Lenin’s writing desk in the “Revolution of 1917. Russia and Switzerland” exhibition at the National Museum Zurich

Lenin’s writing desk

Lenin wrote probably two of his most important works at his desk in Zurich. Thanks to Jean Kammerer the desk remained in Switzerland.

The fact that Lenin spent over a year in Zurich living with his wife in two rooms at Spiegelgasse 14 is common knowledge these days. But it was not always so. Only after the October Revolution of 1917 did it dawn on the Swiss what a globally significant person had been living among them. The Schweizer Illustrierte magazine printed his portrait on the cover page on 17 December 1917.

The landlord of the two rooms, Titus Kammerer, a shoemaker, certainly had no idea whom he was taking in when he was asked by his nephew, Jean Kammerer, an active member of the Swiss socialist youth association. Two furnished rooms were set up in Titus Kammerer’s house on Spiegelgasse – the furniture belonged to him and remained with him even when the Soviets tried later to buy the furniture off him. They were particularly keen on taking the writing desk to Saint Petersburg, but Jean Kammerer held firm. These days, this piece of furniture is part of the collection belonging to his son, Bruno Kammerer.

Lenin wrote probably two of his most important works at this desk. Writing and reading were his main activities in Switzerland and even the reason why he moved to Zurich: the best library, the Central Library, enticed him here. Lenin later praised Switzerland for its library system and wanted to introduce libraries into the Soviet Union based on the Swiss model. However, aside from the mountains and favourable climate, he showed little enthusiasm for Switzerland. The political system did not impress him.

The Swiss authorities paid little attention to the Russian emigrants. Only after the October Revolution was Lenin’s importance recognised. Schweizer Illustrierte magazine, No. 50, 15/12/1917.

Lenin’s library ticket. Swiss National Library, Berne

Pascale Meyer
Historian and curator at the Swiss national museum

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