Switzerland’s Quirky Cat Ladders Help Wandering Felines Ascend New Heights

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By Lucy Wang
Brigitte Schuster captures Switzerland’s charming cat architecture trend in her upcoming book Swiss Cat Ladders.

In Switzerland, devout cat owners are showering love on their feline companions with a charming house modification—the cat ladder.

Two cat ladders on different roofs give the cat access to the building's highest room.

Two cat ladders on different roofs give the cat access to the building's highest room.

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Designed to help cats move around more easily without resorting to acrobatic jumps, these strategically placed ramps and ladders have caught on—and residents have developed a wide variety of styles to match the aesthetics of different buildings.

This wooden cat ladder complements the grapevines that grow along the building facade.

This wooden cat ladder complements the grapevines that grow along the building facade.

For Bern–based writer and photographer Brigitte Schuster, these architectural oddities also presented an interesting research project. "A closer look at the cat ladders reveals sociological, architectural, and aesthetic perspectives," Schuster says.

On the lower right is a fairly simple cat ramp mounted to a wooden pole. The climbing structure on the left integrates a zigzagging chicken ladder.

On the lower right is a fairly simple cat ramp mounted to a wooden pole. The climbing structure on the left integrates a zigzagging chicken ladder.

Ramps set at different angles gives this cat ladder contraption a playful feel. Small railings help prevent cats from falling.

Ramps set at different angles gives this cat ladder contraption a playful feel. Small railings help prevent cats from falling.

The rise of cat ladders in Switzerland is perhaps of little surprise. Cats are the most popular household pets in the nation, and Bern is full of cat lovers, notes Schuster.

This cat ladder, which ascends to the third floor, is one of the highest of its kind that Schuster has seen in Bern.

This cat ladder, which ascends to the third floor, is one of the highest of its kind that Schuster has seen in Bern.

This sleek spiral staircase was special-ordered from the internet.

This sleek spiral staircase was special-ordered from the internet.

While the thought of burglars using the outdoor structures may deter other cities from hopping on the cat ladder bandwagon, the Swiss seem to be less concerned, perhaps because of their country’s relatively low crime rates. (The cat climbing aids would also not likely be strong enough to hold a person's weight.)

Treads attached to this rain pipe lead to the second floor.

Treads attached to this rain pipe lead to the second floor.

Having photographed the many cat ladders throughout Bern, Schuster has compiled her findings and photographs into an upcoming book, Swiss Cat Ladders.

A simple cat ladder with treads leads from the mail boxes to the top of the door sill.

A simple cat ladder with treads leads from the mail boxes to the top of the door sill.

The book, which is bilingual in English and German, showcases the creativity and eccentricity of the climbing structures—ranging from sleek spiral staircases to foldable zigzagging contraptions—and even explores the necessity of the cat ladder as well as the phenomena’s underlying cultural meanings in essays, diagrams, and full-page photographs.

This cat ladder culminates in a shelter for the cat.

This cat ladder culminates in a shelter for the cat.

Schuster's book Swiss Cat Ladders will be printed in the fall of 2019, and it's currently available for pre-order on her website.

A cat ladder zigzags up the side of a building. Landings provide space for the cat to turn around.

A cat ladder zigzags up the side of a building. Landings provide space for the cat to turn around.

Here, the cat ramp spans the gap between the tree and the balcony.

Here, the cat ramp spans the gap between the tree and the balcony.

Developed by German designer Maike Franzen, this foldable cat ladder is constructed from plastic.

Developed by German designer Maike Franzen, this foldable cat ladder is constructed from plastic.