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Updated: 9 hours 46 min ago

Candles, carols and the internet, please: Swiss Christmases that were

Mon, 12/25/2017 - 12:00
What were the stories of Switzerland’s holidays past? A look through the archives reveals tales of tradition – some controversial – as well as a surprise or two. A bright Christmas On December 24, 1999, the year that swissinfo.ch came into existence, we reported that nine out of ten Swiss households put up a Christmas tree, with most preferring real candles rather than electric bulbs.  In 2008 we wrote that candles not only illuminate trees in family homes but also in many churches, even though open flames are banned in public places where more than 100 people can gather. The article stated that candles caused some 1,000 fires a year.  Electric bulbs may save property and even lives, but they don’t save money. That was the story in 2010, when our reporter in Zurich found that Swiss light decorations use nearly 100 gigawatt hours of electricity – the equivalent of the annual electricity costs for 25,000 households. A traditional Christmas If a study concluded at Bern ...
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Stories of holidays past, and 2017 in review

Sun, 12/24/2017 - 13:00
Here is a selection of stories to look ahead to on swissinfo.ch in the week of December 25, 2017. Monday As Christians celebrate yuletide, we dig up stories of holidays past from our archives and uncover traditions like the risky but enduring ritual of lighting real candles on the Christmas tree. Tuesday Take a look back at 2017 through the lens of some memorable statistics as reported by swissinfo.ch. Can you remember how many bottles of wine each Swiss drank in 2017? Hint: not as many as the year before. Thursday In an interview with swissinfo.ch, Swiss comedian Mike Müller explains his fascination with town hall meetings, a form of direct democracy still prevalent in many smaller communities and the subject of his latest stage act. The cost of pharmaceuticals in the US and Switzerland is among the highest in the world. Is anything being done about it? Find out in the latest of our ongoing series on health care in the two countries. Sunday As 2018 ...
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A festive journey back in time

Sun, 12/24/2017 - 12:00
Colourful Christmas trees, dressed up shop windows, illuminated streets, carols and the smell of cookies are traditions that encapsulate the spirit of the festive season for many of us. It is hard to imagine now, but what we regard as the festival of family and love hasn’t always been celebrated in this way. The Christmas we celebrate is in fact an eclectic mix of traditions and customs of Germanic and Christian origin which have evolved over many years. Many of them, like the Christmas tree, have only been around since the beginning of the 19th Century. (The tree is thought to have been introduced by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and proved so popular that the tradition spread around the world.) Switzerland shares many of its Christmas traditions with its Central European neighbours. Church services, presents, baking cookies and decorating the tree all play a central part in the celebrations. On Christmas Eve, there is a festive family meal and many people visit a midnight ...
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Borderline running: Which way is Italy?

Sun, 12/24/2017 - 10:00
In Switzerland there are mountains, people that run up them, and photgraphers like Dan Patitucci who are crazy enough to chase after the runners. We spent the summer of 2017 primarily doing one thing; running trails in the Swiss Alps. We’d taken on a trail running book project, a guide to the best trail runs of the Swiss Alps due out in spring 2018. One of the highlights of the project was discovering new corners of the Alps. High above Saas Almagell, we crossed the Jazzilücke in thick fog.  There we explored the ridge along the crest of the Swiss-Italian border where I made this photo of the book’s writer Kim Strom on the jagged ridge. At work and play We are fortunate to call the mountains our workplace and still marvel at what we get to do on any given work day, be it in the Alps or Himalaya.  After all these years, the passion we have for life as mountain sport athletes and photographers hasn't faded. Experiencing the Alps on so many levels keeps us motivated for what ...
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Celebrating Christmas around the world

Sat, 12/23/2017 - 12:00
Imagine a Swiss Christmas market where you can get into the holiday spirit by sipping Norwegian glogg and nibbling on Argentinian banana empanadas – while watching a Portuguese folk dance. swissinfo.ch found one: in the heart of Switzerland! 26 countries were represented at this year’s three-day Venite Forum in Lucerne. The international Christmas market aims to increase understanding and awareness of folklore and culinary traditions around the world. Many visitors escaped from the cold in the musical tent, where singers and music groups from Tibet to Portugal performed in traditional costumes. Other visitors were more interested in the stalls selling typical products from participating countries, and traditional foods such as Tibetan dumplings, Indian curries, Eritrean sour dough and Finnish reindeer sandwiches.  The event is financed by private donors and sponsors such as the Catholic and Protestant churches, the city of Lucerne, local newspapers, a tourism academy and ...
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Reindeer? No, postmen on skis!

Fri, 12/22/2017 - 16:00
The Swiss Post may soon be using drones to deliver Christmas packages in isolated areas, but 60 years ago, postmen used a good old analogue method: skis. Modern postmen have more to fear from aggressive dogs than sporting injuries. But last century, postmen in mountain areas of Switzerland risked breaking their necks to get the Christmas packages to their destinations on time.  In this footage from the archives of Swiss Public Television, RTS, you can see how the post office in Einsiedeln came to terms with heavy snow fall affecting the village of Oberiberg (canton Schwyz) at Christmas in 1957. The postal bus was driven as far as possible, but then the postman had to strap on his skis in order to get through the heavy snow. The village is located at 1125 metres above sea level and receives quite a lot of the white stuff in winter. This is traditionally an agricultural area but many people now commute to Einsiedeln or Zurich for work. Tourism is important for the local economy.
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Korean peninsula’s ‘only impartial body’ watches and waits

Fri, 12/22/2017 - 12:00
The Swiss military contingent on the tense border between North and South Korea is keenly aware that the smallest mistake can be disastrous for humanity. Still they keep calm, a neutral force in a conflict that is far from over.  For more than six decades, Swiss soldiers have been based on the border between North Korea and South Korea, known as the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ). Despite its name, it is in fact the most militarised zone in the world. On one side are two million North Korean soldiers and 14,000 artillery guns pointed at Seoul. The other side is guarded by 600,000 South Korean soldiers.  The spark potentially leading to a Third World War could be ignited here at any time through a mistake or misunderstanding. The recent North Korean nuclear crisis has heightened the tension, especially with the knowledge that a missile would reach Seoul in 92 seconds. The professional troops’ calm demeanor belies the unspoken anxiety stretching along the 270-kilometre-long ...
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Pressure mounts on Tezos Foundation head Gevers

Fri, 12/22/2017 - 08:52
The ongoing Tezos Foundation row is severely testing the patience of investors and developers working to get the project up and running. The foundation sits on a stockpile of assets worth more than $1 billion. Complaints are mounting that these assets are not being deployed at the coal face. This irritation is playing out alongside the ongoing feud between Tezos founders, Arthur and Kathleen Breitman, and the foundation’s president Johann Gevers. On December 4, a group calling themselves the Tezos Community launched a petition calling for Gevers to be removed from his post. It has now been signed by more than 1,400 people. Tezos Community spokesman Jonas Lamis insists he is not formally connected with the Breitmans or their company Dynamic Ledger Solutions (DLS), although the community has clearly sided with the Breitmans in the dispute. The petition, he says, was partly motivated by the Gevers bonus row, but mainly from seeing no concrete progress from the foundation since Tezos ...
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Stock exchange limitation prompts Swiss indignation

Thu, 12/21/2017 - 15:10
The Swiss government has dismissed as discriminatory a decision by the European Union to grant only limited access to the stock market exchange and is reconsidering its pledge for a CHF1.3 billion ($1.32 billion) payment to the 28-nation bloc. “Switzerland fulfils the conditions for recognition of stock market equivalence every bit as much as the other third countries that have been granted indefinite recognition,” President Doris Leuthard said in a statement following an extraordinary meeting of the Federal Council on Thursday. She also announced the government had decided to bolster the competitiveness of Switzerland’s financial sector by preparing to drop the stamp duty - a tax on securities trading and insurance transactions. Leuthard said the government had strong doubts about the legality of the EU decision, adding that the linking a technical bilateral dossier with institutional issues was unacceptable. Brussels said on earlier this week it would make unlimited access to ...
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Net neutrality ruling ‘deepens the split’ between US and Europe

Thu, 12/21/2017 - 12:00
What’s the fallout for Switzerland and Europe from the US decision to overturn net neutrality regulations? It could stifle online innovation, says an American researcher working in Zurich on internet access issues. But paradoxically, many laws aimed at mandating a neutral internet may have the same effect. The decision “creates a world in which ‘you must be at least this tall to play’,” says Brian Trammell of the United States Federal Communications Commission’s vote last week to overturn regulations that kept internet service providers from charging content providers money for better access to their networks. Net neutrality: the principle that internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favouring or blocking particular products or websites. Since the US internet is no longer required to be “neutral” – or a level playing field for all seeking to use and access it – Trammell foresees that large ...
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If parliament refuses to act, it’s the people’s turn

Wed, 12/20/2017 - 13:45
The Swiss parliament recently rejected a motion to ban imports of foie gras, frogs’ legs and other products involving cruelty to animals, but two proposed people’s initiatives could bring the ban into effect anyway. In Switzerland, if something fails in parliament, all is not lost because there is still direct democracy. A No from parliament does not mean a No from the people. By launching a popular initiative, you can thumb your nose at parliament with support from the electorate. That is what happened recently with the proposed import ban on products involving cruelty to animals, which are banned from production in Switzerland: + Animal rights groups seek to ban foie gras, other imports After the Senate decision on November 28 to continue allowing such imports, an alliance of animal rights organisations announced it planned to collect the necessary signatures for a popular initiative, which would force a nationwide vote. The aim is to implement the motion introduced by Social ...
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What makes modern luxury watchmaking tick?

Wed, 12/20/2017 - 12:00
Swiss watches are synonymous with luxury, not - as is increasingly the case today - robots and production lines. An anthropologist has delved into a profession at a crossroads.  Hervé Munz interviewed more than 150 watchmakers across the industry’s heartland in the Jura region of western Switzerland for his book, “La transmission en jeu. Apprendre, pratiquer et patrimonialiser l’horlogerie" (Transmission at stake: Learning, practising and passing down heritage watchmaking). He looks into an industry that has undergone extensive industrialization in the last 20 years, a phenomenon that he says has devalued the traditional watchmaking profession. swissinfo.ch: Swiss watchmaking has seen increased automation in production over the past two to three decades. But few brands are keen to talk about the factory floor being populated with robots and machines. Why is this such a taboo? Hervé Munz: Over the last 30 years, Swiss watch companies have successfully repositioned themselves in ...
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Santa in the sun - how the Swiss Abroad celebrate the holidays

Wed, 12/20/2017 - 12:00
More and more Swiss nationals living abroad are posting their pictures on Instagram with #WeAreSwissAbroad, making Switzerland visible to the world – including during the holiday season.  About 18 months ago we created the Instagram account to provide a platform for the Swiss Abroad. Since then we have posted a selection of photos almost daily. Thanks to these snaps, we have already portrayed many interesting Swiss people who have emigrated from Switzerland. For example, Raphael Knopf, who exchanged Fribourg for the wilds of New Zealand's North Island, or Manuel Schuster from Thun, who now lives in the Philippines. To save you the trouble of searching for advent pictures on #WeAreSwissAbroad, we have selected the most best and funniest examples. 1. Poetically captured Christmas illumination in Colmar, France 2. Picture gallery of a Santa Claus and Schmutzli visit at the Swiss Club Victoria, Melbourne, Australia 3. Futuristic Christmas lighting in Sydney, Australia 4.
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When the night exploded - 70 years ago

Tue, 12/19/2017 - 18:11
Seventy years ago to this day, one of the worst ever artificial explosions unrelated to the use of atomic weapons took place in Switzerland. In the Bernese Alps, 1947, shortly before midnight, an explosion cut through the pre-Christmas silence. Some 7,000 tonnes (15 million pounds) of ammunition exploded, along with the underground warehouse in which it had been stored.  The detonation injured several people and killed nine, among them four children. Many houses in the vicinity were completely destroyed. The series of explosions which shook the valley were so strong that they were registered by the seismological service in Zurich - 115 kilometres away.  Jets of flames, hundreds of metres high, shot up into the night sky. The ammunition and debris that were expelled destroyed up to 100 buildings in the valley. The rock face, in which the ammunition storage room had been located collapsed and 250,000 cubic metres of rock were released. Huge boulders, weighing several tons were ...
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The dearth – and death? – of Swiss biodiversity

Tue, 12/19/2017 - 12:00
No matter how green and beautiful it appears in postcards and social media posts, Switzerland is struggling to boost its biodiversity. Many animal populations and habitats have disappeared, and critics say the government action plan is lacking.  Switzerland may have been quick to join the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity in 1992, but it’s lost momentum over the past three decades. For example, participating countries have agreed to set aside 17% of their land for conservation by 2020. With only about 7%, Switzerland is still far behind the target – and almost hopelessly so, says Markus Fischer, president of the of the Swiss Biodiversity Forum’s scientific advisory council, which connects scientists with policy-makers. Fischer says 30% of Switzerland’s surface area is needed to save all species. Despite the country’s small size, it boasts 240 diverse habitat types. Yet Switzerland has a long red list of threatened species. A recent government report revealed ...
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A rewarding visit to a quiet corner of the UN

Mon, 12/18/2017 - 16:00
Today I’m on my way to a quiet corner of the United Nations Palais des Nations building in Geneva, which, to my shame, I have never actually visited before.  The UN Library Geneva is in Block B of the Palais, part of the original magnificent League of Nations building. I have worked here for more than ten years, but every day I am reminded that the ambitions which led to the creation of the League are reflected in its size: the Palais is huge, bigger than Versailles, with miles of corridors, thousands of offices, and twists and turns that can be quite mystifying. Don’t enter, a colleague once joked, without a compass, a sleeping bag, and plentiful supplies of food.  I think of that as I head for the library…well, head implies a certain purposeful direction, which is lacking in me today. Wishing I had left a useful trail of breadcrumbs behind me, I realize I know neither where I am, nor how to get back to where I started.  Luckily rescue is at hand, when a helpful gentleman asks ...
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Swiss cheese and Asian tea: An arranged culinary marriage

Mon, 12/18/2017 - 12:00
Cheese and tea have been around for thousands of years but seldom do the twain meet at the dinner table. An expert matchmaker shares tips on how to pair the two with special combinations created exclusively for swissinfo.ch.  The proof of the pudding lies in the eating. With this in mind, swissinfo.ch embarked on a gourmet adventure of tasting several combinations of Swiss cheeses with Chinese, Japanese and Indian teas. At the Länggass-Tee tea shop in Bern, we learned first hand that Gruyère cheese is tough to match with teas, Japanese teas are rich in “umami” taste like cheese and Chinese Oolongs pair well with almost all Swiss cheeses.  It all began on a Swiss Alp a little over 30 years ago. Fabienne Effertz, a social worker from Belgium, quit her job to graze cows on Alpine pastures in the world famous cheesemaking Gruyère region of western Switzerland. Effertz spent five seasons (May to October) learning the ins and outs of the trade, which obviously included how to make ...
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Switzerland, land of European immigration

Mon, 12/18/2017 - 09:00
Switzerland has one of the highest percentages of foreigners in its population, most of whom are Europeans. Has it always been this way? We look back at 166 years of immigration to Switzerland.  More than 80% of the foreign population living in Switzerland is from another European country. Immigration from Germany, Italy and, to a lesser extent, France has a long history. The graphic below looks at 166 years of immigration in Switzerland. At the end of the 19th century, railway network expansion led to the first wave of migrants to modern-day Switzerland. At the time, immigration had been almost exclusively from neighbouring countries. The post-war economic boom also resulted in an upsurge in jobs. Between 1951 and 1970 Switzerland experienced a significant influx of migrants. It stagnated in the 1970s and 1980s, accelerating again in the past 30 years. Italy and Spain were the main suppliers of workers up until the end of the 1970s. As their national economies improved, ...
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Cheesy delights, a special library and ‘glocal’ Christmas market

Sun, 12/17/2017 - 13:00
Here is a selection of stories to look ahead to on swissinfo.ch in the week of December 18, 2017. Monday Want to make eating Swiss cheese more fun? How about pairing it with teas from around the world? We’ll be looking at the trend of pairing cheese with tea and sharing expert advice and exclusive combinations for matching the best of East and West. If you want to see the vision of the League of Nations made solid in all its 1930’s style, the UN Library in Geneva is the place to go, writes our International Geneva columnist Imogen Foulkes. She takes us on a visit to this architectural beauty housing ten floors of books and documents, including some historic gems.    Tuesday Switzerland might appear like a nature-lover’s paradise but its beauty is only skin deep. We talk to scientists and environment groups to get a grip on the scale of animal and habitat loss.   Wednesday Embracing massive industrialisation has brought big profits to Swiss watch brands. We look at ...
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Laura Gibilras: ‘Young people have no future in Italy’

Sun, 12/17/2017 - 12:00
Laura Gibilras was born in Italy, but she's always had a particularly close connection to Switzerland, her mother’s home. For the last two years, the 19-year-old has lived in the canton of Zurich and she envisages making her life in Switzerland -- even though the people in Italy are, she says, “much more open and communicative.” swissinfo.ch: You were born in Italy as a Swiss abroad. Does someone in your family come from Switzerland? Laura Gibilras: I was a Swiss abroad because my mother was born and grew up in Switzerland. She met my father on a trip to Italy and they fell in love. I know – very romantic! The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of swissinfo.ch. swissinfo.ch: What relationship do you have with Switzerland? L.G.: I’ve always had a special relationship with Switzerland. When I was still living in Italy, I used to spend two holidays a year at my grandparents’ home in Switzerland.  From the ...
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