Letter from Europe

In Jung's Footsteps

Issue no. 2020/8

Picture above: A glimps of Jung's tower on the shores of the upper part of Lake Zurich near Bollingen (photo © Davide Mauro licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0).


The lakeshore trail from Schmerikon along the upper part of Lake Zürich leads to a house once owned by the analytical psychologist Carl Gustav Jung, who was a master of self-isolation. Join us as we ponder on Jung's famous Tower and his thoughts on progress and modernity.

Dear fellow travellers

Our travels early last month took us to Luxembourg and Switzerland, the latter journey curtailed as the threat of Coronavirus really began to make itself more firmly felt.

It was in Switzerland that we had a good tutorial in self-isolation. Join us on the footpath that leads west from the village of Schmerikon along the north side of the smaller, upper part of Lake Zürich. This portion of the Zürichsee is known as the Obersee, and it’s divided from the much larger, main part of the lake by a long causeway, which is traversed by a railway and a road.

This lakeshore trail from Schmerikon is undemanding walking, with an easy-to-follow footpath the whole way. No gradients, no chance of losing the way, and some brilliant views. It happens to be a walk once much favoured by the analytical psychologist Carl Gustav Jung, who had a home by the side of the lake at Bollingen, about an hour’s walk along the lakeshore from Schmerikon.

From the path, we gaze over to the wooded slopes of the Buechberg on the south side of the Obersee. Soon we come to a solitary early-Gothic chapel on a small promontory that juts into the lake. It’s dedicated to St Meinrad, a ninth-century hermit who evidently spent a good part of his life meditating in this region.

It’s not far beyond the chapel that the lakeshore path passes Jung’s famous and rather spooky Tower. He purchased the land in 1922, and started building the following year. Just prior to the construction starting, Jung’s eldest daughter Agathli visited the site and sensed corpses in the vicinity, which just helped add to the darkness of the entire project. For Jung, the Bollingen Tower was an essay in stone, a fortification of the mind that kept the wider world at bay. It was a place to which he could retreat from the family home at Küsnacht, much further down the lake towards Zürich.

Jung spent the following decades embellishing the Tower, but never compromised on its essential simplicity. Just prior to his death in 1961, he reflected that “There I live in my second personality and see life in the round, as something forever coming into being and passing on.”

Jung was a master of self-isolation. The Tower had no electric lighting or telephone. Water was pumped from a well. For Jung, the lakeshore tower was an escape from “a cataract of progress which sweeps us on into the future with ever wilder violence the farther it takes us from our roots.”

Jung’s retreat is so tucked away that it’s easy to miss it in the dense vegetation. Beyond Bollingen, the lakeshore footpath continues all the way to Rapperswil, a handsome town to which we shall return when the current Coronavirus pandemic has abated, there to resume our Swiss wanderings. Meanwhile, Carl Gustav Jung seems to have the right words for now. He often bemoaned that we no longer live in the moment but rather, as he put it, “in the darkness of the future.” Just now, perhaps, the future for many of us is on hold, and we are perforce required to attend to the here and now. Jung would surely approve.

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)


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