How a place few have heard of tops Zurich and Geneva

The village, situated on the western shore, has an official motto "joie de vivre at Lake Zurich" Gemeinde Rüschlikon

Not Switzerland’s financial capital, nor international centre, but a small lakeside community near Zurich has been named the most attractive place to live in the country.

This content was published on October 5, 2017 - 11:00
Isobel Leybold-Johnson in Rüschlikon

It’s raining heavily and the sky is heavy and grey when I arrive in Rüschlikon. But when the rain stops, the people and the sun come out. The streets down to the lake are dotted with timber-framed houses and nice boutiques. The view from shore side is stunning.

Despite not living far away from Rüschlikon, it’s my first proper visit there. The village is even unknown to most Swiss but its residents include members of the global business elite like Ivan Glasenberg, the CEO of commodity and mining giant, Glencore.

This is in part thanks to its low tax rates – one reason it was recently rated number one in the Die Weltwoche magazine list of the best places to live in Switzerland. The ranking included every Swiss municipality with at least 2,000 residents and also covered factors such as jobs, schools and culture.

Dorfstrasse in Rüschlikon Gemeinde Rüschlikon

“We have a number of factors that we can take as a gift,” says Rüschlikon’s mayor Bernhard Elsener during our meeting at the town hall. “We are close to the lake, to the city of Zurich and we have excellent public and private transport systems.”

Indeed, the village is just six kilometres away from Zurich, which was the highest ranked city in the survey at 22. Geneva came in at 45th.

Other factors were down to the community, Elsener said, like promoting the construction of flats for families who could normally not afford Rüschlikon, due to the high property prices in and around Zurich. There are plans, for example, to build lower cost flats in the centre, close to the railway. Such flats already exist in other parts of the village.

Bernhard Elsener has been mayor of Rüschlikon since 2006 Helen James,

The more exclusive areas are on the lake or on the hill – Rüschlikon is built on a slope – to take advantage of the lake view.

Another factor in Rüschlikon’s success was the vibrant cultural life, which helps foster a community spirit.

Expats, famous or not

Foreigners make up around 30% of the village population, with a good number of them second or third generation. But there are also many expats, with some working at the nearby IBM research lab.

Elsener said the expats appreciated the privacy. “We have many top managers of world renowned companies, CEOs that practically nobody knows are living here. Their children go to school here, and their families go to the dry cleaners like everyone else.”

South African Glasenberg hit the headlines in 2011 after the flotation of his company, resulted in a huge tax windfall to Rüschlikon’s coffers. Other VIPs said to reside in Rüschlikon are former Lafarge-Holcim CEO Eric Olsen and Swiss Federal Railways board president Monika Ribar.

One person who knows about integrating as an expat is Urte Sabelus, president of the Rüschlikon Parents’ Association. The native German has lived in Rüschlikon since 2001. Her two older children went to the nearby international school, but her youngest goes to the local one “to gain roots in the village,” Sabelus says.

Community feel

She says there has been a positive impact from the increase in expats. “The locals and expats talk to each other. They are not leading separate lives because we have a lot of activities going on due to the clubs and associations,” she explains.

The landing stage and waiting room at the lakeside Gemeinde Rüschlikon

And why do expats come to Rüschlikon? Word of mouth is one reason, she says, adding that it’s also family friendly. The school does much to integrate non-German speaking children.

Long-time resident Ernst Rusterholz, lifeguard at the badi [lakeside pool] for 33 years, still knows many people in the village, despite the influx of newcomers.

People enjoy the lake in the summer and the nearby forest all year round for walking and biking. “The village doesn’t really have a centre but there are several places to meet,” he says, adding that there was still a village feel about the place.

Giovanna Arnold from the Terlanden dry cleaners, located near the station, also enjoys life in Rüschlikon – despite living in nearby Adliswil (which was 56th on the list – one of ten places on Lake Zurich’s west coast to make the top 100).

We speak during a short lull in customers - the shop is extra busy as it’s special offer day. “The people are nice and have stayed down to earth here. Even the famous families - they bring their own clothes, it’s not normally the chauffeur. They will have a chat with you,” she said.

The future

And what does the younger generation think of Rüschlikon? spoke to three pupils from the primary school – situated just across from the town hall - who had been let out of their lessons specially. “I really like it here,” says Delveen, 11, who is from Iraq and has been in Rüschlikon for 18 months. She enjoys being with friends. “I like bike riding and sport, which you can also do in the forest,” she adds in her good German.

From left to right: Anny, Mathilda and Delveen Helen James,

As for her friends Anny and Mathilda, both Rüschlikon born and bred, Mathilda particularly enjoys the youth club on Wednesday afternoons, and Anny likes that you can get around on your own without a car, and that the village is not far from Zurich. And will the girls stay in Rüschlikon? Delveen and Mathilda might, but Anny thinks she might like to go to London one day. “Rüschlikon is still my home town though,” she said.

This leads us back to the essential question of what will happen next year. Is Rüschlikon hoping to retain its top placing in 2018?  The answer is to wait and see, said Elsener, who is also interested in seeing the methodology of the poll.

“A journalist asked me what I would do if we were no longer number one, would I retire from my job as mayor?” says Elsener, who like all mayors of small communities in Switzerland does the job part-time. His other job is as professor of materials science at the Federal Institute of Technology Zurich.

“I said no because this is not the usual way in the Swiss political system. The second point is that I will congratulate the major of the new community which is number one.”

Regional differences

Rüschlikon, Meggen and Zug – located on lakes Zurich, Lucerne and Zug – are the top three Swiss places to live. Six of the top ten places are near Zurich. Only two come from the French-speaking part of Switzerland (Chêne-Bougeries and Lutry).

At the bottom of the list was le Val-de-Travers (canton of Neuchâtel).

A study of per-capita purchasing power in Switzerland for 2017 by global market researchers GfK shows clear regional differences. Zurich, Geneva and central Switzerland are at the top in terms of purchasing power. 

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