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  1. H P Mattle
  1. Deputy Chairman, Department of Neurology, Inselspital, 3010 Bern, Switzerland; heinrich.mattle{at}

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The Editor sent me an email: “Heine, we have never had a letter from Switzerland. Would you like to do one? You can write on anything which is Swiss and vaguely neurological, from children’s stories celebrating your love of the mountains to keeping a gun under your bed to not being part of the European Union, or about the punctual Swiss railways!”

How shall I start? As a boy, when I first went to Zurich, I was impressed by the huge hall of the train station. Stepping out towards the Bahnhofstrasse, a memorial of Alfred Escher, 1819–82, caught my interest, and I remember my father telling me that he was an important statesman and entrepreneur. Only recently, however, did I read his biography and realise how profoundly he had influenced the economic liberalism, cultural and political life of Zurich and the development of Switzerland in the 19th century.1 For example, as a member of the cantonal government of Zurich, and later as a member and three-times President of the Swiss National Council, he endorsed the idea of building and running railway lines in Switzerland. That was around 1850, when there was already a dense network of railways in England, the USA and neighbouring countries of Switzerland such as France and Germany (the first railway for passengers had been opened in England connecting Stockton with Darlington as early as 1825). In Switzerland, the first railway was opened only in 1847 connecting Zurich with Baden, a distance of a mere 23 km. This train was later nicknamed “Spanischbrötlibahn” because Zurich aristocrats used to send their servants by train to Baden to buy fine, fresh pastries in a Spanish bakery. …

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