If you happened to be in Oerlikon last week, you could have witnessed an entire three-story building weighing 6,200 metric tons moving down the street.
That’s right; a small army of engineers and technicians picked up a house, put it on rollers and very slowly pushed it - at the snail’s pace of three metres and 20 centimetres per hour - sixty metres down the street.
This technical feat was done to make room for an expansion to Oerlikon’s train station, all in the name of progress, that timeless story of the old making way for the new.
Those in charge of the project even thought it would be clever, by means of a giant banner attached to the front of the building, to quote (in German) the Sicilian writer Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa to justify their actions: “Alles muss sich ändern, damit es bleibt” - “If you want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.”
Both the house-moving and its banner got me thinking about the idea of permanence and its importance to mankind vis-à-vis the inevitability of gradual and imperceptible change, especially in terms of living here in Switzerland.
While the two notions are universal to every culture that populates the globe, they seem especially relevant here in the land of the Swiss, where permanence and change regularly seem to butt their metaphorical heads, oftentimes leading to strange discrepancies and contradictions that make this country such an interesting place to call home.
Case in point: just take a look at any process that involves any sort of governing in Switzerland.
By all accounts it can be described as slow and laborious. The framers of the Swiss constitution designed it in a way so that laws can only get passed if general consensus is reached by all parties involved.
A safeguard (or a handicap) created to ensure that things don’t change too quickly.
However, on the flip side of that same coin, the Swiss can also pass legislation by means of popular referendum, which can lead to rash, somewhat myopic laws, such as the ban on minarets, which passed in 2009.
In their rush for permanence - i.e. trying to preserve and protect the traditional image of Switzerland - the referendum’s supporters made drastic and unprecedented changes to the country’s constitution, which, I guess, brings us full circle back to the symbolism of last week’s events in Oerlikon.
For things to stay the same, everything must change. Which houses will we need to move next?