Rappelling Swiss Canals

BIEL/BIENNE, SWITZERLAND You see more of the world when you get out of your car and walk around. You may not go as many miles, but you cover much more ground, so to speak.

Swiss workers know how to have fun on the job. This man is one of a team of city workers who rappelled down a canal wall when there was a perfectly good staircase nearby. The bike was retrieved from the canal, a favorite chucking-out point for bike thieves (or maybe the bike owners themselves discard their rides in this way, perhaps fed up with the European cycling stereotype).

Today provides a good example. A deep stone-walled canal runs through our town. In the late afternoon, two city workers in a low-bed truck pulled up in the walkway by the canal (there is a roadway on one side and a walkway on the other).  Dressed in reflective orange coveralls,they unrolled a line over the canal’s 3.5-foot wrought-iron fencing, which, by the way, prevents no one over the age of three from climbing over and plunging down to an uncomfortable landing. The canal is roughly 15 to 20 feet deep at this point, so unless you took a header, you would probably survive the fall, although with some nasty deforming injuries.

They had tethered the rope to something, so that while one managed the rope, the other swung over the railing and rappelled down the canal. At least I hoped they fastened the rope to something, but in fact, it looked as if they had just looped it around the railing and the topside worker was hanging on to it while his buddy made his descent. I cannot be completely sure about this.

It should be noted that less than 30 feet away was a gate opening to a narrow set of concrete steps that the workers could have easily used. Let’s face it, rappelling is more fun than stairclimbing.

The worker reached the bottom whereupon he started plucking debris from the canal floor and chucking it in the general direction of his crew partner. The first few tosses were random and so boots, empty cans and unidentifiable flying objects landed among the strollers, which happened to include an elderly lady in a long grey coat who nearly got beaned with a shoe.

Such egregious disregard for work and public safety would get somebody in Canada fired, but this is Switzerland where if you can not dodge a few shoes now and then, you are not long for this world anyway.

I’m adding this to my list of proofs that the Swiss are a daring no-nonsense bunch whose primary goal is to get the job done on time, even if this means not getting the job done safely. Yesterday, bucket trucks and ladders lined Nidau Street (Nidaugasse) where workers strung framed Christmas lights overhead, all without benefit of redirecting the pedestrian traffic below. One slip and it would have been Christmas bulbs imbedded in skulls. That did not happen, however, and last night the streets were aglow with Christmas lights.

I would not have noticed any of this had I been speeding by in a car, but then, I also would not have been within range of flying boots and plummeting Christmas lights.

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