Accidental Twins

The 18th century saw the birth of some major powers and the disappearance of others. The former include the Russian Empire and the United States of America. Of the latter, one may recall the unhappy demise of the Polish Commonwealth. I set my sights, however, at map changes of a much smaller scale. In 1713, residents of an outlying neighborhood of the city of Cambridge, apparently tired of being  too far from the center of power and dismissed as mere Cambridge Farms, decided to go their own way and opted for secession. Just 6 years later, an ambitious prince who had previously bought two adjacent feudal tracts of land high in the Alps succeeded in convincing the Holy Roman Emperor to unite the chunks and promote him to the dignity of Imperial Prince.

The new Massachusetts town was named Lexington, after a Lord with a lineage originating in 12th century Nottinghamshire. The new autonomous Imperial domain was christened Liechtenstein after the title of its newly invested sovereign whose hereditary castle near Vienna dates back to the 12th century.

The two entities endured, and today, almost 200 years later, have much more in common than their and their similar names starting with an L and ending with an N.

Consider.

The town of Lexington has 30 thousand inhabitants. The subjects of Prince Hans Adam II also number 30000, give or take a few. Of these populations, about a third in each case are immigrants. There are slight differences: while the majority of newcomers in Lexington are of Indian or Chinese origin, in Liechtenstein that honor belongs to Filipinos. Just as you can rent an Indian or a Chinese movie in Lexington, you can rent a Tagalog one in the center of Liechtenstein’s capital Vaduz. A sign at the Filipino-run snack bar near the town hall says so.

Both places are democracies. Although Lexington’s legislature of over 100 town meeting members larger than  the Liechtensteiner Landtag with  25 representatives (Abgeordnete), the cabinet size is the same: five  selectmen neatly match five cabinet members. Strictly speaking, ministers in Liechtenstein are called government councilors (Regierungsrat), a more down to earth title than elsewhere. Still, no selectman ever presided over an august international body as Ernst Walch did when it was his turn to be President of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.

Ever since that fine April day in 1775, Lexington bows to no monarch. Liechtenstein, on the contrary, is proud to have Prince Hans Adam II as its head of state. But the Prince, whose full title in German is Seine Durchlaucht Fürst Hans-Adam II. von und zu Liechtenstein (His Highness etc.), was even prouder when he declared in his latest throne speech that “no other state gives so many democratic rights to its people.” He particularly emphasized that “uniquely in history, the prince serves in his position at the pleasure of the people, only as long as the majority so wishes.”  Would that the humblest of presidents in some republic ever said such a thing.

Both small communities care about  regional matters beyond their borders. Lexington teams up with neighboring towns to affect the future of Hanscom Airfield. For Liechtenstein, regional is by necessity international. The town of Schaan is the seat of the International Alpine Protection Commission (Cipra), whose immediate task is to take measures to protect Alpine waters and glaciers.

Town centers are tourist magnets. Paul Revere’s ride and its consequences assure a steady stream of tour buses to Lexington Green. The main attraction in downtown Vaduz is the post office and the stamp museum across the street – not a surprise to those who grew up collecting stamps long before joysticks took over.  Works of local and regional artists are frequently shown at Lexington’s exhibition spaces. Liechtenstein did it one better this summer: an outdoor sculpture show in the center of Vaduz attracted both locals and international notables such as Fernando Botero. The show was christened Bad Ragartz, a clever play on the name of the neighboring Swiss spa Bad Ragaz. Liechtenstein has also pulled ahead of late as a discount shopping destination. Eastern European immigrants from as far away as Germany make it a point to visit the renowned Mexx clothing store for women and children. Lexington’s Decelle shop recently closed for good.

To complete the picture, let us examine the local newspapers, the Lexington Minuteman and the Liechtensteiner Vaterland, section by section. Performing arts features are usually devoted to events originated in America. In the Minuteman, they are typically high school productions or movie reviews by the likes of David Brudnoy. A recent issue of the Vaterland, offered an extensive review of West Side Story produced in the Austrian town of Bregenz at the spectacular Lakeside Stage (Seebühne) with an international cast. The article described the impressive staging that included a skyscraper and a red-brick tenement, but failed to note the obvious: the representation of a skyscraper had a striking resemblance to the world-famous silhouette  at Ground Zero.

In the business section, the President of the Liechtenstein Insurance Industry Association discussed ideas for the improvement of the financial image of his country, which according to him still evokes a picture of a suitcase full of cash brought in to launder. Herr Hans Haumer thought that funding a big Nobel-like prize out of Liechtenstein could help. Lexington, too, has a Nobel connection, but prize money there often flows in rather than out. For two years in a row in the 90s, there was a  Nobel Prize winner from Lexington.

Dennis Johnson of The Boston Celtics once lived in Lexington, but most sports news in the town is devoted to competition with schools in Burlington or Woburn. The Liechtensteiner national soccer (Fussball) team, on the other hand, played Norway in a selection round for the European championship, incidentally, not a high school sports event. Sadly, the locals lost the match, 1:2, and with it any chance of advancing. But then it’s as if a Lexington team played against the New Jersey all-stars. Lexington does have a team of international stature: its synchronized figure skating Haydenettes are frequent occupants of the medal stand at world championships in their sport.

Just like the 4th of July on this side of the Atlantic, Liechtenstein celebrates its national holiday, August 15th, with big fireworks. The world’s biggest carousel, featuring two levels and an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records, would put up stiff competition to Lexington’s Shriners sponsored amusement carnival. The local flavor asserts itself: in a detailed program of festivities published in the newspaper, an aperitif with the Fürst and the Fürstin provided by the reigning couple was planned at their Schloss, and the whole population of the country was invited. There was no word whether passports were required to attend, but then any outsider would undoubtedly be spotted right away. The fireworks, however, were expected to be watched by 40 thousand people, so a few foreigners were probably counted on.

Those still unconvinced of the genetic kinship of the two L-places should take a look at page 2 of the local newspapers for clinching proof. The Liechtensteiner Vaterland’s main feature on that page is called “Who Wants Me? Little Masters and Mistresses Sought.” This is not what a sophisticated mind might be afraid to imagine, as the German terms refer unequivocally to dog masters. Apparently, the notion of dog-man equality is still alien to the German-speaking world. Pictures of four lovely mixed-breed dogs adorn the page. One of them, Labrador-sized Lisa, is also the proud mom of 10 puppies. The whole family, as well as their colleagues, are waiting for adoption at the Tierschutzhaus Schaan.

The editorial highlight of page 2 of the Lexington Minuteman is entitled “Looking for a home.” An adorable St. Bernard Sydney is the dog of the day. She is described as very gentle, someone who “won’t jump on you and knock you over.” An important quality much valued by anybody contemplating the adoption of a St. Bernard. There is no mention of masters or mistresses on the page – this is Lexington after all. Moreover, the second featured furry friend is a cat, Jack, the species balance being strictly maintained in each issue. Yet, stereotypes persist. Jack is promoted as “seeking and returning gentle affection,” a trait not commonly associated with cats and requiring a special emphasis, while at the same time preferring “a home where he can be the only child.” Sydney, Jack, and all the others are currently cared for by  Buddy Dog Humane Society, the name obviously a relic of a time with more Liechtenstein-like attitudes.

Any doubts now?