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Swiss mull love-hate relations with Germany

Friend or foe? The Swiss attitude to Germany is complex Keystone

Wednesday's football match between Switzerland and Germany once again provided a platform for a debate over the thorny issue of Swiss-German relations.

Swiss media, particularly the German-speaking newspapers, seem undecided about whether the Swiss should love or hate the Germans.

The influx of German workers to Switzerland – they made up the largest increase in 2006 – has complicated the issue further, especially as many have taken up top business, health or university positions.

In fact, the subject has rarely been out of the media in the past few months.

Media hype over the match, which took place in the German city of Düsseldorf, was high but the Swiss went down 3-1.

Zurich’s Tages-Anzeiger devoted several pages to the issue on Wednesday, commenting that “the Germans are here” but adding that they were not “the enemy”.

For its part, the Berner Zeitung called on the Swiss to forget their inferiority complex towards the Germans.

“If we want to win on Wednesday and in the Euro 08 football championships we have to stop complaining and criticising the Germans,” it said.


For many German-speaking Swiss – according to the media at least – a German is typically arrogant, haughty, talks too loudly and too fast and feels at home in Switzerland.

This cliché seemed to be confirmed by a survey conducted by the German magazine Spiegel. It found that for almost half of Germans, a German was “someone who spoke German, even if they lived in Austria or Switzerland”.

This was immediately picked up by the mass-market tabloid Blick, whose title screamed “Help! The Germans think we already belong to them!”

It then launched its own reader poll on whether there were too many Germans in Switzerland. Yes replied 66 per cent its readers, maintaining that their Teutonic neighbours were “invading” hospitals, universities, businesses and even the authorities.

There are now 166,000 Germans living in Switzerland, a third more than in 2002, making the country the most popular destination for expat Germans.

But some media have also tried to look at the issue from the German community’s point of view.

According to a recent documentary “The Germans are coming” broadcast on Swiss German television, the Germans love Switzerland – for its quality of life, stability and natural beauty – but the Swiss tend not to feel very warm towards their neighbours from the north.

And Facts magazine has criticised the “bullying” of Germans in Switzerland.

Ups and downs

Experts say, however, that the relationship between the two countries has always been marked by ups and downs.

“The animosity of the small country against the large neighbour is a well-known phenomenon,” Peter von Matt, a retired Swiss professor of German language and literature, told the Tages-Anzeiger.

According to von Matt the Germans simply behave in a more direct way, which does not always go down well with the Swiss.

Added to this is the language question. The Germans speak High German – the standard version – and the Swiss Germans speak dialect, but learn High German which is their written language.

But in reality, most Swiss Germans speak dialect better than standard German. Many Germans, particularly those from the north, find it hard to understand dialect.

All in all, von Matt believes that relations between the two neighbours are “nowadays good and in any case better than after the war”.

In fact, the Germans have strongly marked the academic and cultural scene in Switzerland, while many young Swiss artists and actors make their careers in Germany.

For many it is “the Swiss media which are in the process of constructing the image of the nasty German”.


Germans make up one of the fastest-growing foreign communities in Switzerland.
They account for 11.3 per cent of foreigners in Switzerland and are particularly concentrated around Zurich.
There are 166,000 Germans living in Switzerland, a third more than in 2002.

There are many Germans in top-level health, academic and business jobs, such as Christoph Franz, the chief executive of the airline Swiss, and Oswald Grübel, the chief executive of Credit Suisse.

German workers are also very present in the hotel, catering and building industries.

Zurich airport has also been an issue in German relations. Restrictions were placed on flight movements after southern Germany complained about airplane noise. Many flights now pass over Zurich’s wealthy gold coast area.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR