The embassy of Thailand is housed in a building dating from 1925. Typical of early 20th-century Bernese architecture are its sandstone walls. Thailand bought the house and grounds in 1996 for around CHF4 million ($4 million), and some 20 people work there today. But what caught our eye the most was not just the building but the Thai temple next to it, built in 1997 to mark the 100th anniversary of King Rama V's visit to Switzerland. Designed by a royal architect, its parts were made in Thailand and shipped to Switzerland for final assembly. Ester Unterfinger/swissinfo.ch
The Czech Republic owns one of the most beautiful embassies in Bern, set in historic gardens and with quite an extraordinary history. Built in 1895, the Villa Jenner has served as an embassy since 1926, when Czechoslovakia was able to acquire it thanks to a Swiss trade debt for sugar. The building was taken over in World War Two by the Germans, who tried to keep it, but it was returned to Czechoslovakia in 1945. In 1992, when the Czech Republic and Slovakia split into two independent states, they agreed that the Villa Jenner would belong to the Czech Republic only. Ten people currently work there. Chargé d’affaires Irena Valentová, who currently represents the country, says it is a “piece of beautiful architecture” which makes you “feel like a princess”. It does, however, have one disadvantage. “The building is very cold in winter”. Ester Unterfinger/swissinfo.ch
The Dominican Republic has had an embassy in Bern since 2000, when the then-ambassador had the “great idea” of asking to rent space in the building of the Universal Postal Union, constructed in 1969. This small embassy currently has five permanent staff members, including the ambassador, and says it pays “a little less than CHF2,800” ($2,842) per month in rent. “What I like most about this building is its convenience,” says current ambassador Julio Simon Castaños Z. “It has very well secured access points, spacious underground parking, is well connected by tram and bus and has its own restaurant on the 7th floor with a beautiful view. You can’t get better than that.” The Universal Postal Union building also houses the embassies of Greece, Finland and Belgium. Ester Unterfinger/swissinfo.ch
Yes, you are seeing right, this is a hotel -- and also an embassy. In 2009, Qatar bought the Schweizerhof, which had been closed for four years. The 160-year-old hotel right next to Bern's central station was in need of repairs. Oil-rich monarchy Qatar invested around CHF40 million in a total renovation, and the Schweizerhof reopened its doors in 2011. One year later, Qatar began to build up an embassy in the luxury hotel, which has 90 rooms and suites. Ester Unterfinger/swissinfo.ch
The United States embassy has for the past 11 years been located behind this three-metre-high fence. After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Washington classified the security of its former property in the diplomatic quarter as inadequate. Roadblocks were erected, which led to major traffic restrictions and put the patience of local residents to the test. The 1950s building where it moved in 2008 belongs to the insurance company Allianz Suisse and is located in a small park close to the centre of town. Another advantage of the current location is that it is next to the ambassador's residence, a more than 100-year-old house that has belonged to the US since 1947. Ester Unterfinger/swissinfo.ch
Uruguay has its embassy in the heart of Bern's old town, where it has been renting a building since the early 1970s. The building, like the whole of Bern's old town, has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983. Six people currently work there. They appreciate "the excellent location in the city centre, close to the federal government offices and with good connections to public transport". Ecuador and Paraguay also have their diplomatic missions in the old town's Kramgasse, which Goethe called "the most beautiful street in the world". Ester Unterfinger/swissinfo.ch
In 2004 this one-storey villa classified as worthy of protection was falling apart, the shutters were closed and it was being overrun by vegetation. There was no shortage of buyers interested in the 14-room house, which had been owned by Saudi Arabia since 1982. Ultimately, however, it was the kingdom itself that submitted a building application in 2004. Riyadh had the building renovated for just over CHF7 million in the style of a rococo pavilion and brought its embassy there about a year later. Ester Unterfinger/swissinfo.ch
The British embassy building, owned by the British government, was built in 1962 and completed in 1964. There has been a permanent British mission to Switzerland since 1848, and it has been on this site at Thunstrasse 50 since 1912. The old building, which can be seen on this website, was replaced with the current one. Solar panels were installed on the roof in 2010 for energy saving. Forty-nine people work there currently. “I love our Embassy building because it’s convenient for the tram stop so no one has to drive, it’s very bright with lots of windows and it’s got a space under my desk for my Diplodog [a black labrador named Benji],” says Ambassador Jane Owen. Ester Unterfinger/swissinfo.ch
Switzerland approved the opening of a Palestinian representative office in Bern in 1993, and it opened in 1994. This coincided with the “Oslo accords” and the now collapsed peace process between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation aimed at a permanent settlement of the conflict through a two-state solution. Although Switzerland does not recognize Palestine as a state, the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations [granting diplomatic immunity, among other things] is applied “by analogy” to the Palestine delegation in Bern and its staff, according to the Swiss foreign ministry. Since 2011, a main focus of Palestinian diplomacy has been to get UN recognition and membership for Palestine as a state (it currently has non-member observer status). Ester Unterfinger/swissinfo.ch
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which governs an autonomous part of Iraq, has had an office in Switzerland since 2006 in a 1920s house owned by KRG Representative in Switzerland and retired dentist Dr. Fauzi Kaddur. Although flying the Kurdistan flag in Bern’s diplomatic quarter, it is not officially a diplomatic representation, but rather the seat of the Switzerland/ Kurdistan Dialogue Association. This association promotes the cultural, economic and development interests of Kurdish people, according to Kaddur, including humanitarian aid for refugees in the region. It has a variable number of volunteers working for the association. Kaddur says he likes the building because it is beautiful, has good public transport links and is based in the leafy diplomatic quarter. Ester Unterfinger/swissinfo.ch
The Swiss federal capital Bern is home to nearly 100 foreign embassies and consulates. It also houses missions of autonomous regions like Palestine and Iraqi Kurdistan which are recognised to a greater or lesser extent.
This content was published on August 7, 2019
August 7, 2019
Some of the buildings are beautiful, some not so beautiful, some large and some small, but they all have a story.
Here we take you on a tour of 10 addresses around the diplomatic quarters of the Swiss capital with some of the most striking facades and interesting stories.
List of foreign representations in Switzerland (source: foreign affairs ministry) External link
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