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Updated: 2 days 17 hours ago

Bears, ballet dancers and the healing power of cannabis

Sun, 02/03/2019 - 18:00
Here are some of the stories out of Switzerland we'll be covering the week of February 4, 2019. Monday "Cannabis is a plant of high therapeutic value," says the head of the Swiss task force for cannabis products in medicine. We spoke to Rudolf Brenneisen at a recent conference on the issue in Bern. Tuesday How do young Swiss ballet dancers prepare for the prestigious Prix de Lausanne competition. swissinfo.ch presents four hopefuls during practice sessions. Thursday The story of two zoo bears from Albania and how they arrived at a sanctuary in the Swiss Alps following their long journey through Macedonia, Greece and Italy. Saturday How the creation of Switzerland's biggest hotel and holiday apartment complex by an Egyptian businessman changed the face of a mountain valley in the Swiss Alps. A photo reportage. Sunday Citizens decide on a proposal to limit urban sprawl in Switzerland following several weeks of public debate. Follow our coverage on the day.
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How a Swiss children’s tale changed American football

Sun, 02/03/2019 - 12:00
This Sunday millions of Americans will gather round television sets and bowls of jalapeño cheese dip to jump and yell as the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots battle it out during the 53rd Super Bowl. No matter who wins, one thing is certain: no one will be forced to watch “Heidi” instead. If that sounds absurd, don’t laugh, because that’s exactly what happened 50 football seasons ago during one of the most infamous mess-ups in sports broadcasting history. Today we call it the “Heidi Bowl” or the “Heidi Game” and it changed the way Americans watch football while redefining who controls the television networks when it comes to airing the sport.  “The most significant factor to come out of Heidi was, whatever you do, you better not leave a football game,” Val Pinchbeck, a National Football League (NFL) broadcasting vice president told author Ken Rappoport in his book “The Little League that Could.”  The build-up  The year was 1968 and the New York Jets and the Oakland ...
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Swiss architect makes a mark in Antarctica

Sun, 02/03/2019 - 09:30
What does an Antarctic architect do? Easy: he designs buildings suitable for the South Pole. Not regular houses, but facilities equipped for scientific research. London-based Swiss architect Gianluca Rendina is one of the few architects in the world who are experts in “buildings” capable of withstanding extreme temperatures and icy, furious winds. His first project was the British research station Halley VI of the British Antarctic Survey, reserved for scientists studying the Earth’s magnetic fields. Scientists who, because of the very low temperatures (-60°C, -76°F) and winds of over 150km/h (93mph), are forced to live there for 18 months without hardly ever being able to go outside. A truly futuristic Antarctic base, a sort of “centipede” formed by seven blue modules (or houses) connected to a central, red, larger building. All these buildings rest on giant skis and can be raised and moved elsewhere if the movement of the ice creates some danger or the climatic conditions ...
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Tremors, watches and refugees

Sat, 02/02/2019 - 18:00
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 the most interesting statistics to appear in the past week’s stories. 900 More than 900 earthquakes were recorded in Switzerland last year, according to the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. But only 25 of them had a magnitude at which tremors are registered by an average person.   21,000,000,000 Swiss watch exports broke the CHF21 billion ($21.2 billion) mark last year. This 6.3% increase is largely due to Asian markets and the watchmaking industry is optimistic the trend will continue despite uncertainty over the Chinese economy.   16 Support for a proposal to curb urban sprawl in Switzerland has dropped by 16% over the past month according to the latest opinion poll. Voters decide on the issue next weekend but the initiative  seems doomed to fail at the ballot box.   657 Women in Switzerland earned CH657 ...
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Who is ‘Homo Helveticus?’

Sat, 02/02/2019 - 12:00
Didier Ruef has been documenting life in Switzerland for more than 30 years. His book contains a carefully compiled selection of photos of Switzerland and the people who call it home. The Swiss historian Thomas Maissen writes in the foreword to the book: “There is nothing that does not exist in Switzerland.” Perhaps, someone should add to this: and, nothing that the photographer has not captured by his camera in the last 30 years. Ruef grew up in Geneva. Like many from the area, he looked beyond his horizons to France at an early age and was shaped by the international environment in Geneva.  After graduation, he moved to New York, where he trained as a photographer at the International Centre for Photography. Back home, Ruef blended a passion for street photography, which he studied with enthusiasm in New York, with his decades of reporting on his own country. Feeling restless and curious, he set out to explore the burgeoning field of street photography and bring out the ...
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Victorian-era masterpieces on display in Lausanne

Fri, 02/01/2019 - 18:00
For the first time in Switzerland, fans of 19th-century British painting have a chance to witness a unique collection – from Turner to Whistler via the Pre-Raphaelites – gathered in Lausanne from prestigious collections that rarely leave the British Isles. “Nineteenth-century British painting is something that is not very well known here in Switzerland and in the rest of Europe,” explains curator William Hauptman. “With this exhibition, I wanted to show the originality and diversity of paintings produced during the Victorian period which people used to look down on as being rather difficult, of poor quality and not very interesting, but which are today seen in a different light.” In recent years, Victorian-era paintings have come back in fashion and have been selling for high prices, like the Finding of Moses by Lawrence Alma-Tadema, which sold for $36 million (CHF35.8 million) in 2010, or Frederic Leighton’s Golden Hours, bought for 260 guineas in 1916, which went for £3 million ...
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Swiss gear up for change to driving licence law

Fri, 02/01/2019 - 15:10
From February 1 whoever passes their Swiss driving test in an automatic vehicle is also allowed to drive a manual car. Not everyone is happy about this, saying it could be dangerous. But is it actually a problem, given that the days of stick-shift cars appear to be numbered?  Until now most aspiring drivers sit their test in a manual, allowing them, if they pass, to drive manuals as well as automatics. But pass your test in an automatic and you’re limited to automatics.  + More information on driving in Switzerland No longer. There’s now no difference between the two tests. Get your automatic driving licence and you can get behind the wheel of a manual transmission – even if you’ve never touched a gear stick before.  It’s likely that most students will opt for an automatic licence, since automatics are easier to handle and therefore fewer lessons are needed, saving money.  But this change of law, approved by the government in December, has triggered heated discussions about ...
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Life as a part-time local Swiss politician

Fri, 02/01/2019 - 12:00
Politics as a part-time job: That’s the idea of the militia system. Thousands of Swiss officials have a normal occupation and do politics on the side. The militia system creates a permeable border between politics and voters. But in practice it’s a stretch.  During the day, Markus Geist is a manager at the Swiss Federal Railways in Bern. After work, he drives home to study zoning plans or chair community meetings. Geist is the vice mayor of Grosshöchstetten, a town west of Bern with about 3,500 people. This makes him one of the thousands of Swiss holding political office in addition to a job. Geist also served as the mayor of the neighbouring municipality of Schlosswil, population 630. But Schlosswil no longer exists as a municipality – it merged with Grosshöchstetten at the beginning of 2018. The combination of a profession in parallel to local politics is the core of the Swiss militia system. This forms the basis of Swiss politics not only at the municipal, but also at the ...
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Sinochem and ChemChina move closer with Syngenta appointment

Fri, 02/01/2019 - 10:20
A Sinochem executive is taking over the China operations of Syngenta, the Swiss subsidiary of rival agribusiness giant ChemChina, even though the two Chinese conglomerates insist they have not merged. The appointment of Qin Hengde, president of Sinochem Agriculture, as head of a team overseeing the agricultural operations within China of Syngenta, Sinochem and ChemChina’s Israeli subsidiary Adama comes despite Sinochem - officially - having no ownership over Syngenta, Adama or their parent firm, ChemChina.  In July, Sinochem chairman Ning Gaoning was named as chairman of ChemChina, replacing Ren Jianxin, the dealmaker who cobbled ChemChina together out of a number of bankrupt local chemicals firms in the late 1990s. Despite having the same chairman, two conglomerates deny that they have any plans to merge. A merger of Sinochem with ChemChina has been discussed in Beijing ever since ChemChina’s $44billion (CHF43.7 billion) bid for Syngenta, China’s largest overseas ...
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The recyclable building site of the future

Thu, 01/31/2019 - 16:00
When a house is demolished, much of the waste is put into a skip and then disposed of. At the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA) near Zurich, an experiment is underway to build a new home using construction waste. (SRF, swissinfo.ch) Zurich architect Barbara Buser is tracking down construction waste she wants to re-use on a new building in Winterthur. Her employer, an architecture company called in situ, is harvesting recyclable construction elements all of Switzerland. Experts estimate that around that 75,000 tonnes of reusable parts become available in Switzerland every year. However, only around 10% of those are actually reused. Currently, it seems that for owners of properties up for demolition it does not pay to sell on construction parts. EMPA is currently working on an Urban Mining and Recycling project to extract materials from a building at the end of its life cycle efficiently and economically and reuse them. For this purpose, EMPA ...
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Aubert’s African adventure, a turning point for Swiss foreign policy

Thu, 01/31/2019 - 15:42
Forty years ago the Swiss foreign affairs minister spent two weeks travelling around West Africa. The visit opened a new chapter in Swiss foreign policy and triggered considerable controversy and heated debates back home about neutral Switzerland’s role in the world.  On Sunday January 14, 1979, a plane took off from Zurich airport heading for Lagos in Nigeria. On board was a Swiss delegation headed by Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Aubert.  + Pierre Aubert's obituary Over the following fortnight, the delegation, which included other members of the foreign ministry and the economics ministry, visited Nigeria, Cameroon, Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso), Ivory Coast and Senegal.  The foreign ministry had realised there was a lack of personal contacts between those in charge of Swiss foreign policy and representatives of African countries, Aubert told the Federal Council on January 5, 1979.  “In our opinion it’s important for political and economic reasons to resume dialogue ...
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Master Craftsman Award boosts Swiss arts scene

Thu, 01/31/2019 - 13:07
The Swiss Association of Arts and Crafts wants to show its support for craftsmen and women working in Switzerland with a new type of prize. The first Master Craftsman Award, worth CHF10,000 ($10,070), goes to François Junod, portrayed in the video above, who has developed the automaton into a new art form. The prize was established to honour an “outstanding craftswoman/craftsman for his/her complete oeuvre and his/her artistic charisma” in Switzerland and abroad.  Junod, from Sainte-Croix in western Switzerland, calls his unique creations androids: mechanical robots designed to resemble humans in both appearance and behaviour.  The second category – the Arts & Crafts & Design award – honours the cooperation between craftsmen and designers. The first prize is worth CHF10,000 for the design and CHF10,000 for the construction of the object. The first Arts & Crafts & Design award goes to Peter Fink, who makes ceramics in Ependes, also in western Switzerland, and Geneva-based ...
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Why Switzerland’s war crimes office is dragging its feet

Thu, 01/31/2019 - 12:00
Seven years after Switzerland’s war crimes office was established, it still has not completed any cases and one of its detainees has been in jail for more than four years without trial. What’s behind the inaction?  Prosecutor Laurence Boillat is a former head of the war crimes unit who says she was fired for thinking the body should do more.  “We were quickly made to understand that the unit was not going to be very important, because we were…not even five full-time posts,” she says. “Yet we were very motivated.” Currently, two people under investigation by the war crimes unit are in detention, namely former Gambian interior minister Ousman Sonko and former Liberian rebel leader Alieu Kosiah, who has been in jail in Switzerland for more than four years.  Quickly overwhelmed  Changes to Swiss law meant that in 2011 responsibility for international crimes  such as war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide was transferred from the military to the civil justice authorities, ...
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When Indian food made me an undesirable tenant

Thu, 01/31/2019 - 09:00
University student Shubhangi was shocked and upset when her landlady asked her to stop cooking traditional Indian food. I was not allocated university housing due to huge demand.  Hence, I was forced spend countless hours looking for alternative accommodation in Zurich. After encountering some very nice people, a few scammers and a lot of competition, I finally landed a contract for an apartment that I thought was perfect for me. It had everything I needed: proximity to my university, reasonable rent, private bathroom and nearby supermarkets. I visited the place on my second day in Switzerland and had a chat with the landlady with whom I would be sharing the apartment. She was an 85-year-old lady who seemed nice. I signed the contract without any reservations.  For more blog posts and information on studying in Switzerland visit our dedicated page Education Swiss Made.  One week into the undefined rental term, things were going well. The lady would sometimes help me with my ...
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US squeezes Venezuela: what now for oil?

Wed, 01/30/2019 - 21:15
The US this week placed sanctions on Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA). The US Treasury prohibited US individuals and companies from transacting with the state-owned oil company, while all of the company’s property was blocked. The aim is to cut off revenues to PDVSA to put pressure on President Nicolás Maduro, leader of Venezuela since 2013, who the US no longer recognises as the country’s president. How will sanctions hit oil supplies? The sanctions are likely to mean more of a disruption to crude flows than a loss of supply to world markets. Venezuela’s oil industry has been under-funded and mismanaged for a long time. Output was slightly more than 1.1m barrels per day in December, according to Opec, sharply down from 2.4m b/d earlier in the decade. It accounts for a little over 1 per cent of world oil supply. The sanctions are aimed at blocking the flow of about 500,000 b/d of Venezuelan crude to the US, by preventing any American companies or individuals paying money to PDVSA.
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Swiss venture capital breaks CHF1bn barrier for first time

Wed, 01/30/2019 - 17:31
Start-up companies have long complained of a venture capital drought in Switzerland. In the past, some firms were forced to relocate abroad in search of funding. But investors appear to have caught the Swiss bug – bringing more than CHF1 billion ($1 billion) into the country for the first time in 2018. Investors poured CHF1.24 billion into emerging Swiss firms last year, an increase of 32% from 2017 – and three times the volume of funds from 2013 (see chart below). The tide of funding is moving away from biotech and medtech towards computer technology (ICT) and fintech (financial technology) firms (see chart below). In Switzerland, ICT and fintech funding combined represented 55% of all investments, compared to 22% five years previously. The rise of ICT and fintech as venture capital magnets is mirrored across Europe. But the effect is even greater in some other countries. When looking at the largest 20 VC deals, ICT accounted for 70% of investments flowing into France last ...
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Locarno’s new director unveils plans for the next festival

Wed, 01/30/2019 - 12:00
The Locarno Film Festival has a new director. Since December 1 last year, Lili Hinstin, 42, has taken up the challenge to maintain the relevance of Switzerland's most prestigious film festival. She has big plans. Hinstin replaces Carlo Chatrian, who was appointed director of the Berlinale (Berlin Film Festival) just before the start of Locarno’s last edition, in August 2018 – when the festival also signed a gender-parity pledge that is being adopted by many other film festivals around the world.  Indeed, the appointment of Hinstin is certainly a gesture in this direction, even if she is not the first woman to lead the festival (Irene Bignardi reigned from 2000 to 2005). Yet the former director of the Belfort International Film Festival (EntreVues) in France is an experienced programmer and film producer in her own right. Born and raised in Paris, Hinstin comes from a family marked by curious entanglements within French history and arts.  One of her great-grandfathers was an ...
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Zurich: Kindergarten kids to get data protection lessons

Wed, 01/30/2019 - 11:32
Children in canton Zurich aged as young as 4 to 9 could soon be learning about data protection and privacy issues, in one of the first projects of its kind in Europe. The teaching material has been developed by the Zurich University of Teacher Education (PHZH) at the request of the canton’s data protection watchdog, Bruno Baeriswyl, who believes that young people in particular are not enough aware of the consequences of sharing personal data. It will be tested in spring this year and will become part of teacher training courses in the canton from autumn onwards, according to a statement released by the watchdog on Monday. Privacy, a fundamental right, is part of a free and democratic society – and younger children need to know what privacy is, Baeriswyl told Swiss public radio SRF. But children also need to know what happens when they put private information out into the public sphere, he added. Abstract topic made simple One module entitled “Secrets are allowed” (Geheimnisse ...
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‘Let’s preserve the landscape we’ve inherited’

Wed, 01/30/2019 - 09:50
For the promoters of the "Stop urban sprawl" initiative, the freezing of building zones is necessary to preserve the heritage of future generations. And it would not prevent the country from continuing to develop. ​​​​​​​The initiative thus completes the legal framework laid down by the Land Use Planning Act by allowing sustainable soil preservation. Arable land is a unique and rare resource that we must preserve and use with a global and responsible vision: this is the reasoning behind the "Stop urban sprawl" initiative. Concrete consumes good soil Every year in Switzerland, an area equivalent to 1.5 times the size of the city of Geneva gets covered with concrete. Road infrastructure, individual dwellings, car parks, empty housing and oversized industrial areas attack green spaces and good land. Thus, 90% of current urbanisation is taking place on good land: fields, gardens, orchards and vineyards are being replaced by excavators. This leads to the disappearance of our ...
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‘Initiative against urban sprawl is unnecessary and harmful’

Wed, 01/30/2019 - 09:50
The Green Party's initiative to curb urban sprawl is too radical and risks blocking further development in Switzerland, argues Hans-Ulrich Bigler. The national parliamentarian from the centre-right Radical-Liberal party is also a leading member of the Zurich chapter of the organisation representing house owners. The initiative against urban sprawl proposed by the youth section of the Green party demands nothing less than the freezing of current construction zones. This radical requirement has not had any support in parliament. Even the leftwing Social Democratic Party did not succeed in uniting behind it. The centrist Liberal Greens do not agree with it either. The “no” is so clear that one can even refer to it as a slap for the initiators. ​​​​​​​ The initiative is superfluous, unnecessary and even harmful. It allows the creation of new building zones only if an area of at least equivalent size and comparable potential agricultural yield value has been compensated from a ...
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