April 04, 2009

Liechtenstein: Rent Me

Once upon a time, when corporations had things like employees, customers, fat expense accounts and black bottom lines, and taking everybody and their spouses (or not -- up to you) on extravagant, self-celebratory bonding trips was the law of the land, a prince looked out from his hilltop castle and decreed that his little country should get in on some of that action.

And so it came to pass that Liechtenstein put itself up for rent. And so it remains.

If you have at least 450 people to entertain and $500 per head per day to entertain them with, you can rent this 16-mile-long, 4-mile wide principality wedged between Austria and Switzerland.

The go-to guys, if you're interested, are event marketers Xnet, whose Rent a Village program (they offer nine hamlets in Austria, Switzerland and Germany that you can temporarily overtake) becomes, in the case of Liechtenstein, "Rent a whole country."

Once you pay the rent, Xnet will take care of the details of your group's Alpine adventure and will also see to it that you can, if you're inclined and, presumably, pay extra, "rename streets and squares using names that have a connection with your company. Have your logo carved into the white snow of a mountain slope or introduce your own currency for the duration of your stay."

If you rent Liechtenstein, you do not get to move into Prince Hans-Adam II's castle (photo). You will be in regular hotels, and you'll only see the prince if he happens to drive by in his (I'm guessing) chauffered car.

Nor do the 35,000 permanent residents of Liechtenstein vacate to other nations when you arrive. They stay and go about their business, and you, whose flags, banners and logos flap from the lampposts that line their lanes, do your frolicing, skiing, hiking, biking, team-building, skydiving and bacchanaling around them. I do not know whether your company currency can be used in all establishments, or just those paid to play along for the length of your invasion.

Sound fun? I've been to Liechtenstein, for less than an hour, and it was all I could take.

We were in Switzerland, close to Liechtenstein's border, so we drove in one end and out the other, back into Switzerland.

Liechtenstein, despite its jaw-dropping natural beauty, gave me a mild case of the heebie-jeebies. It smothered me with its perfectness, and I couldn't wait to get back to the less-perfect-perfectness of Switzerland, a wild and crazy place by comparison.

The walls of mountains that surround Liechtenstein were, at first, awe-inspiring, but then they started to move in on our car, inducing claustrophia. We drove right under the royal castle, and I imagined the prince staring down at us, watching us move through his little country. I drove fast, looking for the exit.

There was nothing out of place in Liechtenstein, neither rock nor piece of paper nor shirttail nor blade of grass. The place was impeccable, pristine and unbearably plastic-feeling. The well-put together women strolling the sidewalks looked Stepford Wife-ish. I got the same feeling from Liechtenstein as I get from Angelina Jolie: I was creeped out.

I did like one thing about the perfect little principality: the pronunciation of its capital, Vaduz. It's va - DOOTS.

Go ahead, say it out loud, it's fun: "va - DOOTS, va - DOOTS, va - DOOTS." If you go to Forvo.com ("All the words in the world. Pronounced"), you can listen to Wolfgang Hofmeier ("male from Germany") say it .

Over and over and over, if you like.