Hors Course stage 9: Freddie Mercury and Charlie Chaplin on Lake Geneva
As heard on the Tour Daily podcast, José Been takes us off the race route for 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 of the UCI headquarters. This is where all the important and less important decisions are made. If you wish to work at the UCI headquarters, you must be fluent in French and preferably a few other languages, as are many Swiss residents.
Swiss culture is strongly influenced by that of the neighboring countries of Germany, France and Italy. German, French and Italian are the official languages of Switzerland, as is Romansh.
German is the main language, spoken by around 63% of the population, while 20% speak French, 7% Italian, and Romansh is spoken by less than 1%.
At the start of the stage we pass Montreux on the shores of Lake Geneva where you will find a statue of Freddie Mercury. The lead singer of British rock band Queen was a welcome guest in Montreux and had a vacation home there. Not just any old villa: a 207 m² penthouse on the top floor of the “Les Tourelles” residence. It has several balconies which offer a breathtaking view of Lake Geneva and the ‘Dents du Midi’ mountain.
This penthouse, in which the singer spent the last year of his life in 1991, was sold in 2020 to a wealthy Genevan after an in-depth renovation which cost 2.3 million euros. It is not known if the man is a fan of Queen and Freddie Mercury.
Switzerland is popular with celebrities because the country has always been politically independent.
In 1952, Charlie Chaplin moved to Corsier sur Vevey, which is found on the current route after 47 kilometers. The famous actor and filmmaker was politically engaged. His film “The 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 United States, Chaplin had appeared before a committee of the United States House of Representatives tasked with tracking down and stopping “un-American activity”. He was accused of being a communist.
The United States revoked his visa in 1952 after the London premiere of the film “Limelight”. This was during the days of communist fighter McCarthy. The filmmaker would broadcast a leftist and pacifist message. Although no evidence was found that he posed a danger to American society, he was eventually banned from entering the United States again.
Chaplin decides to go to Switzerland where he spends 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, he was found 11 weeks later on the shores of Lake Geneva, near his home. Chaplin was reburied in Corsier-sur-Vevey but now safely in a concrete vault.
Chaplin’s home, Manoir de Ban, is now a museum called Chaplin’s World and it opened in 2016. There is the mansion itself, the surrounding park and the Hollywood studio. It houses reconstructed sets from his most famous films such as “The Kid”, “The Great Dictator”, “Modern Times” and “The Circus”.
Also on display are some of the accessories and costumes worn by Charlie Chaplin in his films such as his bowler hat, his cane, his torn pants, but also his Oscars and his certificate of ennoblement signed by Queen Elizabeth II in 1975.
At the mansion, television helicopters will most certainly show Chaplin’s mural on the grounds. It was created using 800 wooden stakes and nearly 3,000 meters of string. The landforms were then created by mowing the grass at different heights to achieve variations in color and contrast.