A benefit of living in a miniature country are the short distances.
In Switzerland, one highlight might only be fifteen minutes from another – or closer. But despite the proximity, discovering new places takes some curiosity and a willingness to venture off the beaten path.
So, on an early autumn weekend, we went into discovery mode and visited Baden in the canton of Aargau. Early September is the time of the Fantoche Animation Film Festival which is now in its 15th year. We also heard that Baden has a significance when it comes to the development of the Swiss cinema industry. A city tour with a historian will help us get to the bottom of things.
A historic city tour of Baden
We have a big smile on our faces when we meet our tour guide, because his name tag states the exact same family name as ours: "Burkhard". It is an instant connection, and we are curious where Mr. Burkhard will be taking us. No time is wasted and we head straight to the historic old town with its precious buildings. Note to self: The wide pedestrian street (Weite Gasse) is adjacent to the station, so it will be convenient to visit the Christmas market by train this December.
Inside the History Museum of Baden's special exhibit called KINO
On the other side of the covered bridge across the River Limmat is Baden's history museum. To coincide with Fantoche, there is a special exhibit on the history of movie theaters in Baden. Our tour guide knows the ins and outs and takes us on the fast track through cinema history.
On this very spot, the town's first movie theater had opened in 1910, only to be shut down two years later. At the time, moving pictures were an attraction for the working class. When even school children started spending their welfare money at the Kosmos, the school board and city officials stepped in to finally ban it.
It is in the special exhibit KINO where we find our answers about Baden's role in cinematic history. Our guide explains that it took the eagerness of a Parisian, Madame Marie Antoine, to bring the movies back to the catholic town of Baden. Despite the tension at the time, the Kino Radium with 400 seats opened its doors in 1913. It remained under the scrutiny of officials who would censor any scenes containing murders, robberies or adultery.
By 1935, competition had grown and the Sterk family bought out the Kino Radium, changing its name to Kino Royal. The Sterk dynasty still operates three commercial movie theaters in the fourth generation, but the Royal is not one of them. (It has recently completed a crowdfunding campaign for three additional years of operation.)
Next, a picnic on the property of the Museum Langmatt in Baden
With all this newfound knowledge that our tour guide shared about Baden, we feel a slight hunger. The church bells are ringing twelve times, so it must be time for lunch. I have done my research about unique things to do in Baden, and I am surprising Mamiko with a trip to another century.
That's because Villa Langmatt is a mansion that appears frozen in time. It sits on elaborate greens with perfectly manicured gardens, housing a fine collection of French impressionist art.
This mansion is part of the legacy left behind by the co-founding family of ABB, which was formerly known as BBC. Villa Langmatt seems to be one of those treasures off the beaten path. We ring the door bell to be let in, and there are hardly any other visitors.
After walking the exhibit halls, which presumably used to be the dining rooms of Sidney and Jenny Brown, I ask the attendant for our picnic lunch.
You should have seen the surprise on Mamiko's face! She never imagined that we get to enjoy our lunch on the sunny porch of this early 20th century mansion! But this is not just a treat for bloggers - you can also reserve your very own picnic basket full of local goodies.
There are delicious olive bread sandwiches with dried meat and cantaloupe melon, pasta salad, Spanisch Brötli pastries and even a bottle of local white.
Mamiko looks like she belongs here, doesn't she?
Then, we dive into parallel worlds at the Fantoche Animation Festival
In order to watch a variety of animations with a single ticket, we decide for the "Best of" show. It turns out that seeing the festival's winning pictures one after another is possibly the most "bang for the buck". But with every animation, we feel more and more at the mercy of the jury who has selected these winners...
Sure, the techniques behind each winner were intricate and stunning. But to put it mildly, the themes of the stories single handedly deal with life's hassles and with thoughts of suicide - not exactly what we expected. But then again, we are Fantoche Animation Film Festival newbies and we might have approached this festival with the wrong expectations. In retrospect, we decide that next year, we would scour the program beforehand and pick up individual tickets to those animations with the most appeal.
And finally, a dinner in style at the Grand Casino Baden
Baden is a popular destination not only for its culture and art, but also for its casino. We are not into gambling and quite frankly, we imagined more of a Las Vegas style open floor. But this being Switzerland, ID's and coats have to be checked at the entrance, and there is no way of peeking inside. Either way, we are not here to play with luck, but to wind down from this exciting day in Baden.
The Casino Baden restaurant deals out winning meals 365 days of the year. After a starter salad, we are betting on the Swiss Bio Beef tartar. (And we are not being disappointed!)