Category Archives: Europe

Things I learnt today: Fjarðabyggð

Around 75% of the working population in Fjarðabyggð, eastern Iceland, are Polish. (This is probably due to the big aluminium smelter situated there. Also the population in Fjarðabyggð is 5 206 persons in total.) Polish citizens are also the largest minority on Iceland as a whole, making up 3% of the population.

Also, for some reason unknown to me, there’s also street signs bilingual in Icelandic and French.

Fáskrúðsfjörður bilingualroadsign

Switzerland opens world’s steepest railway

The Stoos Bahn has opened to the public in Switzerland and is now the world’s steepest railway – or funicular with the exact terminology.

It runs from the town of Schwyz up 110m to the car-free Alpine village of Stoos and the steepest gradient is 110%. Due to the gradients involved it also has specially constructed cylindrical wagons with tilting floors in order to make the short journey more comfortable for the riders.

Source: BBC News

World’s longest tunnel is inaugurated

The Gotthard Base Tunnel had its official inauguration ceremony on June 1. Even if normal traffic will not start until December.

With a length of 57.5 km it is the current record-holder of longest tunnel, overtaking the earlier longest tunnel – Japanese Seikan tunnel between the tho islands of Honshu and Hokkaido – which is 53.9 km. The new Gotthard tunnel is simultaneously the world’s deepest tunnel with 2.3 km of mountain above its deepest point.

Source: BBC News

A future tunnel between Helsinki and Tallinn?

Architect composite depiction of rail connection
Architect composite depiction (Sweco).

A preliminary feasibility study on a tunnel between the Finnish capital Helsinki and the Estonian capital of Tallinn concludes that the future construction of such a connection is worth more study.

A rail transport connection between the two cities would include the construction of a tunnel under the Gulf of Finland at a current cost estimate of 9 to 13 billion euros.

Source: YLE

The problem with Swiss nudist hikers

Nudist hikers in Harz, Germany, where hiking in the nude is allowed. Photo: DPA.
Nudist hikers in Harz, Germany, where hiking in the nude is allowed. Photo: DPA.

The Swiss cantonal government of Appenzell Innerrhoden wants a new law in place to cope with the rise in popularity of nudist mountain hiking.

I must admit that until I read this news, I hadn’t even reflected over the possibility that it was something that existed, and definitely not something that apparently has become so prevalent that the canton sees it as a problem. To be perfectly honest, I’m almost as surprised – if not more – to read that it apparently under current Swiss law is perfectly legal. As for the actual question at hand, I don’t know what to say.

Photo: DPA

France’s turn to lead EU

From 1 July France holds the rotating EU presidency and for the coming six months it’s up to french president Nicholas Sarkozy to try to steer the EU, a task that is made more complicated by the Irish no to the proposed reform treaty. Nevertheless he has ambitious plans for the future of the union. Beside trying to solve the administrative crisis brought on by the Irish referendum, high on the list are also the Mediterranean Union project and the climate.


Iohannes Paulus II in Memoriam

Originally written in June 2005

With the death of pope Johannes Paulus II (John Paul II) the Roman Catholic church have lost one of their most important voices in a long time. Not because he was the pope, but because he was Johannes Paulus II, the Pope.

As one of the oldest institutions still functioning on this planet, the Roman Catholic chuch is not standing and falling with one man, but Johannes Paulus II came during his 27-year long pontificate to become closely related to the church as a whole, and with his charisma and affection on people, he became more than just another pope in the long line of ecclestical heads of the church.

When Karel Wojtyla in 1978 was elected the first non-Italian pope in almost 500 years, it was a small revolution already at that point, but the young – in papal terms – pope set out to get a place in history as more than that. As the “travelling pope” he became a diplomat of the grace of god.

The Vatican City State may be the smallest sovereign state in terms of physical territory, but is – when administered correctly – a veritable superpower, and one of a different kind than the others. And – as it would show during Johannes Paulus II’s pontificate – a superpower which could challenge even one of the most rigid political system and in the end win against it. When a Polish pope came home to his native Poland, not even the powerful communist rulers could do much to prevent it. Perhaps ironically, the deeds the late pope will be most remembered and revered of is not so much the religious ones, but the political ones, at least if you count the world as a whole. His funeral was in a way the final evidence that Karel Wojtyla had transcended even the church of which he was the leader. Johannes Paulus II wasn’t revered by everyone for his conservative stance as the leader of the Roman Catholic church, but as a political statesman few could argue his greatness, no matter their religious affiliation.

The election of Joseph cardinal Ratzinger to the papacy as Benedictus XVI is the election of another kind of man. After the charismatic, deeply popular and personal Johannes Paulus II the conclave have gone for what seems to be a more academic, and certainly less charismatic person to follow in his footsteps. Which maybe is just as well, since most likely no one would be able to measure up against the Polish pope who most likely will be remembered as a great spiritual leader, but also as a great statesman by people far beyond the natural realms of the Roman Catholic church.