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Space theme permeates Embassy of Switzerland’s 14th annual Soirée Suisse

by Larry Luxner

More than 1,200 diplomats, dignitaries and other guests crammed into the Embassy of Switzerland and filled its expansive grounds Sept. 16 for Soirée Suisse — the embassy’s lavish summer reception for Washington’s movers and shakers.

From left, Swiss Ambassador Martin Dahinden, his wife Anita, Lisette Barry and Jerome Barry, director and founder of the Embassy Series. Photos: Larry Luxner

The evening marked the 14th consecutive year Switzerland has hosted the annual party, but it was a first for the country’s new ambassador, Martin Dahinden.

Its purpose, he said, was “to celebrate the rich and diverse friendship between our two nations: Switzerland and the United States” — and the gathering had a decidedly space theme.

Saxophone player performs jazz during the 14th annual Soirée Suisse, held Sept. 16 at the Embassy of Switzerland.

“It may come as a surprise to many, but Switzerland is a space-traveling nation,” he told the crowd. “Let us step back for a moment — about 200 years ago to be precise: perhaps some of you have either read the 1812 novel The Swiss Family Robinson or seen the Disney movie of the same name, about a Swiss family shipwrecked in the East Indies en route to Australia. Their story and similar Robinson Crusoe-like stories are popular because they intrigue the adventurer in all of us.”

ROSINA (Rosetta Orbiter Spectrometer for Ion and Neutral Analysis) is a suite of three instruments on board the Rosetta spacecraft. It was built by a consortium of the U.S. and four European countries under the leadership of the University of Bern’s Physics Institute and displayed Sept. 16 at a summer reception hosted by the Embassy of Switzerland.

Dahinden continued: “In the 21st century, no one should get lost anymore with all of the ground-breaking research done by our world-renowned Swiss universities and companies. From space exploration to satellite communication, disaster relief and weather forecasting, representatives from some of our most innovative institutions are here with several fascinating exhibits.”

Young women line up to have their photos taken during the 14th annual Soirée Suisse, held Sept. 16 at the Embassy of Switzerland.

One of the evening’s most interesting exhibits was Birdly — an interactive flight simulator designed by Switzerland’s Zurich University of Art and Design that allowed guests to experience space flight through the power of virtual reality.

Since 2012, Switzerland has held the co-presidency of the European Space Agency together with Luxembourg. It has also produced exactly one astronaut: Claude Nicollier.

Retired Swiss astronaut Claude Nicollier, who flew on four space shuttle missions and took part in two servicing missions to the Hubble Space Telescope, holds up his Tell Award at the 14th annual Soirée Suisse, held Sept. 16 at the Embassy of Switzerland.

The 71-year-old astronaut — who since his 2007 retirement is now a full professor of spatial technology at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne — flew on four space shuttle missions and took part in two servicing missions to the Hubble Space Telescope.

During his final spaceflight in 1999, Nicollier participated in a spacewalk, becoming the first ESA astronaut to do so during a space shuttle mission. In 2000, he was assigned to the Astronaut Office Extravehicular Activity Branch, while maintaining a position as lead ESA astronaut in Houston.

Guests line up to taste Swiss-distilled absinthe at a summer reception hosted by the Embassy of Switzerland in Washington.

Dahinden presented Nicollier with the embassy’s 2015 Tell Award — named for Swiss national hero Wilhelm Tell, he said — “in recognition of your achievements in successfully furthering Swiss, European and American cooperation in space, and for being an outstanding ambassador for Switzerland and its innovative spirit.”

Traditional Swiss Alpine horn players greet guests arriving at a summer reception hosted by the Embassy of Switzerland in Washington.

The extravaganza was financed by a record 50 sponsors including food conglomerate Nestlé, coffee producer Nespresso and Zurich Insurance Group, which as Dahinden pointed out, is the first company in the financial sector to introduce Swiss-style apprenticeships in the United States, giving 100 young people the chance to start their careers in the insurance business as apprentices until 2020.

Salome Ramseier, press attaché at the Embassy of Switzerland, enjoys a premium Davidoff cigar during the embassy’s 14th annual Soirée Suisse, held Sept. 16.

“On an evening like tonight it is rather difficult to look up into the night sky and see the stars. Fortunately, we have that covered since the theme of this year’s Soirée Suisse is space and aerospace,” Dahinden concluded.

“I look forward to another successful year of collaboration with our American partners and friends. I wish you all a wonderful evening on Swiss soil with plenty of Swiss delights.”

Larry Luxner is news editor of The Washington Diplomat.



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