Doug Sears Reports on the State of Swiss - German Relations


I know, I know . . . it's a stereotype.  But it's one the Swiss reinforce by frequently running stories or photographs about cows.  A couple of years ago I stumbled on the cow-fighting festival in Aproz.  This past week the NZZ (Neue Zuercher Zeitung) had a photo of the cow, Yvonne, in its "Impressionen: Die Welt in Bildern" ("The World in Pictures") section.  Yvonne had escaped human supervision and been on the lam for four months--finally succumbing to a tranquilizer dart and animal handlers.  So normal is it to find some sort of feature about cows in Swiss news that I jumped to the conclusion that the cow was Swiss. But no, Yvonne was an Austrian cow which had been sold to a German who planned to extract some milk and then . . . well . . . you know.  It turns that Yvonne's (self-interested) escape was quite newsworthy.  She was the subject of much social network chatter and has her own Wikipedia entry.  And she was deemed newsworthy by the photo editors at the NZZ.  My guess is she was heading for Switzerland as a bovine asylum-seeker.

Speaking of Germany, a particularly intriguing series on SF.TV is called "Gruezi Deutschland."  The moderator (or host), Frank Baumann, ambles through Germany with a crew, walking up to people on the street saying, "Gruezi [the Swiss German 'hello'] followed by "I'm from Switzerland."  Some walk away and others engage.  Baumann affably and disarmingly eases into what turns into an interview, with compliments about how nice people in Germany have been.  Sometimes he lets people talk--the street piano player in Berlin fulminated that one woman in the apartments above his location loved his playing while another routinely called the cops.  "Ein verdammter Zwist" observed Baumann sagely.  ("A damn conflict")  The street musician responded sadly with "es ist ein Dilemma."    Baumann in his reports and interviews found the raw points of German history and politics.  He kept hearing that it was too expensive and impractical to have children, although a genial couple he encountered in Munich disagreed heartily.  Germans in the former GDR he spoke with generally lauded or accepted the changes but lamented the loss of social cohesion--one gentleman in Dresden said that Germany had grown colder.   Perhaps the most interesting interview was Baumann's brief interview with an astonishingly testy and impatient Chancellor Merkel, conducted in Stralsund.   The Chancellor seemed inexplicably badly briefed about what she was doing with Baumann and quite put off by his approach asking, at one point (more or less), "when does the interview start?"  He explained that they were in the middle.    In a visit to the town of Prora on the Baltic island Rugen, Baumann picked up all the threads of recent German history.  Prora is where Hitler built what was intended to be a seaside resort for workers--a vast 5 kilometer long barracks-like monolith.  World War II brought construction to a halt.   The vast hideous construction housed Soviet troops and there have been half-hearted efforts to find a use for it.  Baumann found an eccentric, disheveled artist occupying some of the space, making bright-colored geometric paintings, for which he had elaborate explanations.  A German couple Baumann encountered outside the complex happily explained why it was important that the renewal of the eastern part of Germany be subsidized.  (And they were from the wealthier west.)

Striking in all this (at least to me) is the profound differences between the histories and cultures of Germany and Switzerland.  A German journalist making the same sojourn across Switzerland would, of course, find no brooding, empty structures.  And the conversations would be quite different.  (When Baumann somewhat coyly mentioned to the Chancellor that a lot of Germans emigrate to Switzerland to find work, her eyes narrowed perceptibly and she coolly allowed that there were good opportunities in Germany.  I tried to envision the response of Calmy-Rey or Doris Leuthard to the obverse of that question--probably more diplomatic and less defensive.)  I fear that the German version of Baumann would find Switzerland a bit undramatic.  Which is a good thing, but probably explains why Swiss TV has so many excellent features on exotic and unstable places.