The principality of Liechtenstein, tucked between Switzerland and Austria, comprises some sixty square miles of territory, with the Rhine on its west and alpine mountainside in the east. The story of this most micro of states is told in a new mega-novel that covers almost six hundred pages. Published this spring, Für immer die Alpen (‘Forever the Alps’) by Benjamin Quaderer chronicles the life and opinions of Johann Kaiser, a cosmopolitan confidence trickster from Vaduz, Liechtenstein’s capital. The book is a folie de grandeur, a work of serious literary prose and a quirky cultural critique of a diminutive Germanic dominion rolled into one.
The data-thieving character of Kaiser is pinched, in large part, from the real-life individual at the centre of a banking scandal that shone a spotlight on secretive Liechtenstein. Heinrich Kieber stole confidential client documents while working for a bank owned by the princely house and, in 2008, sold copies to foreign authorities – above all, those of nearby Germany. Celebrities and politicians were suddenly exposed as tax avoiders, secreting their wealth in Liechtensteinian holding companies and trusts. Vaduz was not amused. But the Kieber affair gripped the world’s attention, giving rise to an international manhunt, investigative books, a film, an autobiography and now a big new novel.
The whistleblowing affair of 2008 marked the latest chapter in Liechtenstein’s development as a country. Liechtenstein and Europe’s other little countries are leftovers of an old order, relics from a time when Kleinstaaterei (‘small-stateness’) was the norm, typified by the mosaic of principalities that made up the Holy Roman Empire.