Monday, October 19, 2009

Liechtenstein Cooperating? Tax Haven Hidey - Holes Opening Up?

Any In Here?

The profusion of banks in Liechtenstein is a strong first impression.  Not the views (which appear to be incidental to the main function - money; even with business construction blocking the finest of the views from old churches at the tops of highest hills), not the food, not the architecture (a blend: simple chalets or other practical shapes, unfussy mostly we saw).

Now, NYT reports that Liechtenstein as well as Switzerland and some other offshore sweet spots, have agreed to open their records to the IRS. See ://  Some 7500 errant nontaxpayers are coming forward, so it says.

This is not a new idea, as opening sham or real accounts is fine sport.  See UBS Client Admits Failure to Report Offshore Account, at :// - sham Liechtenstein account included.

Liechtenstsein Landesbank, Vaduz, Liechtenstein

Now that we can read the names, what is the future of the personal banker? Is this one fine?

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Triesen, St. Mamerten Chapel, Liechtenstein (a/k/a St. Mamertus)

Triesen is another of the some eleven districts of Liechtenstein, and the one that boasts its most iconic landmark: The St. Marmertus or St. Mamerten Kapelle. Triesen dates in records from the early 1100's.  Much of the area is deeply sloped - all a mountainside that this site says is because of an ancient landslide, see Portal of the Principality at ://  The "De Trisuns" were mentioned as a prominent family in the 1200's.

The porch roof would also be an addition.

The St. Mamertus, in a section called the Upper Town,  is the oldest chapel in Liechtenstein, dating from the 9th or early 10th Centuries.  The tower-steeple would have been added much later, say mid 1400's. 

Thanks to the tower, the chapel can be located.  From Triesenberg, the community up the mountainside, the tower is visible.  Get closer and it disappears in a maze of residential alleys and little streets.

Just keep driving down, and from the bottom, it is again visible.  Recalibrate your antennae and start off again, repeating until successful.  There are few if any signs, and you are going through a tangle.  Suddenly, it all opens up and follow a path to the lovely spot.

Find the Triesen flag and its banner of arms at :// - azure and white, and the three scythes on the banner represent old families.

For videos of Liechtenstein, try their own website at ://

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Prosperity and The Tiny. Business as The Usual. Financial Switchbacks

Liechtenstein is surrounded by other landlocked countries (Switzerland and Austria), so it manufactures its own modern-day industry.  It chose one that requires minimal transport expense - facilitating whatever business people want to do with their finances, investments, assets and businesses, far from prying governmental regulatory or income-control eyes.

And transport everything by switchbacks with mirrors to tell you if anyone else is on the road to see.

So, come here with it.  Roads may be perilous, but it is easy to go where you want, even up the steep slopes, with tight switchbacks, U after U after U.  

Provide lots of rear-view mirrors everywhere, and you, too, can turn a profit. After you?

We understand that Liechtenstein has more companies and corporations registered than it has people.  That may not be a jaw-dropper, since there are only 35,000 people, but it does highlight how a niche market can lead to enormous prosperity. This bit is from a Liechtenstein Guide, ://, so statistics are to be checked, but it makes cents.

The figures do check out:  35,600 people, and 33,600 jobs. Low unemployment. Just about a break-even. See Portal of the Principality of Liechtenstein at ://

See Liechtenstein Guide, ://  It is a casual look, so statistics are to be checked, but the concept of using money as the industry makes cents.

And it has worked/ With its long history of withstanding invasion and maintaining its identity, Liechtenstein is a success story of survival, stability and prosperity.
With few commercially profitable natural resources in this 15 mile long landlocked principality with its flat Rhine valley and mountains, wine works well. Add vineyards and enjoy another dimension. Grapes even grow through the wires, to the road as you walk up. Enjoy a few.

This is similar to the function of small-sized Delaware in the United States, in luring corporations to incorporate there.  Is that so? Make the laws friendly to corporations, and the corporations will come. And they did and do.  Put more matters on the "legal" side of the ledger, and you have more latitude in what you choose to do, to whom, when, where and how. In Delaware, corporate matters are considered in "Chancery" and technically "equitable" rather than "legal" for jurisdiction purposes, giving even more discretion to those who appreciate it.  Cleverly done, little but influential Delaware.

 Liechtenstein is not part of the EU, but someone can work there for 3 months freely from any EU country, and Switzerland, Norway and Iceland.  Then apply for a residency permit.  Set up your very own banker there until you get your affairs settled. See again ://

Rely on nothing legal until you check it out yourself, however.  These are casual info sites for interest only. Check the economy assessments and data. Is the financial industry for you.  Even if you don't have it, you could steer others down investment's and other disposition's slippery slopes, and who would know. Add yours to the registered corporations. Opportunity. See financial services sector activity and history at ://  Dependence on foreign investment.

Some can rise above that influence, however. Even in Delaware, with its vast business tilt, important votes can and may well reflect the whole, not just the parochial. Global decency on the rise?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Liechtenstein's history and odd survival. Vaduz, Planken and Money-Laundering?

Vaduz, Liechtenstein.
And Planken. A Nice Place to Live

Liechtenstein is a principality, governed by a "prince" and not a king or queen - that would make it a monarchy, and not a principality. The country is 62 square miles. 

It is landlocked, bordering on Switzerland and Austria, hardly noticeable on maps because its 16 mile (km? we forget) length is so tiny. Vaduz is the capital.  Planken is a desirable family residential community far up the mountainside, many switchbacks to get there.  Everybody seems to have a job here.

Signs from Liechtenstein: to the north,  point to Austria; or to Switzerland's bucolic Appenzell. Note that this is not Luxembourg, a pivotal area in World War II where General Patton and American troops are buried at a fine cemetery. See Luxembourg Road Ways.

What does it seem like, as a hasty travel-through: This is a community, of working and professional people, many banks, and a long history of staying alive despite aspirations of takeovers by others.

1.  Basic chronology, talking points:
  • In 814 AD, Liechtenstein was known as Lower Rhaetia. That was in Charlemagne's time. Vaduz, as a county and now the capital, was set up in 1342 when the area was part of the Holy Roman Empire.
  • Original or particularly influential early families: Schellenberg, Montfort, von Brandis, van Sulz and von Hohenem, according to :// (what is the difference between a von and a van?). Prince Johan Adam, Liechtenstein, progressively purchased territory from them, and by that time, had vast holdings in what is now Switzerland and Austria. The families get confusing: see the ties, twists and names at
Hugo of Liechtenstein - noted in 1136. See the site. The first family castle was south of Vienna. Names, places, but survival.

The current royal family is shown at ://  They live in the castle there.  Access is permitted to the gates at the courtyard, up the windy park-like road - it dominates the hillside near Vaduz.

Read at the nationsencyclopedia site about successors to successors, and arrive at the current ruler/ See a history at ://

Since 1989, the ruler has been Crown Prince Hans-Adam II.  The Royal family is probably the wealthiest in Europe. Consider that, Elizabeth.  His wife is Maria and they have four children.

2.  Invasions:
  • Austria: in 1618-1648. That was during the Thirty Years' War (familiar in Europe, not so much here)
  • Sweden: in 1647
  • France and Russia: in Napoleonic Wars, say 1809
3.  Politics

Final identity: in 1719 - a "fief" of the Crown of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles VI; and Prince Anton-Florian became "Prince von and zu Liechtenstein". Von and zy meaning by and for? In 1805, Liechtenstein became a sovereign state, as a principality,  and as part of something called the Confederation of the Rhine. See ://

After Napoleon, it became part of the German Federation.

Then Prussia beat Austria in a skirmish in 1866 (the "Seven Weeks War") and the Confederation was dissolved. Read about the extensive economic and other ties with both Austria and Switzerland after that.

Liechtenstein was "neutral" in WWII. What choice did it have, asks the pragmatist. Switzerland, who also chose neutrality, had more choice, given its mountains, but Liechtenstein's neutrality also depended upon Switzerland's. There was a bloc of sorts.

Liechtenstein became part of the European Union in 1995 or so. Use your Euros - the Swiss Franc is usable but at a cost in the exchange. Hans-Adam II now has near-absolute powers. Note there are 17,000 voters, and over 14,000 voted for that. His heir is Alois. Watch him.
4. Upshots

Huge prosperity, low taxes (so slide your account from Zurich to Vaduz?).

Wins - among the top 15 - in money laundering.

If you favor original documents and perusing to draw your own conclusions, see ://

For us, it appears to be a flash from the past, capitalizing on peoples' drives to hide their money. Why not? If the government of origin can't regulate their own citizens, why should Liechtenstein not cash in? Answer us that.

If you look at the coat of arms, you will see a lady, strangely revealing. See :// Who, pray tell? Prithee, please.

Vaduz Castle, Vaduz. Royal Residence.

The castle is reached by car and then foot, from a lot that is not too far down the road. The area is parkland around, so choose between a path straighter up or down, or the paved switchback road. The royal family still lives here.

Vaduz Castle, Vaduz, Liechtenstein. Fortress elements intact, but open window

Watch for shutter patterns on old fortresses.  They range from waves, to figural, here an X.  Often red and white.

Vaduz Castle, Liechtenstein/  Note the old comfort station still showing at the wall, probably replaced by a functioning WC these days

Also watch for chimney pots - creative structures whose purpose is to baffle ashes on the way up from kitchens and stoves, and prevent fires.

From a distance, the castle is imposing, and larger than it appears up the road from the angles visible there. Note the additions toward the front that are not so apparent when you drive and then walk to the looking point.

Vaduz, street views and driving survival

Vaduz, as the capital of this principality of some 35000 citizens, is tightly compacted - needed because the Rhine Valley here is flat but with mountainsides rising from it. The town itself is on the valley base, but parts angle necessarily up and up. We rambled coming down from the castle (not open to the public, still lived in).  See Digital Liechtenstein, the Portal of the Principality, at ://

Roads twist, few front yards - why waste the space - and rear-view mirrors are a survival tool. 

A steady creep gets you around. Note the low curbs - it is expected that someone will need to invade pedestrian space.  And mountains are everywhere.
We saw fewer motorcyles in Liechtenstein than in Switzerland or Austria.  The destination points at the heights tend to be residential,  with only perhaps a castle or church to attract visitors.  And the way up is the way down, we think, meaning less visual interest for the biker. It also becomes repetitive, because the slopes we saw remained below the tree lines.

Vaduz, Liechtenstein, rear-view mirrors a must, both directions

Gutenberg Castle, Balzers, Liechtenstein

Background:  Schloss Gutenberg (or Burg Gutenberg, both we understand mean Castle Gutenberg) bears no connection to the Gutenberg of printing press fame, but we so far have found no derivation for the name. The castle was built in the 11th Century, belonged to the Barons of Frauenberg (where?) then passed into Austrian hands for over 400 years, from 1314 to about 1824, when the municipality of Balzers bought it.  It had been left to decay for decades before that. Enter, community spirit.  A sculptor from Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein, bought it and renovated and renovated until satisfied in 1910. It was reacquired by the State. Now, since 2000, the facility is used for community events.

The blue haze is blue netting, draped to keep the birds off the grapes. They grow right by the winding road where visitors walk up (cars stop below. So daintily pick off one or two for testing, one two three four, and continue, reinvigorated. Red grapes, deep purples, in case you ask.

We are not sure which events are signified by the horse with the golden mask, perhaps art shows in general, because the castle was closed our day.  This was a heavy-duty defensive structure - see the lack of windows, just wall.  Many other owners of castles like this put in reams of windows later on, making some facades look like motels.  Look at the changed design at the Kufstein Castle in nearby Austria - so many windows in such walls are jarring.

Sometimes, the best way to identify one white fortress from another at home is to compare shutter patterns. In Austria and Switzerland, and Liechtenstein, there are often variations on red wavies, or diagonals, or as here, hourglassies. We think this is the Gutenberg, where the gate (older) adjoins the wall, but will check. It may be the Kufstein.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Triesenberg, Liechtenstein. St. Joseph's Church.

Municipality, commune, district, we see many names for the divisions of Liechtenstein. Triesen, and here, Triesenberg, is the highest municipality in the country.  Preserve, preserve.

The town dates from the 13th Century. The Rhine Valley is a fairytale below.Here is St. Joseph's Church on the high slope of Triesenberg.

See also Portal to Liechtenstein at :// is too late for Triesenberg, see it fast at :// there must be a governing body somewhere that cares about perspective, vistas, preserving the past even if an office building has to go elsewhere.

The coat of arms is shown at :// Note that there are flags, and "banners of arms."  The scheme is an azure field and a golden bell, and golden forms representing three mountains.  The colors represent the Valaisian "Walser" who settled there from a place called Davos, a Canton (there is another name for a local division) in Switzerland.  Is "Walser" the root of the current term, Balzers, for another of Liechtenstein's divisions?

The onion dome of St. Joseph's Church dominates the town, but that will be short-lived.  Despite its beautiful setting and view over the mountains from such a height, construction is booming right in front of it, and will hedge it into oblivion by the time you get there.

Zoning boards, wake up.  No tourist will bother going up to look in front of great front doors somewhere, neck back at right angles to see the steeple, and the only view being the blocky office building in front.

Even the attraction of the lovely old cemetery, just think of all the folks who hoped they would be on a lovely hillside looking over (in their post mortem way) their beloved mountain and valley, will be lost in the shadow and the dead silence of all those computers in offices.

See the fine cemetery - a life, a community. Few two alike. What is the name of that old poem about the people in the graveyard (was it New England?) talking to each other, remembering, scoffing some, loving some, a living community of the dead as long as they were remembered. 
Keep the views.  Is there any comparison?

The Rhine Valley is flat, broad, populated; and from it rise endless slopes of green mountains.  It is hard to specify which view gibes with which district from the heights. Try it yourself.  Drive up to the highest communes-districts, like Triesenberg, Planken, Balzers.  The views down to the alpine (not really chalet) homes and flat valley so far down, with the river, are indeed similar because it is one series of mountainsides, and one valley - the long Rhine.

So we may have mixed one picture of the valley here, with view of the same valley from another drive up and up and up, switchback after switchback.  No matter.  No time for notes because somebody may be around that bend.  But all the views represent the same heritage. If Triesenberg's travesty is happening elsewhere, and why should it not when money governs our spirits, please stop it. For yourselves.

The bells. There they go. Wonderful. But imagine them hemmed in by glass and concrete. And the false echo that will produce. No, don't.

Cemetery:  Individualized, colorful, kinds of stone, wood carving, portraits, a community in itself.

Go to our sterile cemeteries. Why bother? What is there to see when you wander. Where else but in communities like this, with different, individualized traditions, could you find real people, carvings of their most treasured settings, human beings still, in a different being as you go by, but there.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Balzers, Liechtenstein

Balzers is a municipality that also sports a football team, see ://  We have not checked the others.

The castle is the dominant feature, but it also is a grape-grower's heaven.  Here is a well-planted slopey hill, covered in blue netting to fend off the birds. 

Travel guru Rick Steves dismisses Liechtenstein in his book on Switzerland (don't bother, he says), but here he is touting it - See:// Good.  His earlier pooh-pooh is unwarranted.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Hotel View. Outside Vaduz; and Sgraffito. Nandeln, Liechtenstein.

Where to stay.  Here is a site with lists of Hostels, see The Backpacking Site, at ://  To find some of them, you may need a GPS just to save time.

We drove past Vaduz to get oriented first.  And found a fine, business-traveler oriented hotel, the Schachle, at Nendeln. Vaduz is a district, as well as the town capital, of Liechtenstein. There are plenty of places to stay near Vaduz, just watch the traffic noise because there seems to be one main roadway through the entire area. Our preference: stay in local places, serving regular business travelers and not mainly tourists.  Those are easy to find here.

The topography set-up repeats - flat valley floor, mountains, and slopes with residential communities and municipalities rising up.  There were few hotels high up - enjoy the views from there, then come back to earth to spend the night.
Watch for sgraffito, the decorative technique of etching into plaster and revealing bases of coloring for patterns on buildings.  See ://

Vaduz is the capital. No cows there.

Cows here, outside the hotel window.  One by the main road there, two under trees.  There is much variation from bucolic country to citified.  Same street, just a mile or so.

Planken - Mountaintop municipality, Liechtenstein

Planken is one of about 11 administrative divisions or "communes" in Liechtenstein, see  It is a cluster of homes in a community high on a mountainside, reached after switchback after switchback up the narrow, barely two-lane, a whisker to pass if necessary, roadway.

This is a prosperous country-principality, busy commuters. The slope of the community is reflected in the name, Planken, from the "Romansch" plaunca, meaning slope. See the nice green diagonal with a star showing that. See ://


The Planken coat of arms shows a Star of David (to us), but in Switzerland, at Murten, we were told that the same six-sided star sign meant then something different, just the Star guiding the Wise Men. See Switzerland Road Ways.

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Balzers, St. Nicholas Church, Liechtenstein

The most southerly town in Liechtenstein is Balzers, with a splendid fortress of a castle (the Gutenberg), and - among other sights - this lovely St. Nicholas Church. Usually we like old buildings, and this is a new one on an older site, from perhaps 1910 or so. See://

St. Nicholas Church, Balzers, Liechtenstein, with Gutenberg Castle (background)

This property is so well kept up, we wondered whether it is the active congregation, or its endowment?

St. Nicholas Church, Balzers, Liechtenstein, cemetery with portraits, individualized markers

Memorial Garden, with watering and tending equipment right there, St. Nicholas Church, Balzers, Liechtenstein

In many European memorial gardens, there is a watering and pruning equipment setup so people can be sure all is well tended.  Watering cans, hoses, fountains.

Entry mosaic, St. Nicholas Church, Balzers, Liechtenstein

Why St. Nicholas? Here is a good reason if you are a marketer: In Liechtenstein, Christmas season begins on December 6, on St. Nicholas Day, see :// That is a good site for Santa Claus type customs - find out who rides with St. Nicholas at :// Find everything from white horses to Schmutzli and Zwarte Piet.

The church is listed at that site as Balzers Pfarrkirche HL Nikolaus und HL Marten. Research is difficult in any matter involving translation and linquistics.