Thousands of miles from the cool heights of Swiss highlands, the terrace of the Swiss Ambassador's residence on Cathedral Avenue in Washington gives an unobstructed view of the majestic Washington monument—an edifice dedicated to the memory of the towering figure in U.S. history. General George Washington was the founding father who paved the way for his successors to continue to add the building blocks for the nation that still fires up the imagination for those seeking freedom and aspiring to reach the pinnacle of success. Stepping inside the beautiful diplomatic residence, one is courteously guided to the "Generals' Room." Magnificent portraits of two great generals Sherman and Lee come alive with the history of these glorious works of art narrated by Salome Ramseier, Head of Communications at the Embassy of Switzerland in Washington. Quickly one learns about how much the two sister republics have in common and how deep rooted is the history relationship. During their lifetime the two great generals Lee and Sherman probably did not see eye to eye. In fact, they were on opposing sides in an armed conflict in the national calamity known as the "Civil War." Their images remain in eternal peace in this elegant room with a beautiful view of the vast green space of the embassy compound.  This room is also adorned by a diplomatic work of art—a short book "Dishes for the Generals' Room" by H. E. Ambassador Martin Dahinden and his talented wife Mrs. Anita Dahinden. It's a fantastic book containing a wealth of historical information about the unique friendly relations between U.S. and Switzerland. One travels through time by reading introductory chapter one learns about the ideological battles for republican institutions. “The modern Swiss confederation was founded in 1848 after a short civil war without much bloodshed (the Sonderbund War),” write the extraordinary diplomatic couple.  “When the American Civil War started some fifteen years later, it was closely followed in Switzerland...it was perceived primarily as a battle for equality and citizens’ right (abolition of slavery), as an ideological battle for modern political institutions, and as the ultimate test case for the republic as a political order,”  the authors further state. Important historical figures emerge in these introductory pages. For instance, Emil Frey was one of the Swiss volunteers who fought in the Civil War. He later became the first Swiss Minister (Envoy) to the United States and upon his return to his home country eventually became the President of the Swiss Confederation. “The outcome of the Civil War was seen in Switzerland as a reconfirmation” of the democratic ideals of the two sister republics and citizen’s rights. With this perspective, the Swiss Parliament “decided to commission a mural painting on the American Civil War for the Parliament Building, the Swiss Capitol,” explain the authors. The central figure in this fascinating book is the imaginative artist with steely resolve Frank Buchser (1828-1890) who created these master peace paintings.  The “artist of great celebrity” carried a letter of recommendation from the Swiss Federal Councillor Jakob Dubs to the then U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward. Buchser arrived with great fanfare and the letter of recommendation was also published by the New York Times. With adroit deftness, the introductory pages set the stage for a “Culinary Memorial to the American Civil War.” There in lie the real treats in this delicious book. “A compelling desire for food and immediate gratifications seizes the reader with the mentions of “Soft clams Grant, Filet de Sole à la General Sherman, Tenderloin of Beef à la Stanton, Watermelon à la Seward, and Pudding à la U.S. Grant.” Through these pages one learns about the history about the famous Delmonico restaurant in New York. It is no wonder that the food at the Swiss Ambassador’s residence taste so delicious. In addition to the “Dishes for the General’s Room,” there is a lot of food for thought at the Swiss Embassy. Listening to the soft spoken Ambassador Martin Dahinden about his travels around the world from Nigeria to the Swat Valley in Pakistan, one feels the passion with which he and his staff serve. The exchange of ideas is enlightening and makes evening more pleasant. In these challenging economic times, high youth unemployment rises to the top of the list of concerns in international dialogue. The Swiss Vocational Education and Training System is considered as the “Gold Standard.” It is refreshing to hear both Ambassador Dahinden and his senior advisor Andreas Ledergerber discuss the apprenticeship model recently at a briefing for the National Press Club members. Recently an agreement was signed by the visiting Swiss Vice-President and U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker which will provide opportunities to youth through the Swiss apprenticeship model. Photos are courtesy of the Swiss Embassy in Washington, DC. 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C. Naseer Ahmad
C. Naseer Ahmad is a contributor to Diplomatic Courier.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.