I spend a lot of time in Switzerland every summer (on expenses, thank goodness), usually going to familiar towns and hiking routes, and I have nothing new to say about them – but I did manage a quick visit to somewhere new and vaguely interesting this year. Davos used to be known for TB sanatoria and as the setting of Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, and as a ski resort (some people confuse it with neighbouring Klosters, thinking this is where the British royal family ski). Now it seems to be better known for the World Economic Forum, where the likes of Bill Gates, George Soros and Bono confer with the world’s political and industrial leaders. We actually stayed in the Intercontinental, where the high-fliers stay during the WEF – it looms over the town like a cruise liner over Venice, but its design is actually said to be inspired by a pine-cone. It’s very comfortable, but you probably didn’t need to be told that. We usually stay in the more historic Hotel Schatzalp, also sitting a funicular ride above the town. There are plenty of other hotels, and a youth hostel, now rebranded as Youthpalace Davos.
However for me the main interest, apart from excellent hiking, was discovering that the painter Ernst Ludwig Kirchner had lived here for the last two decades of his life. He came in 1917 after suffering a breakdown while serving in the German army, and lived here until his suicide in 1938 – he had been targeted by the Nazis in the notorious Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) exhibition of 1937, which attacked Jewish and modernist artists. I knew about Kirchner’s earlier career due to writing the Bradt guide to Dresden, where he had co-founded Die Brücke (The Bridge), the group which created German Expressionism. Here in Davos he developed a late style which was more abstract and emblematic, and much less angst-ridden than early Expressionism – I liked it very much. There’s a selection of these works in the small but perfectly formed Kirchner Museum, a simple glass-box design with bare concrete walls inside which has won various architectural awards.
There’s also the admirable Heimat Museum, covering traditional local life and history (and less than half the cost of the Kirchner Museum), and a Winter Sports Museum, which I haven’t visited.
Most of the town’s restaurants seem to be Italian – we ate at Da Elio and Der Pate (The Godfather, with plenty of moody shots of Marlon Brando), both busy and cheery and exactly what Italian restaurants should be. The food was excellent too (pizza, pasta and more), and the prices were fair for Switzerland. I couldn’t help noticing that there’s a large number of mini-supermarkets here (and bigger ones too) – there are multiple branches of Co-op, Spar, Migros and Migrolino (a mini-Migros, on railway stations and so on).