 1085
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