Switzerland and the first Moon landing

Passersby in Zurich watch the Apollo 11 Moon landing on screens in a television shop on July 21, 1969 Keystone

Switzerland is marking 50 years since man first set foot on the Moon – an event that was watched by thousands in the country. Its influence is still felt.

This content was published on July 20, 2019
David Eugster

The Moon landing on July 21, 1969 was also a huge event in Switzerland. The television age had just begun, and some people even bought a set just to watch the lunar landing. Others set up their cameras in front of the screen to capture the experienceExternal link

They waited spellbound. Then, a myriad of cracking radio messages later, at 3:56 a.m., Neil Armstrong said his famous lines and stepped onto the Moon.

Children stayed up all night in their pyjamas; restaurants that had a television were open. And even soldiers in barracks were allowed to watch. It was one of those television moments when everyone remembers where they were.

Moon-influenced art

Bügelbrett (ironing board) and Umarmung (embrace), 2008, Computer animation Max Grüter

Swiss artist Max GrüterExternal link is one of them. He was 13 years old in 1969 and lived in the countryside, where “there wasn’t much in the way of technology”, he remembers.

He was already fascinated by the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin (the first man to fly into space in 1961) and sometimes he would try to spot satellites like Sputnik in the sky. In 1969 Grüter sat down with his family in front of the TV and watched “these flickering pictures, which you could hardly make out”. 

And since the 1990s Grüter has been experimenting with computer generated pictures of astronauts and space technology, which, for him, represent the next big departure for mankind: going into the virtual world.

The Swiss Space Museum dream

Guido Schwarz is the driving force behind several exhibitions and eventsExternal link to mark the lunar landing this year. His aim: his own Swiss Space Museum, in which he can display his vast collectionExternal link of space-related artifacts.

“I was only four years old and my parents didn’t wake me up, I’m still annoyed with them about it to this day,” Schwarz says.

But his fascination for space has never left him. “I had two older brothers and our bedroom was full of astronaut posters, as well as a 1.5 metre high cutaway model rocket.” He was able to keep on watching the Moon landing via a Viewmaster, a type of virtual reality glasses of the 1960s that showed 3D pictures.

Rocket lolly takes off

Left: Louis Wälti's rocket design won a poster competition held by the Swiss Children's Museum in 2013. Right: Carla Rickenbacher's fabric design based on the rocket Kindermuseum

However, the most constant reminder of this large step for mankind is small, cold tastes of pineapple and orange – the rocket ice lolly.

The original packaging Frisco/Nestlé Archive

Inspired by events, ice cream developers in Rorschach launched an ice lolly on a stick shaped like a rocket just weeks after the lunar landing. It cost just 30 cents at the time. It remains a real high-flyer for the Swiss company Frisco, which now belongs to Swiss-based multinational Nestlé. Almost 400 million rocket ice lollies have been eaten to date, around 8 million a year.

The much-copied rocket lolly has become a design classic and, as one of the cheapest and most popular ice lollies around, remains an essential part of many people’s childhood.

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