1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Germans in Switzerland

Tamsin Walker
February 27, 2007

When a Swiss tabloid launched a campaign last week asking the nation how many Germans Switzerland can stomach, it did more to highlight an old inferiority complex than to reveal the dawning of a new anti-German age.

The pride of SwitzerlandImage: Bilderbox

The mass-circulation Blick paper, which described the recent influx of Germans as "the invasion from the large northern canton," asked its Swiss readers if they too, had had enough of "cheap workers, arrogant expressions and objectionable self-confidence?" The responses, predictably, were mixed.

But the fact remains that Switzerland is currently the most popular destination for Germans seeking to resettle abroad. In 2006 alone, some 25,000 flocked over the border in search fertile ground for the good life they failed to find at home, and the trend shows no sign of abating. Even so, Germans by no means constitute the largest foreign group living in Switzerland, so what's all the fuss about?

Grenze Schweiz - Frankreich Flagge EU
Border between France and SwitzerlandImage: dpa - Report

Oliver Classen, spokesman for the Swiss NGO Berne Declaration, said the current anti-German media frenzy is an inevitable part of the EU-Swiss bilateral relations which relaxed freedom of movement between Switzerland and the European Union.

"Germany is for Switzerland what Poland is for Berlin," Classen said. "The bilateral agreements have opened the borders and the fears in Switzerland are similar to those that Germany had in the face of EU expansion."

Job-snatching Germans

One of the most outspoken concerns is that the German arrivals are stealing jobs from the indigenous population. But a spokesman for the Swiss Employers Association, Hans Reis, said the worries are largely tabloid press hot air. With the economy booming, and industries across the board advertising job vacancies, he said he welcomes German workers.

"We need qualified people," he said. "The good thing about the Germans is that they are well-qualified, they work hard, and they don't have any problems with the language."

Schokohasen hüpfen zu Ostern in klassischem Outfit in die süßen Nester
Chocolate is big business for the SwissImage: picture-alliance / dpa/dpaweb

Jens-Rainer Wiese who writes a blog about being a German in Switzerland agrees that Germans are important for the Swiss economy.

"They don't have enough well-trained people to advance the economy here," he said. "We are helping them to forge ahead."

But the other worrying word on the street is that all these highly qualified Germans are also willing to work for a franc or two less than their Swiss counterparts. Reis, who concedes that Germans are sometimes used to lower wages, rejects the claim that they are pushing Swiss wage prices down.

"That may be the case if you had one job and a lot of applicants, but that is not the situation here," he said. "Companies here are just happy to fill their vacancies."

Cultural, linguistic divides

Wiese said he believes the real gripe for many Swiss people is a simple culture clash issue.

"The main problem is German directness," he said. "The Swiss are reserved and very polite, whereas the Germans are loud in public and just come out and say what they want. The mentality is very different."

Deutsche trinken Sangria am Ballermann auf Mallorca
Germans abroad are not renowned for their quiet waysImage: Christopher and Friends

The most common criticisms of the Germans in Swiss circles are that they are "too fast, too loud and too arrogant." Wiese said the linguistic difference between the two countries is often mistaken for the widely perceived arrogance.

"When Germans come to Switzerland, they only speak High German, not Swiss German, and that automatically leads the Swiss to think they are arrogant," he said.

Considerable importance is placed on the local language as something which separates Switzerland from its neighbor. Gregory Waldis, an actor who grew up in Switzerland, but who has lived in Germany for several years believes the linguistic difference between the two countries has led the Swiss to respect Germans to the point of fearing them.

Panoramablick vom Herzogstand
The hills are alive with the sound of... Swiss GermanImage: Geraldo Hoffmann/DW

"The official language in Switzerland is High German, but nobody there speaks it other than the authorities," Waldis explained.

He said the use of the High German for official purposes puts the language -- and by association, the Germans who use it -- on a pedestal.

"When I first moved to Germany and heard everyone speaking high German, I thought they all sounded so intelligent," Waldis said. "It’s pretty impressive for the Swiss ear."

Waldis said the language issue is only one cause for the Swiss inferiority complex.

"The Germans were always the big guys for Switzerland," he said, adding that the tides seem to be turning. "For instance, people like DJ Bobo have shown Switzerland that ordinary folk can make things happen. All it takes is a few confident people."