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A piece of Switzerland in Rio

On the image offensive at the Olympics

By Ulrich Achermann, Rio de Janeiro

It's hoped the Swiss hub will broaden general knowledge on what Switzerland's all about (House of Switzerland)

It's hoped the Swiss hub will broaden general knowledge on what Switzerland's all about

(House of Switzerland)

For many Brazilians, Switzerland is the place where corrupt politicians stash their money. Presence Switzerland, the body that tries to improve Switzerland’s image abroad, is hoping that it can make use of the Olympics in Rio to change some people’s minds.

The House of Switzerland, normally a travelling pavilion that represents Switzerland at big events around the world, opened its doors in Rio on Monday. This time, the ‘house’ is actually a small village made up of three buildings, located at the edge of the lagoon in Lagoa by the Olympic rowing venue.

On opening day thousands of curious Brazilians made their way around the buildings, taking in the synthetic ice rink and running track. Presence Switzerland’s director Nicolas Bideau said he expected 450,000 visitors over the seven weeks it will be open.

The ice rink has so far proven to be a big attraction. To survive Rio’s sweltering heat, it’s made of synthetic ice – made of interlocking plastic sheets. Bideau commented that Switzerland had set up the crowd-pulling ice rink to meet a specific need. “Before the football World Cup we carried out a study on public knowledge of Switzerland. Awareness amounted to next to nothing.”

Money, trains and vegetables

Another activity at the Swiss village aims to promote the picturesque side of the country. Visitors can travel up the cog wheel railway to Europe’s highest railway station, the Jungfraujoch using virtual reality goggles, or they can find out more about urban gardening as they see vegetables grown inside the small village in similar ways to how they could be grown in cities and towns around the world.

With over 200 million inhabitants Brazil is an interesting market in which to try and raise awareness of Switzerland. Those who do read or watch news about Switzerland are most likely to see something connected to money earnt through corruption, hidden away in Swiss accounts by Brazil’s elite.

One visitor to the House of Switzerland, Ricardo Resende, said, “Switzerland is known for banks, in which many people deposit their money – including the corrupt in Brazilian politics”.

Translated from German by Jo Fahy, swissinfo.ch


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