The young boy sat right at the front of the Basel tram with his eyes glued to the window at what the driver was doing in the cab, spellbound.
For him it was the controls that were fascinating, but the yellow and red number 10 tram is fascinating too for lovers of records.
Perhaps the boy didn’t realise it, but he was travelling on the longest international tram ride you can find. It stretches over 25.9 kilometres, taking in two countries and three Swiss cantons.
Its long route starts and ends in canton Solothurn, going from Rodersdorf to Dornach.
“I like it very much because the tram line runs through very charming scenery and through the city of Basel itself, and it has a lot of good places where you can jump off to make excursions,” Tobias Eggimann from Baselland Transport tells me.
He says he's not a salesman for the tram line and although it’s “very special”, it’s not a tourist attraction.
“There are many museums and other interesting places but it’s not a tourist attraction in the sense that people come here and stay overnight.”
I caught the tram at Basel’s main railway station in the direction of Rodersdorf and was amazed at how quickly the tram sped from city centre to suburbs to lush countryside.
You cannot fail to see the majesty of the 14th century Castle of Bottmingen surrounded by water and a romantic park. It begs you to leave the tram and have a closer look.
But that is the problem with the number 10 tram; it seems as though there’s a place of interest at every stop.
Travelling on I arrive at Leymen, just across the border in France. I did not have any identification papers with me so it was with some trepidation that I went down the hill from the tram stop to the village centre and the Couronne d’Or restaurant (Golden Crown).
Luckily, no one stopped me and there was a warm welcome from the “patron” Urs Rusterholz, who is a Swiss, and runs the place with his partner Bernhard Weber.
“It’s special because we live here on a border, also a cultural border… and the connection to it all is the tram. The tram was a decisive factor when I first saw this house,” Rusterholz explains.
“It was for us extremely important because it allows people to come to us without them having to drive a car and without them having to say “no” to a glass of wine.”
Rusterholz, who has been at the restaurant for 18 years, has visitors from Switzerland, France and Germany, with the cuisine mainly French with many regional products.
“Our wine comes mainly from France with two exceptions: one is from southern Germany and one from Italy.” There is no Swiss wine because he cannot buy what he actually wants.
The Couronne d’Or has room for about 100 people and its location is an obvious attraction.
“I think if we’re talking about ambiance, it’s beautiful here. I would have hardly been able to find such a house in Switzerland for the same price but when it comes to being an entrepreneur, I think it’s a bit easier in Switzerland,” Rusterholz says.
Strict labour laws
“In France there are very stringent regulations that make it difficult for small businesses and I think labour laws in France are really relatively strict and cumbersome.”
As I climb back up the hill to the Leymen tram stop to return to the city, a police car of the French gendarmerie passes by and I hastily jump on the tram back to Basel.
After passing the railway station, the tram then travels past the Basel railway signal box (the so-called Copper Tower) designed by local star architects Herzog & de Meuron before passing the Schaulager (also designed by them) which is a mix between public museum, art storage facility and art research institute.
The director of the Schaulager, Theodora Vischer, describes herself as an “out-and-out tram enthusiast”, not least because the number 10 passes the front door of the building in the suburb of Münchenstein.
The stop at Arlesheim village is a favourite of Eggimann, where you can discover the wilderness of the Ermitage, the largest English landscape garden in Switzerland, opened in 1785.
It’s known to locals as a “magic place” where you can recharge your batteries. “You can really feel the energy,” Eggimann says.
From the end stop at Dornach, it’s well worth walking up to the Goetheanum, a building without right angles and centre of the worldwide Anthroposophical Society.
The word “anthroposophy” means “wisdom of the human being,” or, for us today, “awareness of one’s humanity.”
After a look around it’s back on the tram to return to Basel. You are well aware that cable cars in the Alps, steam ships on the lakes and the beauties of the Swiss landscape are the real magnets for tourists.
But the number 10 in Basel is one of Switzerland’s precious little attractions too.
Robert Brookes, swissinfo.ch, travelling on the tram in and out of Basel
Number 10 tram
The yellow and red tram number travels from the countryside through the city and back into the countryside. It carries about 17 million passengers a year.
The line is 25.9 km long and runs from Rodersdorf to Dornach, both in canton Solothurn. On its journey the tram passes through cantons Basel Country and Basel City and also goes through France.
Including the terminus stations, the line has 40 stops and the journey lasts 63 minutes.
The tram takes in many places worth a closer look.
For example, from Basel railway station, it passes Mario Botta’s “Rundeck” Round Building and Jean Tinguely fountains in the city. Then it passes Basel Zoo before going out to the moated Castle of Bottmingen, which dates from the 14th century.
It’s a favourite form of transport for hikers and bikers. There are a number of places where you can get off to walk uphill and enjoy splendid views of the local scenery.
One particular short walk (30 minutes) is from the Flüh tram stop up to the Benedictine Monastery of Mariastein, which receives around 150,000 visitors and pilgrims a year. There’s also a bus.
There are observation towers over the Basel region from a number of its stopping places.
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