When I was younger the Swiss Army Knife was an accessory that “came” with us all the time, on travels (before it was banned by airlines), in the forest and in the mountains… and we always found a way to use it: to cut bread to make sandwiches, to pick and clean mushrooms on the spot, and when I was a teen, to open a bottle or beer or two. At some point the faithful knife vanished from the house… I don’t know exactly where or when. Until my son Stefano saw an ad with it and asked if we had one…
One day, by pure coincidence, I happened to read about the Victorinox Visitor Center in Brunnen, where you can make a booking and assemble your own knife (clearly not for free) and have your name engraved on it, so I decided to take my son. When I suggested the activity to him, he was all smiles, thanked me a million times and I even got a hug and a kiss, which is a rare commodity these days (he’s growing up, he says…).
So we traveled to Brunnen, by train.
The Victorinox Visitor Center is just steps away from the lake, where the boats land. We found it easily, but were baffled by the two doors. We went in through the door on the right, which leads to the Swiss Knife Valley Visitor Center, basically a touristic showcase for the area. You go up the steps and reach a small movie theatre, where you can watch a 7-minutes-long film (in German or English) about the natural attractions of this part of Switzerland, then on the upper floor you find a room were you can discover regional products. Our perseverance put a real strain on the free chocolate dispenser! Many things are there to be seen or tasted. I need to point out the 3D glasses, which “transport” you right in the heart of the mountains… My son Stefano watched the same “movie” in awe two times, while I found it a little unnerving: I felt slightly dizzy and nauseous.
The door on the left, it turned out, was the one we should have taken: it leads you to the Victorinox shop and to the museum, which is located in the basement, in a single room. My first impression was: this is not a museum! It’s just too tiny! How can I explain it to you? In my home, the kitchen and living room put together are larger… And I do not live in a Saint Tropez-style huge villa or in the Reggia of Caserta… My home is a normal home, standard-size, actually even smaller than that. Having said this, we ended up spending in this tiny museum nearly two hours, because it’s beautiful and has a lot to offer and keep people entertained.
Let me tell you about it…
On the left wall there are decorated niches which contain ancient and precious knives, not only Swiss. On the wall in front of you there’s a panel depicting mountains, signs with significant years and a moving TV set: you choose your preferred language (there’s even the choice of Italian!) and year. The TV will move to it: a video will share with you some important details about the history of the Victorinox we well as some trivia about how the knives were used in peculiar situations, including Mac Gyver (if you are vintage like me, you’ll surely remember the series) and the astronauts on the ISS.
Right in the middle of the room there are some cone-shaped glass cases with Victorinox knives of various functions and materials; for example a very nice but useless one offering over 140 functions, as well as a really tiny one made of solid gold and covered in diamonds.
On the wall behind you there is a machine that looks like a “photo booth” with a double chair and a curtain: from the menu you select a language and one of the six episodes. Soon a video will start and show you a real episode where people managed to save their lives thanks to a clever use of the Swiss knife. The booth was not working very well the day we were there, so we could only watch 3 out of the 6 episodes, including the one where a man managed to escape from his car, after he had fallen in the river with it and ended up being trapped.
The last wall, the one on the right, with two tables and some hand-operated machinery, is the most interesting one, because it is the place where the knife assembly takes place. Several languages are spoken, including Italian if needed. There is no minimum age for the knife assembly, but it is best that your kids are at least 1.30 metres tall, otherwise it is a bit of a hassle to reach the pedals. Kids also need to possess good manual skills, so I think that 6 years old would be the (unsaid) minimum age. My son is not very tall so the woman who helps with the assembly was a bit skeptical, but he did not have any problems whatsoever.
The instructions are easy to follow and you are guided step by step, starting from the inner structure, adding small and very small screws, and so on until you place the various blades, pressing them (thanks to the pedals) one on top of the other. It sounds difficult but it really is not: in about 20 minutes your knife will be ready and your kid delighted. Only one final detail is missing now, and if you ask my son he will tell you that this was the hardest part: choosing what to have engraved on your knife and the most appropriate font (out of seven) to be used. He needed over 10 minutes to make such an difficult and irreversible decision, just to decide (at the end) to have his name on it, and the day!