My Road to Creativity, 13: Rapperswil, Switzerland:

I left from Cedar Rapids, to Chicago, then overnight on Icelandic Air to Luxembourg. After a nice airline dinner and a cognac, It was a long night of intermittent uncomfortable sleep and I arrived the next morning in a jet lagged sleepy haze. I hadn’t yet discovered sleep aids. 

The guy that I sat next to had rented a car and offered me a ride into the city. I found my hostel, a small room with a sink, a communal bathroom down the hall, and the communal shower in the basement. 

I spent two days in Luxembourg walking around and exploring. Some folks spoke English, but most spoke only French or German. The architecture was completely different from what I was used to, much of it was built maybe centuries ago. There were posters everywhere. For me, it was a visual dream.

The two nights I was there, I noticed a mint green motorcycle with a rider in matching leathers cruising the streets as I walked around the downtown. When I returned, the green clad rider was still going. It was interesting.

I took the train through northern France to Zurich, then a commuter train to the town of Rapperswil, located on the northern shore of Lake Zurich, a fairytale Swiss town of centuries old buildings. My hotel was built in the sixteen hundreds, all updated with modern, functional rooms with austere basic furnishings. 

There was an old schloss (castle) on the top of the hill about two city blocks from my hotel with a clock tower and an ancient bell the sounded out on every hour, ten bells at ten o’clock, eleven bells at eleven o’clock, twelve bells at twelve o’clock and so on all day and all night long. I wasn’t sleeping all that well to begin with and with the bells all night long, getting sleep was almost impossible.

I found most of the shop owners spoke english except for the Italian pizza place at the end of the street by the castle where I had to use charades to order their delicious pizza. Most lunches were bought in the butcher shop and the cheese shop with delicious fresh bread from the bakery often eaten in the park with some of the other students.

The three weeks of the workshop were amazing with the three well known designers and, sadly, the only two names I can remember were Fritz Gottschalk and Reudi Ruegg , both Swiss. The other was English.

Of course there were projects. It was interesting working without all the goodies I was used to, there were no t-squares, triangles, exacto knives, copy machines, dummy type. All I had were a drawing pad, pen, pencil and a triangle I found at the stationary shop.

For one project, I deconstructed the castle. I had my camera and did a series of black and white shots which were developed at the stationary shop. I discovered that, for the most part, the castle was all based on the golden mean, the Fibonacci sequence. It was well received from the instructors. I was starting to understand how to see things more clearly as design shapes. However, I couldn’t get my head around what to do with this discovery.

It was fun just to sit around and listen to these guys talk about their design philosophies and their individual approach to visual communication and design. All us parochial Americans were fascinated by the fact that there were four different languages in Switzerland: German, French, Italian, and Romansh (a variation of ancient Latin spoken in the eastern part of the country). If a publication was to be nationwide, it was required that it be in all four languages presenting issues none of us had ever thought of.

We visited Fritz Gottschalk’s house for drinks and snacks one afternoon. The architecture was modern with concrete walls and copious glass looking out into gardens and courtyards. The inside was stark with modern abstract art and a state of the art kitchen. The stereo was all top of the line. There was nothing in that house like furnishings or appliances that did not reflect the overall design concept that Gottschalk had his house. As hard edged as it was, it felt warm, inviting and comfortable, like everything was particulary placed and organized to add to the ambience. Nothing more, nothing less than what made it all that it was.

We visited various places through the area. I particularly loved the Klee Museum in Bern. Then there was the poster museum in Zurich, a short train ride from Rapperswil. Then there was the old architecture everywhere we went. The cities were wonderful Thee were underground jazz clubs, great food, and small shops of every conceivable thing you might need or want. There were no major food markets or malls. Switzerland was immaculately clean and tidy. Some locals we visited with explained that there were a lot of people in a small country so everyone took care to respect themselves, their property, their community and everyone else. If someone was out of line, they would be asked to shape up by the community at large. It was an interesting concept we could all learn from.

One weekend four of us rented a car and did a road trip to Innsbruck Austria, discovering the no-speed-limit autobahns. An interesting note, upon leaving Switzerland, things became less tidy. There were junk yards, the highways were lined with tall grasses and weeds, a big departure from the orderliness of the Swiss.

The workshop was over and the three weeks that had sped by were inspirational and added a lot to my design vocabulary, but, when all was said and done, it did not give me any new creative edge but only further frustration in, that what I saw, I couldn’t seem to emulate with my own work. I still had not found the elusive formula for creating great design. I kept on finding out how hard it was to move from my left brain thinking of predictable and methodical building construction to right brain creativity.

But biggest thing that remained with me more than anything was that these three designers lived design, their life was design, everything around them was design. They were creative geniuses in my book. Two dimensional, three dimensional exhibit, and even stage set design all intermingled with the symbolism and the amazing typographic design, all of which both energized and frightened me. I wanted to be like these guys. But, as energized as I was, I left the workshop frustrated.

The next day I took the train to Basil to see my friend. She met me at the station and went to her tiny apartment where I crashed on the couch and slept without that damned castle bell chiming every hour day and night. 

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