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Visiting surprising Riehen, Switzerland: a unique location

Updated on April 10, 2011
Peace and tranquility in at Wenkenpark, Riehen
Peace and tranquility in at Wenkenpark, Riehen | Source
Riehen's Toy Museum
Riehen's Toy Museum | Source
Map location of Riehen, Switzerland, situated north of the Rhine
Map location of Riehen, Switzerland, situated north of the Rhine | Source

'Rieche' (Alemannisch) is curiously north of the Rhine

Riehen, Switzerland, is curious for what it is and for where it is.

What it is

It is a municipality with a country area in a Demi-Canton, which is supposed to be a city. Basel as Canton is reckoned to be divided into city and country Demi-Cantons: Basel-Stadt and Basel-Landschaft — there is some truth to this, of course. But when I visited Riehen I expected an urban bustle contrasting with the rurality of Basel-Landshcaft. Instead, I discovered the proximity of peaceful countryside. Indeed, it may be difficult for visitors relaxing in the tranquil expanses of Riehen's Neuer Wenkenpark to be reconciled to the idea that Riehen is by some twist of definition supposed to be urban. (Canadians will be familiar with the 'City of Kawartha Lakes' syndrome...) I suspect that the historical reasons for the division of Basel Canton into Demi-Cantons, supposedly separating city from countryside, were far more nuanced than they may appear.

Where it is

By definition The Netherlands is at the mouth of the Rhine; France is by definition wholly to the west the Rhine border with Germany, and Switzerland is almost by definition south of the Rhine from Germany. Or so goes the conventional wisdom.(So conventional, in fact, that when Allied bombers in WW2 saw a town to the north of the Rhine they assumed it was their German target — and embarrassingly and tragically bombed Schaffhausen, Switzerland.) Whereas instead the reality is that this great river is wholly in Switzerland not only at Schaffhausen but also downstream, where it receives its tributary the Wiese River, several kilometres of which are in Riehen. (Or may I say Rieche, as the Alemannisch version of the placename has it — 'Riehen' is the standard Hochdeutsch [High German] form.)

Sites worth a visit

The Toy Museum at Riehen (Spielzeugmuseum) contains one of the most significant collections of toys in Europe, and in some ways comparable to Madame Madeleine de Galéa's Collection at Monaco's National Museum. The Toy Museum at Riehen's Baselstrasse is housed in a building dating from 1650.

The Beyeler art gallery also on Baselstrasse has a fine collection.

St Martin's Church in Downtown Riehen has a tower dating from 1395.


Famous people associated with Riehen include politician Trudy Späth-Schweitzer (1908-1990).

I am indeed glad to have been corrected in my misperceptions about this interesting area in Switzerland.


How to get there: Air France, Delta and KLM, which have a code-sharing agreement, operate flights from New York to EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg, via stopovers. From Basel City, the streetcar is a convenient way to reach Riehen. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Please refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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