Liechtenstein

Part of our small states series of stories

Tiny.

liechtenstein3
That’s the crest of the country

In fact, so tiny that if one looks at the map of Europe it cannot be easily found. Instead you might get a little text insert that says “Liech”…

But did you know that the name Liechtenstein is one that is associated with a powerful political dynasty? Well, the story of this little Princely state is one of how the feudal system used to work in Europe. First, you need to understand this – that central Europe particular the territories that span much of modern Germany, Austria, Hungary, the Czech republic and much of south-western Poland were once feudal territories associated with the Holy Roman Empire.

The “successor” to the fallen Roman Empire, this was a loose confederation of states large and small. The Liechtenstein family hailed originally from a part of Austria. And it was an ambitious family. It wanted to have a ‘seat at the table’ of the Empire. But as it held (or owned) only territories not “reporting” to the Emperor, it did not qualify for a seat.

What to do? Well they bought one. Literally. Specifically two.

Yep this family bought two miniscule lordships (ok one was at the rank of Count, ah ah ah) which they then clubbed together as a Principality, elevating themselves to an exclusive club the family had been clamoring for centuries. How did they pull this off? Connections, much like the ‘guanxi’ (关系) that folks refer to in China during its initial days of opening up. You see they were close to the Habsburgs, the pre-eminent power in central and eastern Europe…

liechtenstein2
It was a restroom stop

And you would think they’d move to their new Principality to live huh? Not for 100 years. Yeah you got that right. They continued to live in Austria or their other possessions all over the Habsburg dominion. So why did they eventually move to this little spot?

Unfortunately they were caught up in the winds of change and swept into the way of the hounds of war. The 19th and early 20th century were a tumult, as old political institutions such as the Holy Roman Empire were dissolved. Rudderless in a churning political sea, the family became heir to an independent yet tiny state. Concurrently their possessions in the other parts of Europe were being usurped or expropriated, so all they were left is the place they now call home.

liechtenstein1
At least we saw the castle

You know if you read the full transcript at Wikipedia you would also know that the family had to literally sell off their family jewels at some point in the 1920s and 1930s… but luck was on their side as they used the power of a lower tax rate to build up a financial sector that today is rather significant. Much like our little red dot.

We only stopped for 30 minutes here. Actually to use the restrooms… But we caught a glimpse of Vaduz castle (the countship one ah ah ah), one of the two tiny lordships that the family purchased nearly 320 years ago. It wasn’t their most prized asset back then, merely a book entry and a means to an end. But this hidden gem was a fantastic backup plan. Because today this is the reason they are a billionaire family.

Interesting story no?

We made a brief stop here in April 2003

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