Chapter 53: Impressions of Switzerland and France
What a difference between France and Switzerland! On the French train, no breakfast was served that Sunday morning, March 2, 1947. The reason: The train was running two or three hours late. Our sleeping car had been scheduled to be transferred to a Swiss train at Basel in time for breakfast.
We Arrive in Switzerland
Our French train finally dragged itself up to the depot at Basel, Switzerland. The minute we crossed from France into Switzerland, everything suddenly seemed refreshingly different! France was then in a state of lethargy and discouragement. People in Switzerland appeared more alert, better dressed, cleaner. The French, so soon after the war, seemed whipped, beaten, run down.
Our car was hooked onto the Swiss train at Basel. There was a light, airy, clean Swiss dining car on the train. After Immigration and Customs officials went through the train, we finally made up for the lost breakfast with the best meal since we had left the U.S.
Dr. B. was stopping at the Hotel Storchen in Zürich and had made reservations at this hotel for us. Arriving in Switzerland’s largest city, we took a taxi to this hotel. I did not have any Swiss money, so I asked the taxi driver to come into the lobby with me, where I transferred $20 into Swiss francs, out of which I paid the taxi fare. Dr. B. happened to be out somewhere with Madame Helene Bieber, who was staying at another hotel. Mme. Bieber, the reader will remember, was the owner of the newest and finest villa in southeastern Switzerland, Heleneum, on Lake Lugano, in Lugano-Castagnola.
Switzerland, by the way, was at that time so much more prosperous than France because Switzerland was not involved in the war. Switzerland had profited from both sides. The Marshall Plan and United States’ billions of gift dollars had not yet put France in her present state of Common Market prosperity.
An hour or so after our arrival at the hotel in Zürich, we located Dr. B. and Mme. Bieber. We joined them at tea in one of our hotel lounge rooms and were presented to the owner of Heleneum. She was accompanied by her big full-blooded chow dog “Mipom.”
Next afternoon we were riding through the Gotthard tunnel through the Gotthard Pass. It and the Brenner Pass are the only two passes for travel between Germany and Italy. During the war, the Swiss managed to remain neutral and hold the Germans off from invading them. They did this by threatening to blow up the Gotthard tunnel, and destroy these two passes if the Germans attacked. That is how this little nation of Switzerland held powerful Nazi Germany at bay.
We found the lofty Alps all that had been claimed for them: breathtaking—magnificent
At Zürich, we noticed that the style of architecture was almost wholly German. But the minute we emerged from the tunnel, on the Italian side, the architectural design was all Italian.
The same would, of course, be true of the French-speaking area.
Yet there is really no language barrier between these three sections of Switzerland. Customarily, babies and children are taught the official language of their section until age 6. Then Swiss children are taught a second language beginning at 6 years of age, and a third language at about age 10 or 12. Most better-educated Swiss speak four or more languages.
I Am Not the Boss
At Lugano we inspected what was the object of our whole trip—the site of a possible future Ambassador College in Europe.
Often I have to stop and realize how many proofs we have been given that we have been called to the Work of God—that neither I nor any man plans and guides it.
It is not our work, but God’s and the living Jesus Christ is Head of His Church and the real Director of this Work. He has not allowed it to be of my planning.
Christ, through the Holy Spirit, said to the prophets and teachers of the Church at Antioch, during fasting and prayer, “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.” Saul’s name was then changed to Paul. He and Barnabas were ordained apostles. They were called to God’s Work. They did not choose it as a profession—Christ first struck down Saul with blindness, converted and called him. Christ ordered his ordination for this Work.
But even though the Apostle Paul was put in charge of God’s Work to the Gentiles, Paul was not allowed to plan it or make the real decisions.
In a.d. 50, Paul and Silas, “After they were come to Mysia [western part of Asia Minor—Turkey today], they assayed to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit [of Jesus] suffered them not” (Acts 16:7).
Paul planned to go east along the north shores of what is Turkey today. But Jesus Christ, Head of His Church and God’s Work, planned otherwise! By a vision at night, the resurrected living Christ showed Paul that they were to go the very opposite direction, carrying the gospel for the first time to the continent of Europe!
This was a most important decision. In obedience to orders from Christ, by this vision, Paul and Silas went immediately into Macedonia in Europe, holding their first meeting at Philippi (Acts 16:7-13).
In like manner, on this trip to Lugano, I tried to plan to start operation of God’s Work for these last years either immediately, or within three years in Europe—and to establish a branch of Ambassador College in Lugano. That was my planning and intention—just as Paul’s was to travel east into Bithynia.
Here is what I wrote to those at home, from Lugano, on March 3, 1947: “I have decided definitely and finally on the Swiss branch of Ambassador. The idea is right. But the place is still open for investigation.”
But I was to learn, later, that Christ had decided definitely and finally otherwise! He had decided that the great door of radio would open for me to preach His gospel to Europe on the first Monday in 1953. And His college for Europe was to open later—seven years later; in 1960—and in England just outside London, not in Switzerland!
In ways that often seem astounding, Christ shows repeatedly that it is He who is guiding and directing this great worldwide Work of God!
Inspecting Potential College Site
I was much impressed with Lugano. On Tuesday evening I wrote:
“Dear Family at Home:
“Today we have seen Lugano! Partly. And what a place it is! It’s all so different—so strange. It’s Italy with Swiss prosperity. A beautiful, prosperous Italy. It’s the most intriguing place we ever saw. It’s certainly old-world. It’s the perfect place for the European unit of Ambassador College.”
So I thought. But Christ thought otherwise!
Mme. Bieber remained in Zürich until Tuesday. We did not have an opportunity to inspect Heleneum until Thursday. That evening I wrote to my brother-in-law, Walter E. Dillon, who was to be the first president of Ambassador College at Pasadena. This, in part, is what I reported to him:
“We have been here since Monday night. Tuesday we took a boat trip down the lake, east, to the very end of Lake Lugano. About two miles east of here is the Italian border. Most of our boat trip was in Italy. We were within five miles of the place where they shot Mussolini. He was caught trying to get across the frontier into Switzerland, and they say he was heading for Lugano. I talked to a man who was then a Swiss Army captain, in charge of the frontier at that point. He knew Mussolini, talked to him. Mussolini was caught at Dongo.
“The trip on the lake was a lifetime experience. The majestic Swiss Alps rise on either side. The Alps really surpass our Cascades, or the Rockies—even the Canadian Rockies. Just now they are snow-covered—look as if they are miles high, in fantastic shapes. Lugano is the Swiss Riviera. It’s different from our mountain or lake scenery. The very atmosphere is different.
“What I started to write tonight is this: This afternoon, for the first time, we saw what we have come 9,000 miles to see—Heleneum—the possible future seat in Europe of Ambassador College. … We were invited to 4 o’clock tea. On arrival, we stepped into the most beautiful and elegant interior we had ever seen. It far surpasses what we expected! It is the ideal home for Ambassador College in Europe. It is adequately designed to house 40 or 50 students, besides supplying six classrooms, library, lounge and dining hall. Its atmosphere would automatically breed culture, poise and refinement into students. Mme. Bieber appears to want us to have it. She thought the kind of deal we have discussed very splendid. She knows little about business, and probably will be guided by her lawyer. But it’s the only way she can eat her cake and have it too—that is, sell it, live off the income from the sale, and still live
Better Things Opened Later
So, you see, I was planning for it—but Jesus Christ was planning otherwise—and He, not I, guides and directs God’s Work. In His due time, He opened the door (see 2 Corinthians 2:12-13) for His end-time Work of our day to start in Europe.
And, the living Christ did open miraculously and unexpectedly what we ourselves had never planned—His Ambassador College overseas. He opened in England a place we never dreamed of finding—not merely one building with mere residential-size grounds, but several buildings, with magnificent gardens and landscaping, spacious grounds, and a total of approximately 200 acres! And instead of a maximum of 40 or 50 students, we had the capacity for many more.
Surely God’s ways are best! How happy and grateful I am that Christ Jesus does not leave the real master planning of His great Work to me. My ideas would not have been best—but what He plans is always just right. It is a wonderful thing to know we have the security—of God’s guidance. It’s a wonderful feeling of absolute trust, faith and confidence, with no worries!
We left Lugano with Heleneum still uncertain, but hoping to close the deal by mail later.
We traveled by train from Lugano to Geneva on the following Sunday, then back to Bern where we caught the night sleeper for Paris. In purchasing our tickets, I noticed we had only 20 minutes to make a connection at Bern. Based on American experience, I was a little uneasy.
“Suppose our train is late arriving in Bern tonight,” I suggested. “Is 20 minutes sufficient time for that connection?”
There is another saying Swiss people like to quote: “It’s impossible to get a bad meal in Switzerland.” We have since eaten in many restaurants and hotels in Switzerland, and have never been served an unsatisfactory meal. There is a third saying in Switzerland: “We raise our children from the bottom up.” And they are well-behaved!
En route from Lugano, our electric-driven train retraced our route through the Gotthard tunnel, but turned westward to Bern some distance north of the tunnel. On the train I opened my portable typewriter, and here is part of what I wrote to our children at home:
“Here we are again in the world-famous Gotthard tunnel—the pass high in the Alps between Italy and the north of Europe. It’s a Sunday morning, 8:07 a.m. For two hours we have been thrilling to the most marvelous scenery! Yet it’s only 11:07 Saturday night in Oregon. Seems funny. It’s been daylight two hours, here. Yet you may not have gone to bed yet last night!
“Now we are headed back toward home, speeding northward through these awesome, spectacular Alps. An hour and a half ago I got some good color movies (I hope) of the pinkish rising sun shining on the snowcapped peaks of the Alps, still darkish gray of dawn below—only the sun-drenched peaks illuminated with a yellowish pink.
“Now we have emerged from the tunnel, on the German side. There is much more snow. All limbs of trees covered with snow. It’s fantastically beautiful. Mother exclaims that this is the most beautiful scenery in the world. She will hardly let me write. ‘O look, Herbert!’ she keeps exclaiming. ‘You can write some other time. But look, now,
At Bern we changed trains, and continued south from there to Geneva, arriving about noon or somewhat before. I remember we were especially impressed with the baby carriages, or “prams.” Thousands of people out walking on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, many pushing these elegant baby carriages.
Also we were impressed with young people on dates. It seems the American young people have lost the art of dating. The automobile has changed everything. But in Switzerland, instead of the degenerating custom of driving out on a lonely and secluded road to “neck” and arouse passions while minds were dulled, or letting their minds drift in a ready-made daydream in a darkened motion picture theater, hundreds of couples were seen sauntering afoot along the two sides of the lake, which in downtown Geneva narrows like a river—with many bridges across at each block.
We saw the League of Nations buildings. We found Geneva a clean, beautiful city. It, too, offered many advantages as a potential seat for a European branch of Ambassador College.
It was late afternoon or evening when we took a train and returned to Bern. I had telephoned long distance to a man in the educational division at the U.S. Embassy in Bern. He met us at the railway station. I spent the 20-minute layover discussing educational advantages of a branch college in Switzerland. (Yes, our Swiss train was precisely on time
First Visit to Paris
Our sleeping car delivered us to Paris in the early morning. Everybody has heard of the beauty of Paris. We were introduced to it, so it seemed to us, by way of the back door—entering through a dilapidated blighted area. It was a drizzly, dreary morning. The railroad station through which we entered was in an unattractive wholesale district.
I checked our luggage, expecting to leave it there until boarding the noon train to London. I walked up to the ticket window to purchase 12 o’clock tickets to London, which would leave us time to see Paris until noon.
The mademoiselle ticket agent could not understand a word I said. After some five minutes of trying to speak by gestures, she sent for a man from the other side of the railway station. He could speak English.
“These foreigners can’t even speak plain English,” I exclaimed to my wife. She reminded me that we were the foreigners! That realization gave me a funny feeling.
The English-speaking man explained that the train to London departed from a different station. Paris has several railroad stations. So we were obliged to return straightway to the checkroom and reclaim our bags. Our obliging French friend said he would help us into a taxicab. He asked Mrs. Armstrong to wait inside and watch our luggage. I found that getting a cab on a rainy morning in Paris in 1947 was not like in a big-city American depot, where one finds dozens of cabs lined up and waiting, as rapidly as incoming passengers can be piled into them. In fact, I learned that finding a taxi in Paris on a rainy morning is a superb accomplishment—if one can do it!
Taxi Hunting in Paris
Fifteen long minutes dragged by at the taxi entrance, and not a cab in sight, except those with passengers, and one or two whose drivers shrugged their shoulders, saying, “Nothing doing!” in French motions. My French friend asked me to wait there and ran bareheaded out into the street. In five minutes he returned, shaking his head. Another 15 minutes. Then again he left, saying he’d go over on the boulevard, a block away, in search of a taxi. He explained that the Nazis didn’t leave them many cabs in good repair, and besides, had depleted the petrol supply. So taxicabs were a scarce commodity at that time. As time slipped by, Mrs. Armstrong and I were becoming more and more hungry. There had been no diner on our train. Finally, at 9 a.m., our friend came back triumphantly in a taxi. We wanted the cab until noon, but this driver was soon due in at his garage. He would have time only to drive us to the George v hotel for breakfast.
Breakfast took a whole hour. Service came with great flourish, much style and very leisurely. We ordered orange juice, toast and coffee. The waiter brought four oranges to his service table, and started laboriously squeezing them on a little hand lemon-squeezer. Then he served the two small glasses to a couple of ladies at an adjoining table. Then he walked to the kitchen and returned in no time at all with our “orange juice” which was not orange juice but some sort of artificial orange crush, with artificial flavor and sugar and water. The toast was cold, dry, packaged melba toast. The coffee was black, strong and bitter—no milk or cream. The cost was 400 francs—$4.
Foreigners Seeing Paris
After another 10 minutes’ delay the English-speaking doorman got us a taxi. The driver could not speak a word of our foreign language. I asked the hotel doorman to instruct him that we wanted to see the Eiffel Tower, the Champs Elysées, stop at a shop to purchase an umbrella for Mrs. Armstrong, who had left hers at Lugano, and then to our railway station.
At the Eiffel Tower, even in cloudy rain, I got one good picture with my Plaubel Makina German camera—the only picture I was able to take in Paris. We saw many ornate and beautiful buildings, though they were dark and dirty, and gloomy in the rain—and much gorgeous statuary. The driver drove around and around in the shopping district but all stores were closed. It was a Catholic holiday. He did find one small shop open. But their ladies’ umbrellas were a new style with long handles, and Mrs. Armstrong was afraid one would look freakish in America, so she didn’t buy one. (When we returned to New York, we found all stores selling the same style there!)
By now we had to go straight to our railroad station. I tried to instruct the driver, but he couldn’t understand. I tried to tell him our train left at noon, by pointing to 12 o’clock on my watch. He immediately smiled knowingly, nodding his head that he understood—and drove us in 15 or 20 minutes to a jewelry store—which, of course, was closed! I tried to make him understand I’d like to buy some film for my camera—and he drove us to a photographer’s studio. Somehow, in desperation, I finally got through to him that we wanted to go immediately to the railway station, where he deposited us at 11:30 a.m.
We boarded the famous crack Golden Arrow for London.