Lilu Light Festival, Lucerne, Switzerland

Lucerne holds its first ever Festival of Lights with 17 artistic installations around the city. Rupert Parker hits the highlights

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Lucerne is one of the most attractive Swiss cities, situated by the lake of the same name and dominated by alpine twin peaks Mounts Pilatus and Rigi. The Old Town has several decorated half-timbered buildings and the 13th century wooden covered Chapel Bridge spans the River Reuss, alongside the iconic octagonal Water Tower. Remnants of the old town walls exist on the hill above the town, complete with eight tall watch towers.

An old story says the city gets its name from the Latin Lucerna meaning lantern – apparently an angel showed fishermen where they should erect a chapel with the aid of light from his lantern. It’s fitting therefore that the very first Lilu Light Festival Lucerne presents Swiss and international artists showcasing light in all its fascinating facets. The art installations pop up in squares and alleys in the Old Town and dotted around the lake.

It’s raining quite heavily as I come out of the station but in front of me I see that the old railway arch is illuminated. In the distance I can make out soft undulating coloured glows all over the city. Right in the lake is Fluorozoa by Labor5020, a series of blue lights like jellyfish, submerged under the surface of the lake. They say that their installation plays with the boundary between the natural and the artificial and it’s easy to believe that these are underwater creatures.

The Secret Life of Trees by Estonian artists Judith Parts and Jari Matsi is a light and sound show in an avenue of trees, turning the leaves a variety of colours. It aims to show that trees are not lifeless creatures but breathing tall and strong entities, who will be here long after most humans.

Juladi by Elke Radtke is an interactive projection on the walls of the council offices where you step in front of a camera. Your image then goes through a series of mirrors, effects are added and you get your super-sized selfie displayed large on the walls.

Shake It by François Chalet is another interactive installation. You shake a giant snow orb which changes the display on a special stage called the Music Pavillion. It’s meant to warm you up with fiery skeletons, long-necked swans and dancing snowmen making the ice sing and the snow melt.

Atoll by Karim Niazi and Simon Schwarz uses the pond in front of the Lion Monument to display a series of creature projections flying in and out of the water. Apparently it’s all about climate change with the south coming to Switzerland and creating an atoll in the middle of the fish pond.

In the heart of the Old Town, Martina Horber & Vanessa Peter have created Novis – a tribute to the light that the angel brought to Lucerne long ago. It has something mystical about it, almost invisible in daylight, but in the dark of the Old Town it shines like a beacon.

Genesis by Projektil, an artistic collective from Zurich, is the most spectacular show, taking up the entire interior of the Hofkirche. Fittingly, this church is built on the site of the Chapel of Saint Nicolas where that famous angel with the lantern appeared to the fishermen. It’s one of the largest and lavish churches of the German late renaissance period and its bell towers, with their prominent pointed spires, are a city landmark

Inside, to a specially composed soundtrack, light and images are projected onto the ceiling and walls, bringing them to technicolour life. It reminds me of one of those psychedelic sixties shows pioneered by Pink Floyd, but without the drugs. Staring up into heavens, it provides a visual reinterpretation of the history of creation. A fitting climax to an innovative set of installations lighting up the city of Lucerne.


The next Lilu Light Festival Lucerne takes place in January 2020

The 5* Hotel Schweizerhof is a comfortable base on the lake.

The 3*Superior Hotel Pilatus Kulm is at the top of Mount Pilatus with amazing views of the city.

The Lake Lucerne Navigation Company offers delicious culinary cruises on the lake.

My Switzerland has information about the country.

SWISS operates more than 170 weekly flights from London City, Heathrow, Gatwick (seasonal), Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh (seasonal) and Dublin to Zurich, Geneva or Sion (seasonal).

The Swiss Travel Pass offers unlimited travel on consecutive days throughout the rail, bus and boat Swiss Travel System network. This pass also covers scenic routes and local trams and buses in around 90 towns and cities and also includes the Swiss Museum Pass, allowing you free entrance to 500 museums and exhibitions. Prices from £171 in second class.