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Updated: 9 hours 46 min ago

The sweet rewards of climbing in the Swiss Alps

Sun, 12/17/2017 - 10:00
Outdoor photographer Dan Patitucci frames the rewards of a hard day's climb: cake and a view to die for. We started our day at the Turtmann Hut with headlamps on, negotiated crevasses on both the Brunegg and Turtmann glaciers, climbed 1700 meters to the summit of the Bishorn, and finally skied some much deserved powder until reaching the Tracuit Hut, where perhaps the day’s ultimate reward came.  There we discovered what may be the Alp’s best dining room, best enjoyed with fresh torte and a coffee. 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 comes next. Grandiose landscapes Each week over the next few months, swissinfo.ch will publish a series of Dan and Janine Patitucci’s pictures ...
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A revolutionary train journey across wartime Europe

Sat, 12/16/2017 - 12:00
A historic journey by train, 100 years ago: in 1917, Lenin famously travelled in a ‘sealed railway carriage’ from Zurich to Petrograd (now St Petersburg) in Russia. A century on, relive the route the revolutionary took, in pictures. Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, pseudonym Lenin, and his wife, Nadeshda Krupskaja, arrived in Bern in 1914, claiming political exile. Lenin had previously lived in Geneva. The couple stayed in Bern until February 1916, when they moved to Spiegelgasse 14 in Zurich’s old town, remaining there for just over a year.  The reasons behind the move were political: Lenin was dreaming of an armed uprising and was trying to gather supporters who could spread his message and help him build an international Marxist movement. The Zurich Social Democrats were more radical than their Bernese counterparts. He spent his time in the Swiss city attending Social Democratic Party meetings, trying to recruit followers and finishing his work, “Imperialism: the highest stage of ...
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Swiss train rides: punctual and beautiful

Sat, 12/16/2017 - 12:00
Trains, train, trains: Diccon Bewes packs his bag and heads off for a day out on Swiss public transport. Along the way he manages to hop on board almost every type of moving vehicle that Switzerland has to offer. It turns out it's not the beautiful views that take his breath away, but the intricate train timetables he finds on the platforms. Diccon explains why he loves them, and what happens to them in December. (Diccon Bewes for swissinfo.ch)
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Meet an amphibian that’s at home in the Alps

Fri, 12/15/2017 - 15:00
Tricky to spot, the Alpine salamander stands out for its unusual reproductive style and ability to handle the cold.  Whereas other amphibians typically lay eggs or larvae, female Alpine salamanders give birth to one or two fully-developed juveniles after a two-to-four-year(!) gestation period. These measure 3-5 centimetres in length, compared to the adult size of 13-16cm.  Amphibians in general have been protected in Switzerland since 1967 and are among the species most under threat. Although the Alpine salamander is a “least concern” species in Switzerland, biologists highlight the importance of preserving their preferred habitat: rocky and not-too-dry landscapes with moderate vegetation. The shiny black creatures, which prefer shady and moist places, can be found north of the Alps and in canton Graubünden, at elevations ranging from 800-2,500 metres. The critters also live in the cracks and gaps in stone walls.  “It’s a really cool species,” says Lukas Keller, a professor ...
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Polarisation of Swiss parliament continues

Fri, 12/15/2017 - 12:00
The left and right wings in the Swiss parliament are moving further apart with politicians increasingly sticking to the party line, according to an analysis of the Senate and the House and Representatives.  The trend of a polarising Swiss political landscape has existed for around 20 years, since the spectacular rise of the rightwing Swiss People’s Party. In the 1990s, the smallest (at the time) of the four parties in government began leaning further to the right and winning broader support from voters with its anti-EU and xenophobic stance.  These gains were above all at the expense of the two large centrist parties, the Radical Party and the Christian Democratic Party.  Since 2003 the People’s Party has been the largest party in parliament, ahead of the leftwing Social Democratic Party. There followed a long period of squabbling over the seven seats in the Federal Council (cabinet) which until then had been allocated according to the so-called “magic formula”: two for the ...
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A piece of Swiss democracy down under

Fri, 12/15/2017 - 12:00
After years of dispute, the Australian parliament recently passed the same-sex marriage bill. But it was the Australian people themselves who paved the way by voting ‘yes’ for the first time in a popular vote in 40 years. This has also whetted the appetite for more reforms, which in the past have been rejected – due to a democracy model imported from Switzerland. This text is part of #DearDemocracy external link, a platform on direct democracy issues, by swissinfo.ch. In 1913, Canberra was founded as the capital in this region which expands over 2,300 square kilometres. This is where the federal government of the country of 25 million people has its seat and where the two houses of the national parliament conduct their sessions. Recently, the House of Representatives witnessed history being made. Tim Wilson was standing at the speaker’s desk, but the representative of the ruling liberal party did not talk about same-sex marriages, as listed on the agenda. Instead, Wilson ...
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What to do if sexual harassment happens to you

Thu, 12/14/2017 - 18:00
When allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour by the Swiss parliamentarian Yannick Buttet emerged a few weeks ago, the discourse on sexual harassment in Switzerland shifted from could this happen here to what should we do about it. Although a government commissioned study found that 28% of women in Switzerland experience sexual harassment over the course of their professional lives, rarely do these cases grab headlines in the same way the Harvey Weinstein scandal and subsequent cases have in the United States. However, the Buttet affair and recent allegations against professor Franco Moretti alongside the global #metoo social media campaign have helped bring what has largely been viewed as a private matter into the public consciousness. What should you do if you experience sexual harassment in a workplace in Switzerland? What practical resources and legal channels are available to you and how effective are they? Swissinfo.ch answers key questions about employee rights and ...
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Navigating health insurance plans as a Swiss abroad

Thu, 12/14/2017 - 18:00
What type of health care coverage should you take out when moving to a new country? In this installment of our series, we offer a few tips for those contemplating an extended or indefinite stay outside Switzerland. People who move their permanent residence to another country are no longer obligated to take out basic health insurance in Switzerland, although there are exceptions to this rule. Those moving on a temporary basis and holding on to Swiss residency, however, can continue with their Swiss health coverage. To illustrate these basic rules, let’s look at a couple of cases sent in by our readers, along with coverage options for those moving to the United States. A Swiss pensioner Someone receiving a state pension who moves to a country outside the European Union or European Free Trade Agreement (EFTA) zone falls under the category of people no longer subject to Swiss health insurance law. So they must obtain coverage in their new country of residence. Pensioners ...
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Perfectly prepared pistes: at what cost?

Thu, 12/14/2017 - 12:00
A lack of snow in mountain regions has become a real problem for some Swiss ski resorts. People's livelihoods rely on the business that comes with skiing, and mountain regions are forced to make artificial snow to ensure the pistes can open. But this process comes at a cost. (SRF/swissinfo.ch) The production of artificial snow uses a lot of natural resources and energy. Some ski resorts have been using a different technique to try and make artificial snow production more efficient in terms of both natural resources, and money. Gstaad, for example, is now using a snow depth measuring system. Every time a snow groomer (the truck that prepares the pistes) drives over the snowy surface, the depth of snow is measured, and the data sent back to a database. Drivers can see the information on the spread of snow on screens inside their cabins, and can react, based on how deep the snow should be. They then focus artificial snow production on specific areas. The management of snow levels ...
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Can low-cost ski passes help lure back visitors?

Thu, 12/14/2017 - 12:00
Swiss resorts are hoping that a combination of heavy discounts on season passes and a weaker franc will bring skiers back to the slopes after a series of poor winters.  For the second year in a row, the high-altitude resort of Saas-Fee is offering an 80% discount by marketing a cut-price crowd-funded season pass (CHF233) aimed at boosting domestic demand; so far it has sold over 77,000 “WinterCard” tickets. Last year, the figure was 75,000, which generated a +15% increase in the number of nights people spent there in accommodation.  “The entire valley benefited last year,” declared Claudine Perrothon, in charge of public relations for Saas-Fee. “There was an increase in the number of people skiing, and business for the hotels, apartments and shops.”  Their scheme appears to have inspired others. Right now, everyone is talking about the new single season “Magic Pass”, offering 1,000 kilometres of skiing in about two dozen big and small resorts across western Switzerland and parts ...
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When the going gets tough, get out of bed!

Thu, 12/14/2017 - 12:00
(To view video subtitles in English, click on the gear icon and turn captions "on"). Tama Vakeesan was born in Switzerland to Tamil parents from Sri Lanka. In this week's vlog, she tells us how to stay motivated. She says, "When the going gets tough, don't take a nap. Get out there and pursue your goals."(SRF Kulturplatz/swissinfo.ch) 
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Crypto start-ups build alternative Swiss finance system

Wed, 12/13/2017 - 18:00
The value of bitcoin is skyrocketing but Swiss banks have no appetite for cryptocurrencies, citing the risks of bursting bubbles and criminal activity as a reason to stay clear. A new breed of start-up is filling the void, setting up an alternative financial ecosystem in Switzerland. However, they are likely to run into quite some resistance from the traditional financial players in Switzerland. The likes of SCX Exchange, Smart Valor, Melonport, Lykke, Swissborg and Crypto Finance appear to be timing their arrival to catch a wave that has propelled bitcoin through the $10,000 (CHF9,900) and $15,000 barriers in a matter of days. They will join the “old” guard, Bitcoin Suisse and Bity, which have been servicing the Swiss crypto market for the past four years. The new players promise to bring competition with new funds and exchanges, wealth and asset management services and a gateway to alternative investments for the person on the street. “The more alternatives you have, the ...
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Bitcoin and cash cast a shadow over banks

Wed, 12/13/2017 - 18:00
It does not feel coincidental that the bitcoin frenzy lifted the cryptocurrency to new highs this week as HSBC escaped the threat of criminal prosecution for having allegedly laundered at least $880 million (CHF873 million) for Mexican drug barons. The fiercer the regulatory squeeze on banks, the greater the demand for other means of storing and moving money. Cryptocurrencies traded peer to peer rather than being settled through banks have so many uses that it is impossible to know how much demand is driven by criminality. One thing is clear: banks face growing rivalry from a shadow payment system that ranges from cryptocurrencies to electronic platforms including Alipay and mobile wallets such as M-Pesa in Kenya. The old way to transfer money without having to go through a bank is cash, which is obstinately persistent. Despite the expansion of credit, debit and contactless cards, nearly everyone uses cash regularly. The drug smuggler who launders money across borders in ...
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The pioneers of Switzerland’s ‘Chocolate Revolution’

Wed, 12/13/2017 - 12:00
How did a country without a single homegrown cocoa bean become one of the world’s leading chocolate manufacturers? swissinfo.ch explains how the history of chocolate as we know it is the history of Swiss innovation, immigration, luck – and love.  The $100 billion (CHF100 billion) global chocolate industry has certainly come a long way since the days, some 3,000 years ago, when inhabitants of central and southern America would gather around the fire with a bitter, grainy drink called “xocolātl”. While it’s true that Europeans have been drinking chocolate since the 17th century, chocolate as we know it today is largely thanks to a handful of 19th-century Swiss confectioners and entrepreneurs, many of whom remain household names around the world. Let’s meet some of the main figures in this Chocolate Revolution and their claims to fame.  1819: Queen Victoria is born, James Monroe is in the White House … and the world’s first mechanised chocolate factory is opened. François-Louis ...
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‘Together’ quiz app answers newcomers’ Swiss questions

Tue, 12/12/2017 - 17:27
​​​​​​​ Is tipping required at Swiss restaurants? Can my kids attend a Swiss public school even if they don’t speak a national language? An app for those new to Switzerland answers these questions and many more, submitted by its more than 20,000 users. “Together” is a smartphone app from swissinfo.ch and the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation that can be downloaded for free on the Apple and Google Play stores in seven languages: English, German, French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Arabic. It allows users to test their knowledge of Switzerland, learn new information and challenge other players in more than 20 quiz categories ranging from jobs to Swiss landmarks and sports. Users can also access more information about any of the questions and categories with the ability to share or save what they’ve learned for future reference. The app, which just achieved 20,000 downloads, contains more than 700 questions with more categories released every month. Most recently, categories ...
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Why small ponds have enormous value

Tue, 12/12/2017 - 12:00
Ponds may not seem as glamorous as rushing rivers or majestic lakes, but they’re indispensable when it comes to biodiversity and ecosystem health. In Switzerland natural ponds have all but vanished with the rise of agricultural intensification. Only 12 kilometres to the east of the bustling city of Geneva at the Lullier Horticultural School, a cattail-shrouded pond blends in so perfectly with the bucolic surroundings that the eye passes right over it. But as Beat Oertli, a professor of aquatic ecology at the University of Applied Sciences of Western Switzerland (HESSO) explains, this pond isn’t just part of the landscape: it’s been strategically placed to protect a natural stream that lies downhill from one of the school’s fruit orchards. “This is not a nice-looking pond, but its function isn’t to look nice,” Oertli says. “We’ve constructed it to protect the stream, because here at our school we use some fertilisers. All the rainwater flows into the pond first, where it is ...
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Lonely in Switzerland?

Tue, 12/12/2017 - 11:10
The American Alexandra Dufresne lives in Zurich with her family. She describes what it is like to experience loneliness as a foreigner, especially during the holiday season, and offers her advice on how to combat it. The loneliness foreigners often experience in Switzerland is like a bad neighbor: surprisingly fun to complain about and always getting in the way. Many foreigners describe Switzerland as extraordinary in terms of safety, beauty, infrastructure, healthcare, education and work-life balance. But they also report having trouble making friends here. The holidays are an especially hard time to be lonely. Switzerland during the Christmas season is a magical place, unless you are lonely. If you are lonely, the coziness can feel like someone else’s Facebook posts - another reminder that while others have tight social circles, you are an outsider. It can be hard to make friends as an adult, even in your own country. Work, children, life get in the way. People move; ...
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ICRC president warns over ‘explosive mix’ of urban conflicts

Mon, 12/11/2017 - 12:00
​​​​​​​ Thousands of migrants drown every year in the Mediterranean Sea, tens of thousands are locked up in Libya, war and suffering prevail in Syria and Yemen, and ethnic cleansing goes on in Myanmar.  The list of trouble spots is long for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which is active in over 80 countries. In an interview with swissinfo.ch, ICRC President Peter Maurer looks back at 2017, and dares a glimpse into 2018.  swissinfo.ch: Was 2017 a particularly bad year for the ICRC?  Peter Maurer: No. The situation did not escalate in 2017, however, it did not ease either. It’s the development of the past five years that causes reason for concern. Wars are extremely cruel, they violate international humanitarian law and are increasingly waged in cities. Aleppo in Syria and Mosul in Iraq are good examples of this development. The fact that the political causes of conflicts increasingly combine with violence driven by criminals, terrorists and interethnic ...
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Syria: what will it take to make peace?

Mon, 12/11/2017 - 12:00
​​​​​​​ It’s a cold December afternoon and I am hanging around outside Door 15 at the Palais des Nations. My colleagues are there too, and we are starting to shiver. But we are used to it: this is the cold hard slog of covering the Syria talks. Lots of waiting, with very little outcome. The Syrians themselves could say the same thing, only, I would hope, more loudly, and more angrily. After a while, the Syrian opposition team sweeps in; a few nods to the cameras, a couple of shouted questions, a couple of bland answers about being united, and then they are gone. Not to negotiate face to face with the Syrian government team, of course not, that has never happened in all the years of this appalling war. No, they are off to talk to the UN’s long suffering special envoy, Staffan de Mistura. Once again, the process seems headed for the rocks. The Syrian government is not even here. Emboldened by the ground they have retaken, with Russia’s support, President Assad’s team ...
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Despite calmer times, SNB is still ready to man the lifeboats

Mon, 12/11/2017 - 11:00
The Swiss franc acts like storm warning for global financial markets. When seas are calm and optimism is sunny, the franc weakens. But when economic or geo-political tensions build, especially in European neighbours, Switzerland becomes a haven: capital inflows accelerate and its currency appreciates, to the anguish of its exporting industries. Sometimes its agonies grab world attention. Almost three years ago, in January 2015, the Swiss National Bank rattled global markets when it unexpectedly abandoned its official cap on the franc’s value against the euro — sending the currency sharply higher. So what does the world need to know about the affluent Alpine state right now? The SNB’s latest policy meeting last week in Bern was low profile. The main policy interest rate stayed at the historic low of minus 0.75 per cent set after the 2015 “Frankenschock”. It still regarded the franc as “highly valued”, and would intervene if necessary in foreign currency markets to prevent its ...
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