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Lawyer finds church bells too much of an earful

Swiss church Keystone

A lawyer in the village of Bubikon in canton Zurich is threatening to go to the European Court of Human Rights over the noise of her local church bells.

Korinna Fröhlich is fed up with being woken up at five o’clock every morning, and wants the bell ringing delayed by two hours so she can get a decent night’s sleep.

For centuries, church bells have acted as communal alarm clocks. Before the advent of watches and snooze buttons, farming communities depended on the chimes to tell them when to rise, when to start work, when to take a break, when to knock off, and when to worship.

Of necessity, the bells made as much noise as possible because homesteads were typically scattered across the surrounding countryside.

Today, many bell towers across Switzerland still announce a new day. But in the village of Bubikon, to the southeast of Zurich, some residents are finding this tradition increasingly hard to wear. Local lawyer, Korinna Fröhlich, lives just across the road from the church, and she is particularly incensed at being woken up at five o’clock, seven days a week.

“It’s a question of quality of life. People should be able to sleep late if they want to. There is so much noise – much of which you can’t avoid, for example, from traffic. And I think we shouldn’t have to put up with noise that can be avoided.”

Three years ago, Fröhlich appealed to the local council to delay the bell ringing until seven. It refused. She then went to the cantonal court, and then the Federal Court, but on both occasions her pleas fell on deaf ears. The courts ruled that the matter was one for the local community and refused to interfere.

In the meantime, the local council took heed of some of Fröhlich’s complaints, and decided to delay the bell ringing by one hour, until six o’clock. It also reduced the four-minute cacophony of clanging to one minute. The town clerk, Ulrich Schmid, says the problem is a classic case of city ways conflicting with how things are done in the country.

“Some residents of Bubikon, who have moved here from the city, are very sensitive to all kinds of noises. Not only traffic but church bells and cowbells. The other residents, and we think they’re in the majority, want to preserve village traditions.”

But the council’s concessions have not pacified Fröhlich. She’s sticking to her demand that the bells stay silent until seven in the morning. And now that she’s exhausted her legal options in Switzerland, she’s considering taking her case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Schmid says such a move would be folly. “I really don’t think the Strasbourg court would overrule the local council. But I hope Ms Fröhlich will decide not to pursue this case that far. The decisions we have taken about the bells have been entirely democratic, and represent the views of the whole community.”

Bubikon’s pastor, Inger Muggli, says her congregation is split over the issue, but that most don’t feel very strongly either way. She believes the case has taken on its own dynamic – that the battle has become more important than the objective.

“I think it’s become a question of personality. Fröhlich doesn’t own her house. She could move. I think she’s fighting for the sake of the fight.”

by Jonas Hughes

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR