Leaving Switzerland we missed one important turn that would have meant a significant detour and many extra kilometres if we hadn’t stopped and turned back and then we crossed the River Rhine and entered Liechtenstein with the minimum of fuss and no border controls. Liechtenstein is the fourth smallest independent European state after the Vatican City, Monaco and San Marino and is closely aligned to Switzerland. It is also the sixth smallest independent sovereign state in the World if you add Nauru and Tuvalu. It is predominantly Germanic and the only German speaking state that does not have a national border with Germany itself.
When the Holy Roman Empire was abolished by Napoleon in 1806 everyone seemed to forget about this tiny Principality and the royal family were able to continue to exist as an independent state ever since and as such it is the only state in Europe with a remaining direct continuity with the thousand year old Holy Roman Empire of Charlemagne. It is one of only two countries in the world that are double landlocked (the other is Uzbekistan) as neither of its neighbours, Switzerland and Austria have access to the sea either. It is therefore safe to say that fishing is probably not an important contributor to the economy in Liechtenstein.
We passed through the unremarkable state capitol of Vaduz with the castle of the ruling Prince, the Schloss Vaduz, perched high overhead and with magnificent views of all that he possesses stretched out below. Prince Hans-Adam II enjoys the sort of power that Medieval Kings would recognise and very little can happen in Liechtenstein without his say so. On 15th September 1993 he dissolved Parliament and assumed control of Government and then insisted on a new constitution which recognised his supreme power and this was adopted by referendum in 2003.
We stayed overnight in Liechtenstein in the village of Triesenberg and when we left the next day we drove again through Vaduz which although looked overwhelmingly dull we felt compelled to stop there and take a quick look. I don’t really know what I was expecting really, it just sounded as though it should be more interesting than it is, the very fact that it has been able to remain independent through two hundred turbulent years of European history should have given me a clue. If none of its more powerful neighbours had taken a fancy to it or annexed it for themselves in all of that time that probably says a lot about its value or its interest.
In fact although it is regarded now as a wealthy country this hasn’t always been the case. In the immediate aftermath of the Second-World-War the Prince of Liechtenstein even had to sell off family heirlooms to stay solvent but in response to this sorry state of affairs the economy of Lichtenstein was completely modernised and the advantage of low corporate tax rates attracted many foreign companies to the country. These days the Prince of Liechtenstein is the world’s sixth wealthiest head of state, with an estimated wealth of three billion Euro and the residents of the country enjoy one of the world’s highest standards of living. And that’s not bad for the world’s sixth smallest country!