Hors Course stage 9: Freddie Mercury and Charlie Chaplin on Lake Geneva

As heard on the Tour Daily podcast, José Been is taking us off the race route for some local historical and cultural context for each stage, from Denmark all the way to Paris.

Yesterday we arrived in Switzerland which is the fourth country on our route this year. Today’s start is in Aigle, home to the headquarters of the UCI. It’s where all the important and not so important decisions are taken. If you want to work at UCI’s HQ you need to be fluent in French and preferably a few other languages, as many Swiss residents are.

Swiss culture is heavily influenced by that of countries Germany, France and Italy. German, French and Italian are all official languages ​​in Switzerland, as is Romansh.

German is the main language, spoken by about 63% of the population, while 20% speak French, 7% Italian, and Romansh is spoken by less than 1%.

Early in the stage we pass Montreux on the shores of Lake Geneva where you will find a statue of Freddie Mercury. The singer of British rock band Queen was a welcome guest in Montreux and had a holiday residence there. Not just any old villa: a 207 m² or 2,200 sq. ft. penthouse on the top floor of the residence “Les Tourelles”. It has several balconies that offer an unobstructed view of Lake Geneva and the ‘Dents du Midi’ mountain.

The view of the ‘Dents du Midi’ seen from Montreux on Lake Geneva.

That penthouse, in which the singer spent the last year of his life in 1991, was sold in 2020 to a wealthy resident of Geneva after a thorough renovation that cost 2.3 million euros. Whether the man is a fan of Queen and Freddie Mercury is not known.

Switzerland is popular with famous people because the country has always been independent politically.

In 1952, Charlie Chaplin moved to Corsier sur Vevey which we find on today’s route after 47 kilometers. The famous actor and filmmaker was politically engaged. His film ‘The Great Dictator’ about Adolf Hitler is one of the highlights of the silent film era, but his political views also got him in trouble.

In the USA Chaplin had appeared before a United States House of Representatives committee charged with tracking and stopping “un-American activity”. He was accused of being a communist.

The US revoked his visa in 1952 after the London premiere of the film ‘Limelight’. This was during the time of communist fighter McCarthy. The filmmaker would spread a left-wing and pacifist message. Although no evidence was found that he was a danger to American society, he was eventually banned from entering the US again.

80-year-old Charlie Chaplin sits in the garden of his home in Corsier-sur-Vevey in 1969. The Manoir de Ban was turned into the ‘Chaplin’s World’ museum in 2016, full of props, costumes and mementos of his groundbreaking film career.

Chaplin decided to go to Switzerland where he lived the last 25 years of his life in Corsier-sur-Vevey. He died in 1977 but was not given a peaceful resting place. Three months after his death his coffin was dug up and held for ransom. After an extensive police operation, it was found 11 weeks later at Lake Geneva, near his home. Chaplin was reburied in Corsier-sur-Vevey but now safely in a concrete vault.

Chaplin’s house Manoir de Ban is now a museum called Chaplin’s World and it opened in 2016. There is the manor itself, the surrounding park and the Hollywood studio. It houses the reconstructed sets of his most famous films like ‘The Kid’, ‘The Great Dictator’, ‘Modern Times’ and ‘The Circus’.

Also on display are some of the props and costumes worn by Charlie Chaplin in his films like his bowler hat, his cane, his torn trousers, but also his Oscars and his certificate of ennoblement signed by Queen Elizabeth II in 1975.

At the manor the TV helicopters will most certainly show the fresco of Chaplin in the field. It was created using 800 wooden stakes and nearly 3,000 meters of string. The reliefs were then created by mowing the grass at different heights to obtain variations in color and contrast.

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