Top news from our partner swissinfo

  • Reframing the Swiss immigration debate

    Wed, 16 Aug 2017 09:00:00 GMT

    Discussions about immigration, in Switzerland and elsewhere, are often plagued by the prejudices and presumptions of both sides. A new book attempts to go beyond ‘pro’ vs ‘anti’. “In Western Europe, most citizens prefer less immigration,” says Philipp Lutz, PhD candidate at the University of Bern and editor of the book Neuland (NZZ libro, in German). These days, this statement might come as less of a surprise than some years ago. But it nevertheless raises the paradox at the heart of migration policy in this part of the world: lots of people want less, but politicians are loath to stop it, both for economic and normative reasons. It also seems a strange statement to make for a researcher who is, above all, interested in the benefits of migration. But for Lutz, and for the academics and contributors who fed into the book, subtitled ‘Swiss Migration Policy in the 21st century’, black-and-white visions of ‘for or against’ migration need to be shelved. “Immigration is often seen as ...

  • Swiss tourist industry challenged by culture differences

    Wed, 16 Aug 2017 14:56:00 GMT

    The recent incident at an Arosa hotel, which had put up a sign instructing Jewish guests to shower before using the swimming pool, has raised the question of how well Swiss hotel and tourism staff are geared up to cater for visitors from other cultures.  “We have ongoing communication with all our hotels – how to correctly welcome tourist groups. But based on this recent incident, we must intensify efforts and point out to hotels what is not possible or not tolerated,” Pascal Jenny, director of Arosa tourism office, told the Blick newspaper on Wednesday.  The Swiss mountain resort has been welcoming Jewish visitors for many years. But the recent posting of a sign at the Aparthaus Paradies hotel in canton Graubünden caught many people by surprise, sparking outrage from Jewish organisations and the Israeli authorities claiming it was anti-Semitic, and damage limitation by the Swiss authorities.  The sign read: “To our Jewish guests, women, men and children, please take a shower ...

  • Why don’t Swiss voters choose their cabinet ministers?

    Wed, 16 Aug 2017 12:00:00 GMT

    Letting the people have the final say is a cornerstone of the Swiss political system. But there is a notable exception: voters can’t choose members of the cabinet. This is the privilege of parliament, which on September 20 will pick a successor to Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter. The reason for this “flaw” in direct democracy is buried in Swiss history. The number of cabinet members as well as the election procedure have remained unchanged since 1848, the founding of modern Switzerland. Vacant seat The Swiss government is made up of seven ministries. Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter has announced he will step down at the end of October.  The parliamentary group of the centre-right Radical Party will present a shortlist of official candidates on September 1. Parliament will elect a new cabinet member on September 20. “At that time, the idea of a representative democracy was dominant. Direct democracy existed merely at a very early stage,” says Nenad Stojanovic, researcher ...

  • Off-grid power not a silver bullet for rural India

    Wed, 16 Aug 2017 09:00:00 GMT

    A quarter of Indian households have no access to electricity. Swiss researcher Michaël Aklin - who studied the impact of solar microgrids in the country's villages - opines on whether off-grid solar power could change people's lives.  People living in wealthy countries rarely stop to consider the benefits of electricity. Consider, for a moment, the plight of households that have no electricity. Many rely on kerosene for lighting – a poor-quality, polluting source of light that is bad for health. They cannot use fans, despite the sometimes-unbearable heat. Mobile phone charging must be done elsewhere. This makes calling family members, receiving information about the weather (important for farming), or processing payments harder. Fridges, which keep food and drugs safe for consumption, cannot be used. And electric machinery, essential for many small businesses, is not available.  Off-grid technologies offer a potential solution to this problem. By off-grid, I mean a ...

  • Swiss expats feel ‘messed around’ by banks

    Tue, 15 Aug 2017 13:08:00 GMT

    Accounts are either closed or suddenly subjected to an additional bank charge of almost CHF500 ($518) a year. For Swiss living abroad, it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep an account at home. Claude Ruchti* is extremely disappointed. The 55-year-old Swiss ex-banker lives in southern Burgundy, France. He owns several properties in Switzerland, which he lets. For many years, he has had several accounts at the BSU Clientis Bank Uster. A little while ago, he tried to withdraw cash at the counter. “They informed me that the bank was going to close all my accounts apart from the rent deposits. The reason: domicile abroad,” Ruchti protested and even handed over his tax documents. “I have declared everything honestly.” Nothing helped. An hour later, Ruchti left the branch with more than CHF50,000 in cash. “I don’t understand why a Swiss person who owns property and land in Switzerland would be chased out onto the street like a dog,” he says. Deeply disappointed Another ...

  • Swiss expats in fighting spirit over banking service

    Tue, 15 Aug 2017 09:00:00 GMT

    The Swiss expatriates are turning up the heat on Swiss institutions to grant discrimination-free access to financial services. The issue has plagued the community for nearly a decade. “Enough is enough,” says Ariane Rustichelli, director of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA). Parliament in May threw out a call by a member of the House of Representatives urging the government to propose a legal amendment aimed at guaranteeing Swiss expats the right to open a bank account with a major Swiss bank. The result was close in the House – with an unusually high number of parliamentarians abstaining from the vote. In the debate, Finance Minister Ueli Maurer argued banks had to be free to make their own risk assessment in a liberal system. Parliament’s refusal infuriated the Swiss expat community which let their anger show in e-mails and letters to the OSA and to individual politicians, according to Rustichelli. In response, two new motions were filed separately in parliament – ...

  • Rarefied beauty found in Alps and adverts

    Tue, 15 Aug 2017 12:00:00 GMT

    Fuzzy and white, Edelweiss flowers are a lucky find for hikers, and a ubiquitous sight on Swiss marketing materials. The hairs on their petals, more accurately described as bracts, help Edelweiss to survive the harsh alpine climate’s cold dry air and ultraviolet rays. Edelweiss have long been used in folk medicine as well as cosmetics. They are also a popular symbol in the mountaineering, military and tourism sectors. Edelweiss are part of the daisy and sunflower family. They also grow in the Himalayas, China and Siberia. The Latin name suggests how rugged they are: Leontopodium alpinum means lion paws. But in Switzerland, they almost succumbed to the attention of overzealous fans who nearly plucked them into extinction. Since the 1970s, Edelweiss have been a protected species throughout their Swiss range. Alpine anthem Those who’ve seen the film The Sound of Music might recall Captain Georg von Trapp – played by Canadian actor Christopher Plummer – singing about the pretty ...

  • The Swiss fitness blogger working up a sweat in Turkey

    Tue, 15 Aug 2017 08:10:00 GMT

    It was love that first brought Doris Hofer to Turkey, where she then became one of the country’s leading fitness bloggers. The current political situation however, has her evaluating her options.  An intimate portrait by Swiss public television, SRF, of a local online rising star. (SRF, Doris Hofer is 41 years old and for the last 12 years has been a resident of Istanbul. A leading nutrition and fitness book author and blogger, she has an estimated quarter of a million people every day following her lead through her apps and social media pages. Online she is known as 'SquatGirl', motivating people to lead a healthier lifestyle through exercise and by improving their eating habits.  Hofer came to the country after marrying a Turkish businessman. She learned Turkish and studied to become a personal trainer. After her divorce, she started to blog, an activity that she has continued for the last three and a half years, and that has brought increased recognition, ...

  • ‘Look, I’m still here’

    Mon, 14 Aug 2017 09:00:00 GMT

    Agnès Parodi has lived in many places, but hardly ever in Switzerland. Having reached the respectable age of 104, she lives in Cannes, France, and life is anything but boring. “And two months,” Parodi insists. “I am 104 years and two months, so I’m actually older than 104.” The old lady sees every extra day of her life as a special gift – a bonus, so to speak. “Each morning, when I wake up I say to myself: look, I’m still here.” Parodi certainly does not want to waste her bonus days. She keeps very busy and the meeting with the Swiss journalist is just another item on her to-do list. She doesn’t even manage to keep to the arranged time of noon sharp. The only response the ringing doorbell gets is the hissing noise of the intercom, which gets lost in the chirping of the crickets on the hot Avenue des Coteaux.  Parodi has lived in this housing estate on the outskirts of Cannes for more than 50 years. "My flat is in the tallest of the five apartment blocks. I am sure you will find ...

  • Priest urges nations to improve migrant rescues

    Fri, 11 Aug 2017 15:00:00 GMT

    An Eritrean Catholic priest living in Switzerland says his efforts to save migrants’ lives show the need for nations to rescue more people trying to reach Europe through the Mediterranean. Nominated for the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize for his life-saving work, Mussie Zerai is now under investigation in Italy on suspicion of abetting illegal immigration. He said in a statement that the Trapani public prosecutor's office informed him of the investigation on August 7 and he was innocent of any wrongdoing. In an interview with, Zerai denounced the investigation as "a denigrating campaign” and called on European nations to assume their responsibilities to welcome and save the lives of thousands who are desperately fleeing wars, conflicts and persecution. Without nations doing enough to help migrants, he said, it is left to non-governmental organisations to shoulder these responsibilities. "It's totally contradictory to attack the humanitarian organisations to fight illegal ...

  • Colourful language: how English is invading German

    Sun, 13 Aug 2017 15:00:00 GMT

    You’re never far from an English word in Switzerland. What do the Swiss think of this “language creep”? Is there anything that can be done? Will there be “ein Backlash”? ​​​​​​​

  • Jazz singer gives Swiss reason to smile

    Sun, 13 Aug 2017 09:00:00 GMT

    She has been making the Swiss smile for nearly 40 years, whether promoting oral hygiene or putting on a show. Bernita Bush tells her Swiss story, in the fourth of our series on US expats. I had just celebrated my 30th birthday when I came to Switzerland in November 1980 to take a job for one year as a dental hygienist. The first two weeks I lived with one of my bosses and his wife and their two sons in Grenchen, canton Solothurn. My boss – a dentist in private practice – took me around and introduced me to all the important people and really took me in and made me feel right at home. I couldn’t speak the local dialect in the beginning, other than “Gruezi” and “Danke schön” and “Auf wiedersehen” and “Gesundheit”. After about half a year - three quarters of a year, I could speak the language pretty well, and I wanted to be able to continue that. It was a challenge. I liked Switzerland: the job, the country, the peace and quiet. Leaving the United States and moving to Switzerland ...

  • Anything goes at Zurich's Street Parade

    Sun, 13 Aug 2017 11:23:00 GMT

    There is no special dress code at Zurich's Street Parade. This year some 900,000 ravers, party goers and curious spectators turned out for the annual techno music festival. Since the end of Berlin's Love Parade, Zurich's Street Parade has become known as the largest outdoor techno party in the world. On Saturday, 25 'Love Mobiles - trucks covered with dancers blasting music - covered the 2.4 kilometre-long route around the lake and through the city. Some 200 national and international DJs were in attendance for the 25th edition under the slogan, 'Love never ends'. Eight special music stages had also been set up. According to police reports, there were 130 arrests on Saturday - more than twice as many as in 2016. But police said the event was no more rowdy than in previous year.  The extra arrests were attributed to increased vigilance against theft and robbery. The arrests included 35 for drugs related offences.  The number of people who required medical attention fell by a ...

  • La bella vita at the Locarno Film Festival

    Sat, 12 Aug 2017 09:00:00 GMT

    The 70th Locarno Film Festival is coming to a close. For ten days, the compact city in Italian-speaking Switzerland has been transformed into a place of pilgrimage for film-lovers, actors and directors. Here are some of the highlights.  Every day the international festival lures visitors into cinemas or the Piazza Grande, the heart of the festival. Every summer Switzerland and the world meet – whether it’s on screen or over drinks.  In this anniversary year several innovations have been introduced. Four new cinema halls were opened, three of which are in “PalaCinema”, a converted school with a total of 800 seats. The “GranRex”, formerly “Ex*Rex”, has also been renovated. Both cinemas plan to be open to the public for the other 355 days of the year.  The new section “Locarno Kids” is aimed at younger visitors, with films shown on two mornings, for example the animation Zombillenium.  The Locarno Film Festival was founded in 1946 and quickly established a reputation as a window ...

  • Meet the little orange men of Switzerland

    Sat, 12 Aug 2017 09:00:00 GMT

    Crossing the roads can be a peculiarity in itself! Join Diccon Bewes on the streets of Bern and marvel at the oddities of the Swiss traffic light system. (Diccon Bewes for

  • Rapperswil, a democratic dinosaur?

    Fri, 11 Aug 2017 09:00:00 GMT

    With its 27,000 inhabitants, Rapperswil is Switzerland’s largest community where citizens still decide on political issues at town hall meetings. But in June this year, only 350 people took part. Is this a sign of local direct democracy losing its popularity, or even of political bankruptcy?  “I’d like to ask why there are no ashtrays at the new bus stop,” says a man, who has just walked through the packed multipurpose hall, into the microphone. In an effort to add some weight to his words, he pauses before striding back to his seat.          The members of the city parliament are assembled on stage when the mayor, Martin Stöckling, steps up to the speakers’ desk. Question time at the end of each town hall meeting in Rapperswil, or “Rappi” as the locals call it, is when Stöckling is in his element.  The citizens have just finished discussing the items on the agenda: rehabilitating the sports grounds and the financial statement for 2016. Now the floor is open; it’s a chance to ...

  • Can ‘Old Age Security 2020’ guarantee pensions?

    Thu, 10 Aug 2017 09:00:00 GMT

    Faced with an aging population, reduced economic growth and low interest rates, the government and a parliamentary majority are calling for a sweeping reform of the old age social security system to ensure that pensions can still be paid for in years to come. Here are the basic elements of the package “Old Age Security 2020”, which will go to a nationwide vote on September 24. It is undoubtedly one of the most important reform projects to be put to a nationwide vote in many years. Especially because it concerns the whole population: almost all residents – Swiss or foreigners, young or old, working or not, rich or poor – have a right to old age security benefits. But also because of the huge amounts of money involved: assets of CHF800 billion ($825 billion) are deposited in employee pension funds alone. The goal of the reform is to guarantee funding for the social programmes – and thus pension incomes – on into the future, despite heavy pressure in the coming decades. The main ...

  • When Swiss kids are forced to go hiking

    Thu, 10 Aug 2017 15:00:00 GMT

    Tama Vakeesan was born in Switzerland – to Tamil parents from Sri Lanka. This week she teams up with singer, Marco Kunz, from Lucerne. They discuss what makes Swiss kids different from foreign kids growing up in Switzerland, everything from the type of sandwiches they take on school trips to TV viewing rights. (SRF Kulturplatz/

  • Swiss border towns to combat ‘shopping tourism’

    Wed, 9 Aug 2017 09:00:00 GMT

    Many Swiss consumers shop in nearby towns on the other side of the border to avoid high prices at home. Now, Swiss border towns want to form an alliance to put an end to the practice of "shopping tourism". We paid a visit to the Swiss town of Kreuzlingen to find out more. We are at the border between Kreuzlingen (Switzerland) and Constance (Germany) on a Friday afternoon in July. Konstanzerstrasse, the road crossing the border, is normally heavily congested, but today is quiet. The locals say it’s because of the holidays. “At the moment, there are surprisingly few cars,” says Andreas Netzle, the mayor of the town. “On Fridays and Saturdays, this road is usually completely packed.” Constance, Waldshut, Rheinfelden, Lörrach, Weil am Rhein: these towns sound like music to the ears of many Swiss bargain hunters, offering prices they can only dream about back home. According to Netzle, the agreement on the free movement of people, signed with the European Union (EU) in 2002, was ...

  • The Song of Scorpions comes with a sting in the tail

    Wed, 9 Aug 2017 10:40:00 GMT

    Making its world premiere at the Locarno Film Festival, The Song of Scorpions, a Swiss-French-Singaporean co-production starring Irrfan Khan, gives audiences a taste of the sometimes poisonous relationship between men and women in patriarchal India.  Directed by Geneva resident Anup Singh, it will have pride of place at Switzerland’s most famous film festival on Wednesday evening, being shown at the Piazza Grande outdoor screening area. The wet weather may put off some, but in the film’s setting – the arid plains and dunes of Rajasthan’s Jaisalmer desert – there’s not a drop of rain in sight.  At first glance, the film could be mistaken for a tourism promotional campaign for “Incredible India”: miles of endless desert, quaint hamlets among the dunes, camel herders with not a care in the world, village women in colourful attire, and traditions and superstitions that showcase the “innocence” of local folk.  But the twisted love story between camel herder Aadam (played by Khan, ...

  • How a Polish envoy to Bern saved hundreds of Jews

    Wed, 9 Aug 2017 15:00:00 GMT

    Aleksander Ładoś, a Polish envoy to Bern during the Second World War, saved hundreds of Jews from the Holocaust with help from Jewish associations active in Switzerland and the United States.  It’s 1942. Some 340,000 Jews live in the Warsaw Ghetto. After the Wannsee Conference in January, the machinery of the Holocaust is set in motion. By July, Germans will begin clearing the Ghetto. Only Jews with foreign passports issued by a neutral country or the United States can enjoy a fragile calm. Germans leave them alone since they may still prove useful should there ever be a need to trade them for German citizens held captive abroad.  In the Swiss capital of Bern, which knows of the war mainly from newspaper reports, a network emerged of Polish embassy staff and leaders of orthodox Jewish associations.  This article is based on an original investigation by journalists from the Polish newspaper Dziennik Gazeta Prawna. has not verified the contents.  Members included ...

  • Can Swiss data help catch climate cheaters?

    Wed, 9 Aug 2017 12:51:00 GMT

    Swiss scientists recording greenhouse gas emissions from the Jungfraujoch Alpine station are working to have their data recognised by those enforcing the Paris climate agreement, especially since they have sometimes recorded higher emissions than reported by individual countries.  The Swiss monitoring station, located at the highest point in Europe reachable by train, is one of just three worldwide that can monitor greenhouse gases over a region spanning several countries. Ireland and Australia are home to the only other such stations in the world.  Stefan Reimann is one of the scientists from the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA) gathering data at Jungfraujoch. He says the station can reliably monitor emissions from Switzerland, France, Italy and Germany, depending on wind patterns.  “The same is done in Ireland – they can see England and France very well and we can often combine our data to get an overall [European] picture,” he says.

  • ‘Journey is destination’ for mountaineering plans of AS sufferer

    Wed, 9 Aug 2017 09:00:00 GMT

    As someone with an incurable autoimmune disease, Judith Safford explains the lengths she has been going to keep a crippling illness at bay while preparing to climb several of Switzerland’s highest peaks. In a first article Judith talked about being diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis, and her battle to carry on living life to the fullest despite the disease. I will soon begin a 5-day tour in the Monte Rosa mountain massif located between canton Valais in Switzerland and Italy’s Piedmont and Aosta valley. It includes some of the wildest glaciers in Europe, the highest mountain in Switzerland (Dufourspitze) and the twin mountains Castor and Pollux, which I always wanted to climb because my zodiac sign is Gemini.  It amounts to more than a dozen peaks over 4,000m. What is Ankylosing Spondylitis? Ankylosing Spondylitis or AS for short (known as Morbus Bechterew in German and French) is a painful inflammatory stiffening of the spinal column for which there is no known cure.

  • My plot of Swiss soil

    Tue, 8 Aug 2017 09:00:00 GMT

    Allotment gardens were once considered a symbol of the Swiss bourgeoisie, but times have changed. Meet some of today's gardeners.

  • The man who spent CHF9,999 on a whisky

    Tue, 8 Aug 2017 14:48:00 GMT

    Do you glance at the price when ordering a glass of whisky in Switzerland? Zhang Wei does not. He recently made headlines when he spent CHF9,999 ($10,290) on a Macallan 1878 – although rumours are now circulating that it’s a fake. Authenticity aside, what type of person would spend so much on so little?  “Drank some whisky and am at the top of a search engine – very surprised,” wrote Zhang on his Weibo account last week after news got out of his eyebrow-raising purchase at the Waldhaus am See hotel near the Swiss resort of St Moritz.  It turns out that Zhang, who writes under the name Tang Jia San Shao, is China’s highest-paid online author – and just can’t say no to a Macallan.  “I was in Switzerland and saw a 100-year-old whisky. I didn’t spend long weighing up whether to get it,” he continued. “In a nutshell, it tasted good. I was drinking not so much the whisky but a lot of history.”  Zhang, born in 1981, specialises in martial arts fantasy writing known as wuxia and has ...

  • Classical music gets personal in Switzerland

    Tue, 8 Aug 2017 13:18:00 GMT

    From a “pianist in a box” to an overnight performance with listeners in bed, Swiss classical music audiences are being introduced to new concepts. In Davos, a pianist recently performed in a glass enclosure which only one person could enter at a time to enjoy the music. Others could watch – but not hear – from outside. Perhaps the world’s smallest concert hall, this mini venue was a symbolic act against an ongoing trend where cities from London to Geneva to Hamburg are competing to build the newest and best concert hall. The so-called “One musician – one guest – one premiere” event was part of the 32nd edition of the Young Artists in Concert Festival, where 80 of the most promising musicians from all over the world are invited to the eastern Swiss town for two weeks to perform and network. And over the weekend, German composer and pianist Max Richter gave an eight-hour overnight performance of his album “Sleep” at a venue near Zurich where members of the audience lay in ...

  • Cargo bikes: cheaper, faster, greener

    Tue, 8 Aug 2017 09:56:00 GMT

    Whether it’s dropping off kids at nursery or goods to customers, cargo bikes are increasingly seen whizzing around Swiss cities. This trend is the result of advances with e-bike technology – in Switzerland, riders need help with the many steep hills.  On the streets of Bern, cargo bikes are still the exception, but more and more people are using them. Sohan Lal, a former rickshaw driver from New Delhi, uses one to show tourists around the Swiss capital.  Andreas Tanner frequently chauffeurs his two-year-old son through Bern in the box at the front of his bicycle. A couple of months ago, instead of a second car he and his wife bought a cargo bike for CHF6,000 ($6,170). Since then they have notched up some 500 kilometres doing their shopping and, above all, taking his son to the nursery and then going on to work.  Compared with cars, cargo bikes are cheaper, better for the environment and zippier in city traffic – plus there’s hardly ever an issue with parking. Parents can keep ...

  • India’s domestic hair demand could cut short Hollywood ‘big wigs’

    Mon, 7 Aug 2017 09:00:00 GMT

    The shorn locks of Indian women are prized worldwide for high-end wigs and hair extensions, but growing domestic demand could mean shortages for Hollywood and Broadway.  “Indian hair is not straight like a wire. It has some life in it,” says Swiss wig maker Orlando Bassi, whose company makes high-quality, customised wigs for the entertainment industry. His creations have featured in movies like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon 2 and Exodus, TV series such as Vikings, and Broadway musicals like Beauty and the Beast.  India is his biggest source of human hair but he says the country’s ideal combination of quantity, quality and price is now under threat. Earlier Indian women would wash their hair a couple of times a week and apply only coconut oil for extra shine. With globalisation and rising incomes they are increasingly resorting to shampoos and conditioners which have chemicals in them that affect the quality.  “The biggest problem is coloured hair as we cannot bleach it which ...

  • Turning Switzerland’s tiniest municipality into a hotel

    Sat, 5 Aug 2017 14:00:00 GMT

    The picturesque village of Corippo in Ticino’s Verzasca Valley is officially Switzerland’s smallest municipality, boasting 14 permanent residents and historic architecture. To secure its future a foundation now wants to turn the tiny rural village into an albergo diffuso or ‘scattered hotel’. Its first guest room should be ready in spring 2018.  “The traditional houses with their stone roofs have remained pretty much unchanged since the beginning of the 20th century and they are surrounded by a countryside which is largely untouched," explains Fabio Giacomazzi, an architect and president of the Corippo Foundation 1975.  The mountain village of Corippo, situated near Locarno in the Italian-speaking part of southern Switzerland, once had 300 inhabitants. But over the past two centuries, it has been slowly abandoned by the younger generation. By 1975, local farming had almost died out. Today, only 14 people live in the village.  The local authorities have fought hard to try to stop ...

  • Lukas Habersaat: an award-winning business model in Bangkok

    Sun, 6 Aug 2017 09:00:00 GMT

    Lukas Habersaat, a long-term resident in Thailand, has received official recognition for developing a pioneering business model in Bangkok’s entertainment district. He has lived with his partner in Bangkok for 20 years, and wants to stay. For Lukas Habersaat of Winterthur, it was no chance decision to initially train as a chef. His interest in cooking was awakened at an early age. And during the first years of his career in the hospitality industry, he continued studying – first at a business school, then, in the late 1980s, specialising in tourism at the school of hospitality in Lausanne. Picking up foreign languages and improving his grasp of them was important to Habersaat. He perfected his French and English, before also learning conversational Italian and Spanish. With those skills, he figured he was equipped with the know-how he needed to risk a leap into unknown foreign territory. Bangkok via Hong Kong At the age of 27, he wound up more-or-less by chance in Hong Kong.

  • ‘We want concrete over our heads’

    Sat, 5 Aug 2017 09:00:00 GMT

    ​​​​​​​ Swiss historian Jost Auf der Maur has written a book 'Die Schweiz unter Tag' about underground Switzerland. His journey took him from beautiful drinking-water reservoirs to the negative consequences of power politics and gives a new perspective on Switzerland.  Luzerner Zeitung: What fascinates you about underground Switzerland? Jost Auf der Maur: This realm beneath Switzerland is a significant size, and I’m interested in our country and its history. Without its expensive underground infrastructure, Switzerland definitely wouldn’t function. So anyone who wants to know Switzerland must also investigate below the surface.  Luzerner Zeitung: How did you experience underground Switzerland? What can you see there? J.A.d.M.: The smell of underground Switzerland isn’t the same everywhere: each train travelling through a tunnel smells different. The odour inside the earth is not generally inviting. It’s damp and dank. The architecture is prosaic; it has to counter the ...

  • The man who wants to revolutionise online government services

    Fri, 4 Aug 2017 09:00:00 GMT

    “Civic tech” activist Daniel Gasteiger is a former investment banker who wants to digitise Swiss government. He describes himself as naïve, and this very naïveté may help him in his mission.  "A journalist on a local radio station just asked me why we are choosing to work with the small canton of Schaffhausen," says Gasteiger. "Quite simply: because they are innovative there." Gasteiger is very interested in innovators and “first movers”. He sees himself as one of them. His blockchain startup Procivis ( recently announced that it is working with canton Schaffhausen to create a digital identity for citizens. This article is part of #DearDemocracy, a platform on direct democracy issues from At national level, this major innovation will only become official in four years at the earliest, the preliminary hearings on the draft legislation, the “E-ID Act”, having just been completed.  "Switzerland needs to get going with this, or we will soon be ...

  • Trickle from Swissie glacier is turning into a torrent

    Fri, 4 Aug 2017 15:59:00 GMT

    The euro crisis is over and all is well in the world. Just ask Thomas Jordan. The Swiss National Bank (SNB) chief finally has reasons to be cheerful now that his stubbornly strong currency is sliding, and at quite a pace. The decline comes two-and-a-half years after the SNB stunned markets by allowing the once tightly controlled franc to rocket higher - an event noted in currency market folklore as one of the few occasions when traders were lost for (printable) words.  SNB officials have spent the period since then moaning about the strength of the franc. To try to help it along, the central bank has also amassed foreign currency reserves of CHF694 billion ($717 billion) - roughly the same size as the entire Swiss economy. Hey presto, the tide has turned at last.  Are investors finally following instructions? Not likely. It is all about the euro getting its mojo back, with politics (merci, Monsieur Macron) and general market sentiment all pulling in the same direction. The ...

  • The business of secrecy has become even more lucrative, says whistleblower

    Fri, 4 Aug 2017 10:02:00 GMT

    Swiss whistleblower Rudolf Elmer tells Indian publication The Wire that tax evasion is still common despite international pressure to share banking information. He blames the ease of setting up complex corporate structures where the beneficial owner is not known. The Wire (TW): It’s been 15 years since you left Julius Bär and since then we’ve seen more whistleblowers, leaking greater amounts of data on illicit global financial flows. But we’ve also seen some international cooperation over cracking down on tax evasion. How much  have things changed? Rudolf Elmer (RE): Well, the question is have things really changed? It looks like to the man on the street that there is a lot of change going on in favour of the public over the last 15 years. In my view, generally speaking, yes there is a lot of talk. But actually not that much has changed, to be crystal clear. At the moment it appears that Swiss bank secrecy is gone. But as a matter of fact it still exists and is applied strictly ...

  • How a meaningless word has come to mean everything

    Thu, 3 Aug 2017 09:00:00 GMT

    It’s splashed all over ads and packaging, but there’s actually been very little research – until now – into the importance of 'natural' food to consumers.  Over the last two centuries, the application of technology to food has transformed the way we eat. Preservatives, genetic modification, and advanced processing methods have given us canned goods with year-long shelf-lives, seedless fruits and disease-free vegetables, and tasty snacks for eating on-the-go. But as food technologies have advanced, so has public concern regarding their safety and health impacts, to the extent that many of today’s consumers prefer to buy foods that they perceive to be natural – not high-tech. That’s the conclusion of researchers from Spain and the Swiss Federal Technology Institute ETH Zurich, who reviewed studies of over 80,000 consumers from 32 developed countries – mostly in Europe – conducted between 1995 and 2017. Their analysis, which was published last month in the journal Trends in Food ...

  • Gruesome discoveries a sign of rapidly retreating glaciers

    Thu, 3 Aug 2017 13:00:00 GMT

    The finds of human remains in the Swiss Alps in recent weeks are a reminder that alpine glaciers are melting rapidly, and could disappear entirely by the end of the century.  In mid-July two frozen corpses were found in the shrinking Tsanfleuron glacier near the border between Cantons Bern and Valais, not far from the chic resort of Gstaad.  Last week, a human hand and leg were uncovered on the Bossons glacier on Mont Blanc in France. The remains could belong to passengers of one of two airplanes, both belonging to Air India, that crashed into the glacier, one in 1950 and the other in 1966.  And earlier this week, a body partially imprisoned in the ice was discovered on the slopes of the Lagginhorn in Switzerland’s canton Valais. It is believed to be the body of a German hiker who died 30 years ago while attempting to climb the mountain.  More finds like these are expected in the coming years as alpine glaciers continue to recede. In fact, scientists have predicted that all the ...

  • Congolese do it in sunglasses

    Thu, 3 Aug 2017 15:00:00 GMT

    Tama Vakeesan was born in Switzerland – to Tamil parents from Sri Lanka. This week Tama talks to comedian, Charles Nguela, about how Congolese Swiss differ from Swiss natives. Something to do with being late and wearing sunglasses... (SRF Kulturplatz/

  • Novartis faces vexing decisions over asset sales

    Thu, 3 Aug 2017 06:44:00 GMT

    With 123,000 employees, almost $50bn in annual sales and a $200bn-plus market capitalisation, the status of Novartis as a leading Big Pharma company is beyond doubt. Yet management, staff and shareholders know that the past five years have been a struggle. Now, critical choices about asset disposals and investments are looming for the Switzerland-based group. How it makes them will define the place of Joseph Jimenez, chief executive since 2010, in corporate pharmaceutical history. Some of Mr Jimenez’s decisions ought to be easier than others.  Should Novartis sell its 36.5 per cent share in a consumer health joint venture with GlaxoSmithKline, the UK drugmaker? Many shareholders think so. Novartis has the option to compel GSK to buy its stake this coming March. A sale might raise $10bn. Novartis is undoubtedly examining the ways in which it might put such a tidy sum to use. Acquisitions to fill holes in its pharma portfolio, or to expand its generics business, would do ...

  • Cat draws pension without lifting a paw

    Wed, 2 Aug 2017 09:00:00 GMT

    It started with a bite of broccoli. Meet the cheeky little kitty who gets a pension from the Swiss Army.  Her features are dainty and her fur is silky soft, so her squawky meow comes as a surprise. Though she has her own cat flap, she urges bystanders to open doors for her. You might say she barks orders like a drill sergeant – but actually, this brazen cat ranks even higher. Known as Brigadier Broccoli, she has the run of an army base near the Swiss capital.  The frisky feline began prowling around the barracks in Lyss in 2004. As a bored housecat, she was looking for action – and she found it among all the young recruits, who were also a source of snacks between meals. The soldiers named her “Broccoli” after the tabby nibbled on a bite of the green vegetable. Though she had a home nearby, it seemed she couldn’t get enough of army life. “It was awkward. She kept coming back – even at Christmastime, when there weren’t that many people here to look out for her,” recalls ...

  • Cantons draw on eID to attract foreign firms

    Wed, 2 Aug 2017 15:00:00 GMT

    Two Swiss cantons, which both pride themselves on being magnets for international companies, have introduced digital ID to enhance services. Schaffhausen and Zug hope the cutting-edge technology will help attract more firms. The eID schemes will allow residents to pay taxes, register businesses, apply for permits and take advantage of a host of other council services without having to leave their desks or wade through reams of paperwork. “We want to build awareness of Schaffhausen as a testing lab of innovation,” Pascal Schmidlin, spokesman for Canton Schaffhausen, told “We want to attract both domestic and foreign businesses to our location. It will make it easier to set up a business and for the employees of these firms to reach local government services.”  Cryptocurrency capital Schaffhausen, which lies north of Zurich and borders Germany, has attracted more than 500 foreign firms, including food manufacturing giant Unilever, in the last 20 years. Zug is ...

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