Londoners have two presents to enjoy this holiday season - compliments of Switzerland.This content was published on December 24, 2002 - 12:17
One is a 900 square metre ice rink, the other a 40-foot Christmas tree, decorated by the famous Swiss designer, Johann Wanner.
The open-air ice rink at Somerset House, which is sponsored by the UK-CH programme, is proving one of the most popular winter attractions in London.
The city of Basel has also donated a 40ft Christmas tree, decorated by the famous Swiss designer, Johann Wanner.
"The surroundings are just fantastic," said the designer, who owns a shop in Basel where his unique Christmas decorations are sold.
"It is a great setting among these grand old buildings of the Admiralty. I am sure the tree is very proud to be standing here".
The 900 square metre rink can accommodate up to 2,000 skaters a day and is open from 10am to 10pm until the end of January.
During the day, the ice rink is particularly geared towards children and families. There are also so-called ice guides on the rink to accompany inexperienced skaters.
As darkness falls, the location becomes a glamorous and romantic place for night-time entertainment: flaming torches are lit, music is played and special lighting illuminates the classical facades of Somerset House.
Around the rink there are special viewing areas and a bar for light refreshments.
Switzerland on ice
The Swiss ambassador to Britain, Bruno Spinner, took to the ice at the opening and showed off his skating skills.
"Swiss skating at Somerset House is great for kids, their parents and for British-Swiss friendship in all circumstances," he said.
Spinner also underlined the importance of Presence Switzerland - the organisation responsible for promoting the country abroad - sponsoring such events.
"We have to show that we exist as a nation. Switzerland is not just about businesses and multinationals," he added.
"With projects like this we can show that we exist as a country. Presence Switzerland has a modest budget to support Swiss embassies abroad. This enables us to sponsor an ice rink for example like here at Somerset House."
Johannes Matyassy, the CEO of Presence Switzerland, was delighted that Bern was able to be involved in the project.
"We're reaching the end of the first year of our official country programme for the UK. From that point of view it is a very important event for us," he said.
"The ice rink attracts a lot of attention and that is one of the goals of Presence Switzerland: to attract attention and to develop networks."
Somerset House has become a cultural landmark in London. There are three museums surrounding the courtyard: The Courtauld Gallery, Gilbert Collection and the Hermitage Rooms.
More than two million visitors have visited Somerset House since it opened to the public in 2000.
swissinfo, Claudia Spahr
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