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App to help Swiss army recruits get fit

Swissinfo EN - Thu, 03/07/2019 - 11:52
Having fit soldiers is important for the Swiss army – it means fewer injuries and fewer people dropping out. That’s why it has launched an app to get young people ready for military service. The target group of the sports app “ready #teamarmee” is men and women aged 14-18 who want to prepare themselves both physically and mentally for their first basic military training. Military service is compulsory for Swiss men, optional for Swiss women. It generally lasts from age 18 to 30. The app was developed by the army and the Federal Office for Sport. Users can choose which army function they want to prepare for, for example tank sapper, and the app will produce specially designed sports programmes, the sports ministry said on Monday. Like other fitness apps, ready #teamarmee also offers advice on nutrition and a healthy lifestyle. The Swiss army app can also be used by civilians, who don’t need to put in a military function but just the type of training they want to do. Three ...
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When Swiss chemists were in their element

Swissinfo EN - Wed, 03/06/2019 - 14:38
Gadolinium, holmium and ytterbium. What are they and, for a bonus point, what have they got in common? On the 150th anniversary of the publication of the periodic table, we look at the properties and uses of the table’s three elements that were discovered by Swiss scientists.  On March 6, 1869, Dmitri Mendeleev presented his system of classifying the 63 known chemical elements to the Russian Chemical Society. As you will remember from your school days, the 118 elements today are arranged by atomic number, electron configuration and recurring chemical properties.  However, for around 50 years certain elements were left off the table because they either were not pure enough or couldn’t be identified. Many of these were rare-earth elements (lanthanides), including the three “Swiss” elements.  Jean-Charles Galissard de Marignac, who taught chemistry at the Geneva Academy (since 1873 the University of Geneva), will be remembered for discovering ytterbium (Yb) in 1878 and gadolinium ...
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Making way for women at the dangerous Cresta Run

Swissinfo EN - Wed, 03/06/2019 - 12:00
This winter season, women have been given free access to the iconic Cresta Run toboggan track in Switzerland for the first time in 90 years. The historic ice track in the ritzy resort of St Moritz in the upper Engadine valley is billed as the most famous and feared toboggan run in the world. It was a male sporting bastion until 2018, when the club decided to let women properly join their ranks. However, Gary Lowe, the current club secretary, says the decision will be reviewed again in two years.  Ladies had been allowed to race on equal terms with men until the 1920s, when it was deemed medically dangerous. In more recent decades, women could compete only on a token end-of-season ladies' day on the lower track.  Deadly The Cresta Run was first built at the end of the 19th century from natural ice. Runners hurtle headfirst down the ice track on a small toboggan called a skeleton, reaching speeds of up to 130 kmph (80 mph). Skeleton racing on the Cresta Run remains one of the ...
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The growing Swiss love affair with 4x4s

Swissinfo EN - Wed, 03/06/2019 - 12:00
The Swiss seem to be falling more and more in love with big powerful cars with four-wheel-drive performance. Fans claim they are safer and useful for big families and when in the mountains. But what about their environmental impact?  2018 was a bumpy year for the Swiss auto industry. Overall sales of new vehicles were down again for the third year in a row, but one segment stood out. According to auto-suisse, the umbrella organisation for car importers, almost one in every two cars (49%) sold in Switzerland last year was a four-wheel drive – a Swiss record and double the share of ten years ago. “Switzerland is a rich country, the cars come from abroad and the Swiss franc is strong, so the Swiss tend to buy bigger, wider and longer cars than our European neighbours,” Pierre-Emmanuel Dessemontet, an expert in urban and suburban geography at the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), told Swiss public television, RTS, last year.  For auto-suisse President François ...
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How to set aside CHF1,000

Swissinfo EN - Tue, 03/05/2019 - 10:33
The latest version of the world’s most valuable banknote has been unveiled. How much effort does it take to earn or save enough for one? There’s something regal about Switzerland’s purple 1,000-franc note. Part of the cachet of this seldom-seen slip of paper and polymer is the fact that most people hardly ever handle one. Worth $999 or €882, the CHF1,000 note also has a dark side, with many questioning the legitimate need for a denomination so large that most vendors refuse to accept it. To mark the banknote’s release by the Swiss National Bank on Tuesday, we’ve done the math to calculate two things: how many hours you’d have to work in Switzerland to earn one, and how many ordinary goods and services you’d have to give up to save CHF1,000. The new note goes into circulation starting in Bern and Zurich on March 13.   New Swiss banknote series The inspiration behind the new banknote series is ‘The many facets of Switzerland’. Each denomination depicts a typically ...
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Public media striving to give taxpayers their money’s worth

Swissinfo EN - Mon, 03/04/2019 - 22:28
In an era of Spotify and Netflix, where does public media fit in – and how can it stay relevant and true to society’s needs? To try to answer these and many other questions, nearly 200 globally active media professionals and analysts gathered in the Swiss capital for the first International Public Media Conference on Monday – exactly a year after Swiss voters rejected a proposal to drop the mandatory licence fee for public broadcasters. “The people of Switzerland know how important publicly funded media is for the media landscape,” said Swiss Communications Minister Simonetta Sommaruga in her opening remarks. Over the course of the day’s conference, many speakers – including BBC Director-General Tony Hall via video message – highlighted the importance of creativity, which was fitting considering the venue: Zentrum Paul Klee, a cultural centre dedicated to the versatile Swiss artist. “Surprising and delighting audiences so they feel they get their money’s worth out of their ...
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Swiss take aim at excessive debt

Swissinfo EN - Mon, 03/04/2019 - 20:58
Switzerland is one of the only countries in Europe that does not offer debt relief to those in severe financial difficulty. Parliament is calling for the law to be changed. It’s difficult to get out of debt if you owe a lot of money in Switzerland. There are provisions in the law to help, but these don’t really apply if you have little resources.  “Many of those affected have very little realistic prospective of living debt-free,” said a recent government report into debt relief procedures for private individuals. A first step was taken on Monday: both the House of Representatives and the Senate supported a parliamentary motion by the Social Democratic  senator, Claude Hêche, aimed at changing the law on debt collection and bankruptcy to allow the short-term economic integration of those in heavily in debt. It would also foresee the introduction of a mechanism to wipe out debts under certain circumstances. Excessive debt According to the definition of the the Swiss conference ...
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Former military sports school still on track after 75 years

Swissinfo EN - Mon, 03/04/2019 - 15:14
It’s the 75th birthday of the Federal Sports School in Magglingen, high above Lake Biel, where countless Swiss sports talents have been forged into champions. But in 1942 the Federal Council were after a slightly different goal when they founded the Swiss Federal Gymnastics and Sports School: to make young Swiss men fit for military service by providing a so-called foundation course.  In the same year, the government also passed a resolution to this effect, after which it took some time to determine the structure of the training and the location of the school. In 1944, the school was officially founded.  And today, the sports school at Magglingen produces a range of high-achieving athletes, far from its army beginnings. Both the Federal Office for Sport and the Federal Sports School overlook the magnificent vista of Lake Biel and its surrounding landscape, 900 metres above the city of Biel. The clean air is perfect for practising various sporting disciplines and (maybe) ...
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‘Journalists must get a grip’ to protect independent media

Swissinfo EN - Mon, 03/04/2019 - 09:00
How has mass media, and its impact on society, changed over the past 40 years? Otfried Jarren has spent his career immersed in that question.  As professor in the Department of Media Research and Communication at the University of Zürich, his interests include the structure of media as well as its links with politics. Jarren also presides over OFCOM, the Swiss Federal Media Commission. This article is part of ongoing coverage of the International Public Media Conference on March 4 in Bern, where Jarren will give the closing keynote. He weighed in on the future of public media, democracy, and how journalism can adapt to rebuild trust and credibility in the digital age. swissinfo.ch: Ohne Journalismus keine Demokratie! (Without journalism, no democracy!) How appropriate, or exaggerated, is this mission statement of the recent Swiss media venture Republik magazine? Otfried Jarren: Journalism plays an observational, intermediary, and critical role in society. It acts on the ...
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The Swiss explorer who broke ground for women travel writers

Swissinfo EN - Sun, 03/03/2019 - 14:00
Explorer Isabelle Eberhardt paved the way for Swiss women to enter journalism and travel writing, but few know her story. An exhibit underway in Geneva aims to change that. "With one eye, observe the outside world, with the other, look deep inside yourself." That sentence penned by the Italian painter Amedeo Modigliani captures the essence of Eberhardt, who signed her dispatches with a simple “I”. That lone letter stands at the bottom of a love letter to her husband Slimène Ehni.  She wrote to him in French, "I embrace you with all my heart that is yours..." then continued in Arabic: "... in this world and for eternity". The two languages that blend into each other in superb calligraphy reveal the rich cultural identity of this multilingual Swiss woman, born in 1877, who at the age of 20 left Geneva to settle in Algeria. She died there at 27, swept away in a river flood. Dressed as a man Eberhardt, a daring writer and adventurer, often dressed as a man. It was a choice that ...
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Big bridges in the Big Apple

Swissinfo EN - Sun, 03/03/2019 - 13:00
“Gateways to New York” is a documentary about Swiss engineer Othmar Ammann, who might be an unsung hero today, but he certainly wasn’t when he was building many of New York’s most iconic bridges.  His works include George Washington Bridge, Bayonne Bridge, Triborough Bridge, Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, Throgs Neck Bridge and Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge (pictured).  The film’s director, Martin Witz, talks to swissinfo.ch at the Solothurn Film Festival, where his documentary won the Audience Award, about Ammann’s incredible success story and the challenges in making the film. Subscribe to our podcast on iTunes to ensure that you don’t miss the next one.
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French flourishes in Switzerland

Swissinfo EN - Sun, 03/03/2019 - 12:00
While French has become steadily more popular over the past 50 years, fewer Swiss speak German regularly. The main reason for this is migration. Almost two-thirds of the people living in Switzerland regularly speak more than one language. With four official national languages, Switzerland has a special language landscape – and many non-national languages can also be heard in everyday life. According to current data from the Federal Statistical Office (FSO), the majority of the permanent resident population speaks German or Swiss German as their main language. Among the non-national languages, English and Portuguese are the most common. According to FSO, the main language is the language in which we think and which we speak best. Since the 1980s, the proportion of people who name German as their main language has been declining steadily. Italian also declined until 2000, when people began citing it as their main language more often. Meanwhile, French has become increasingly ...
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Divorce, university rankings and illicit weapons

Swissinfo EN - Sat, 03/02/2019 - 19:41
Almost every article published by swissinfo.ch contains a percentage, an age, an amount of money or some other figure. Here’s a round-up of some of the most interesting statistics to appear in the past week’s stories. Tuesday 16,200 The number of divorces registered in Switzerland in 2018. That marks a 2.1 percent increase relative to the previous year, the Federal Statistical Office announced. If such a trend continued, two-fifths of all marriages would be likely to one day end in separation. Wednesday 3 The Swiss university system has entered the top three globally, according to the latest QS rankings. That recognition reflects the continuing strong performance of the federal technology institute ETH Zurich. Friday 8,251  The number of illegal weapons seized by Swiss customs in 2018, a two-fold increase relative to 2017, according to the Federal Customs Administration annual report. 140 Most asylum proceedings are now to be completed within 140 days in federal ...
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On the road with Switzerland’s public broadcaster

Swissinfo EN - Sat, 03/02/2019 - 12:00
Switzerland has a long history of public media – and the challenge of keeping it current for future generations. The range of programming produced by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) is varied, especially considering the fact that the budget has to cover the four national languages as well as an additional seven at its international arm SWI swissinfo.ch. This linguistic quirk is why newsmakers in Switzerland often end up speaking into multiple SBC microphones. With the popularity of citizen journalism and YouTube, the competition for eyeballs is fiercer than ever. A particular challenge is trying to appeal to younger viewers who barely remember a time before Netflix. But last year, both the SBC and its supporters were relieved when Swiss voters rejected a proposal to do away with the mandatory licence fee for public broadcasters. Every household pays CHF365 ($365) per year for access to radio and TV in Switzerland. This piece is part of ongoing coverage from the ...
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Driving out the winter

Swissinfo EN - Fri, 03/01/2019 - 18:25
The first of March marks the day when "Chalandamarz" processions in eastern Switzerland chase winter out of the villages. In the Romansh language spoken in canton Graubünden, "Chalandamarz" means "the beginning of March". In eastern Swiss valleys, March 1 means a lot of noise in the villages. Schoolchildren and adolescents walk with bells and whips through the streets and around every water fountain. They traditionally wear red pointed caps and blue peasant blouses and sing spring songs. They are sure to be as loud as possible. In some communities, only the boys are allowed to shout out the winter, while in others a straw man is burned. In some places the custom resembles a carnival procession. In the town of Ftan, the boys dress in costumes and chase the girls with inflated pig bladders. After the bell procession, the Chalandamarz Ball takes place in each village, traditionally prepared by the women and girls. Young and old take part and celebrate the coming spring.
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Homosexuality is no longer taboo in classrooms

Swissinfo EN - Fri, 03/01/2019 - 12:00
The ABQ association has been criss-crossing schools in cantons Bern and Fribourg for 20 years, talking about sexual orientation. The aim is to let pupils chat with young gay people and above all ask them questions, helping to create a climate of tolerance. “How did you come out?” “In same-sex couples does one partner play the role of the man and one the role of the woman?” “Have you found it hard accepting yourself?” This morning a class of secondary school pupils from Tavel, near Fribourg in western Switzerland, have the chance to put all their questions about sexual orientation and gender identity to members of the school project ABQ. The Bern-based association organises around 60 school visits a year to let teenagers meet people aged 20-30 who are LGBTIQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer).  “We’re not militants. We’d like [pupils] to form their own opinions knowing all the facts,” says Hélène Fournier, ABQ’s co-president and one of four participants ...
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The march for women’s suffrage in Switzerland

Swissinfo EN - Fri, 03/01/2019 - 10:48
An hour of making noise in front of the Swiss parliament buildings was enough to find its way into the history books. On March 1, 1969, thousands of women loudly demanded the vote. On that day exactly 50 years ago, 5,000 women and men stood in the square and at 3pm gave a concert of whistles. The event was controversial. Although the two main women's associations supported the cause, they did not take part in the rally, fearing riots and revenge by men at the ballot box who might be provoked to reject women's suffrage. The protestors read out a resolution in all four Swiss national languages, demanding full voting rights at the federal and cantonal level. It would take two years before a bill was finally presented to the (male) electorate and adopted by a two-thirds majority. However, it took another 20 years for women's suffrage to be implemented in all cantons.
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How French authorities used a whistleblower to sting UBS bankers

Swissinfo EN - Fri, 03/01/2019 - 10:12
In May 2011, a scared employee from Swiss bank UBS was summoned without warning or explanation to meet French government officials outside the Louis Vuitton store on the Champs-Elysées in Paris.  From there she was shuttled to the back of a large department store and given her mission: to help the French government try to catch Swiss bankers illegally soliciting French clients at the French Open tennis tournament. “They said we are going to follow you for two weeks at Roland-Garros  . . . They said they would follow me for the two weeks with a camera,” said Stéphanie Gibaud in an interview with the Financial Times days after UBS was hit with a €4.5 billion (CHF5.1 billion) penalty for recruiting clients in France and helping them evade taxes. Gibaud, a relatively junior marketing manager who organised client events during her more than ten years at the bank, spent the following days at Roland-Garros in fear, trying to behave normally in front of her colleagues before being ...
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Public media and young viewers: are they flicking over?

Swissinfo EN - Thu, 02/28/2019 - 12:00
One year after voters thumpingly rejected the idea of scrapping the licence fee, public broadcasters in Switzerland and beyond tackle the challenge of securing future audiences. Cosy, warm, brain-dead, you’re tucked up on the couch after another day. On the TV, or some screen, your latest Netflix series is jumping kindly from episode to episode; you don’t even have to lift a finger. You check your phone. 19:30. Somewhere, in some other corner of the universe, the news is starting – SRF’s Tagesschau. Do you flick over? One year after Swiss voters opted largely not to scrap the country’s public-funded state media system, the question still hovers. And as technology, media, habits, and content continue to shift faster than a journalist can keep up with them, the answer is still unclear. On one hand, as the BernerZeitung reported last week (in German), some things don’t seem to change. The most watched show via the Swiss Zattoo online streaming service – which accounts for 53% ...
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The circus reflects society – with or without bearded women

Swissinfo EN - Wed, 02/27/2019 - 12:00
Circus Knie, often called Switzerland’s national circus, will soon set off on its centenary tour. This will certainly gain attention, as the circus still retains an aura of excitement and dreams. But does it still make people dream as they did in 1919? In this light-hearted article, the author argues it’s unlikely, because a change in moral attitudes has clipped its wings. For a long time the circus was associated with a strange, fantasy world – at least that’s how it was often depicted in art, literature or the cinema. As late as the 1970s children’s television programmes featured main characters who dreamt of running away to join the circus. A science-fiction scenario for the youth of today, versed in the ways of the virtual world almost since birth. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of swissinfo.ch. The circus can also give you goose bumps – the wild animals in particular. Sitting in the front row, ...
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