Key-Visual der Ausstellung "Wunderbar Widersprüchlich"

Amazingly ambivalent

Exhibition | accessibility.time_to


Everything’s a bit better in Switzerland – it’s a sentiment you occasionally hear expressed both here and abroad. But among those who actually live in Switzerland, the feeling of being ‘something special’ alternates with a latent sense of inferiority. A paradox? On closer inspection, other contradictions emerge: Is Switzerland a humanitarian model state, or a bastion of egoists closed off from the world? Is it an alpine utopia of democracy, or a profiteer nation ruled by greedy banks and large corporations? The exhibition explores some divergent views of Switzerland and aims to prompt visitors to reflect on our country’s self-image, and how it is perceived from the outside.

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Amazingly ambivalent

National Museum Zurich | 4.2.2022 - 24.4.2022
published on 2.2.2022

What is Switzerland? What makes the Swiss tick? Where is our place on the world map? A new exhibition explores how we in Switzerland see ourselves, and how others see us. The exhibition brings us face to face with some divergent views, and aims to prompt visitors to self-reflect.

Switzerland is often described as a perfect country: breath-taking scenery, sparkling clean cities and a highly efficient infrastructure. Food and water shortages? We Swiss only know about those things from the news. Political upheavals happen elsewhere, and humanitarian involvement and “good deeds” are part of Switzerland’s self-image. A little paradise in the middle of Europe.

Or is it? On closer inspection, contradictions emerge. What about all the suspicious people checking up on each other? And what place do the greedy bankers have in paradise? Does the picturesque landscape rob people of their sense of humour? And why does no one want to stand out here, to draw attention to themselves?

So what is it, our little Switzerland? Idyllic paradise, or staid backwater of provincial attitudes? A nation open to the world and all it holds, or a stronghold of conservativism? This question isn’t so easy to answer. It depends not only on the perspective, but also on who’s answering. In addition, there are often a number of facets that may be diametrically opposed. Switzerland is full of bewildering contrasts.

The exhibition “Amazingly ambivalent” examines some of the views held by insiders, and those on the outside, and uncovers contradictory aspects of Switzerland. It aims to encourage visitors to reflect on themselves and their relationship with Switzerland.


The mountains as a focus of longing

Heidi is the most successful Swiss book of all time. The grandfather’s Alp and Heidi herself became embodiments of Switzerland and helped to shape the mythos of Switzerland as a country where people live innocent lives in the healthy alpine air. Johanna Spyri (1827–1901), Heidi. Band I: Heidis Lehr- und Wanderjahre, 1950 edition.

Swiss National Museum

Europe’s Heart of Darkness

In 2007, the British newspaper The Independent reported about the deportation initiative and xenophobia in Switzerland, saying that Switzerland was no longer a haven of peace and neutrality, but rather the home of a new extremism. The Independent, 7 September 2007.

Swiss National Museum

The Good Offices of neutral Switzerland

Many Swiss are proud of Switzerland’s “Good Offices”, which contribute to the country’s positive self-image. An example: since 1953, Switzerland has been monitoring the cease-fire between North and South Korea. The shoes worn by Federal Councillor Micheline Calmy-Rey in 2003 while crossing the demarcation line between North and South Korea.

Swiss National Museum

The gnomes of Zurich

The gnomes of Zurich is a colloquial synonym for Swiss bankers that has been in use since the 1960s. T. R. Fehrenbach, The Gnomes of Zurich, 1966.

Swiss National Museum

“Chuchichäschtli”, or “I just can’t cope with Swiss culture”.

© Caspar Frei, 1990

When I type “Swiss neutrality”, the encryption device writes this: Bullshit.

© Chappatte, Le Temps, Suisse,

A view of the exhibition.

© Swiss National Museum

A view of the exhibition.

© Swiss National Museum

Exhibition poster without logo

Swiss National Museum

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Exhibition imprint

  • Overall management Denise Tonella
  • Exhibition Curator and Project management Marina Amstad
  • Scenography and exhibition graphics Loosli & Zehnder, Basel
  • Intern Luisa Heim
  • Advisory committee Heidi Amrein, Beat Högger, Markus Leuthard, Sabrina Médioni, Denise Tonella
  • Controlling of project Sabrina Médioni
  • Advertising graphic Marco Heer, Achtung! GmbH Bern
  • Technical management Henrike Binder
  • Exhibition construction Janine auf der Maur, Bachir Ezzerari, Ladina Fait, Marc Hägeli, Mike Roder, David Schwitter
  • Conservation management Peter Wyer
  • Preparation and mounting of exhibits Anna Jurt, Tino Zagermann
  • lending and logistics of objects Angela Zeier, Maya Jucker, David Blazquez, Reto Hegetschweiler, Christian Affentranger, Simon d’Hollosy, Markus Scherer
  • IT / Web Danilo Rüttimann, René Vogel
  • Media stations Alex Baur, Thomas Bucher, Ueli Heiniger, Pasquale Pollastro
  • Marketing and Communication Andrej Abplanalp, Alexander Rechsteiner, Carole Neuenschwander, Sebastiano Mereu, Anna-Britta Maag
  • Translations Language Factory

Items generously loaned by

  • Schweizerisches Bundesarchiv, Bern
  • Schweizerische Nationalbibliothek, Bern
  • Bündner Kunstmuseum Chur
  • Daniel de Roulet, Genève
  • Museum zu Allerheiligen Schaffhausen
  • ETH-Bibliothek, Zürich
  • Museum für Gestaltung Zürich
  • Schweizerisches Sozialarchiv, Zürich