10 things you didn't know about Switzerland

Updated: Nov 6, 2020

As a non-swiss citizen there were so many new facts and stories that I didn't know before - I could list some of the traditional stuff (e.g. that Switzerland has 4 official languages) but in this blog I'd rather go into some points where people have to ask twice - really?!? Especially the last one is so fascinating and terrifying at the same time. So let's dig in...

Boat on Lake Lucern with Swiss Flag

1. Voting Rights for Women

You might think with all the international institutions (e.g. UN or International Red cross who are based in Switzerland for centuries now) and the democratic image that Switzerland embodies, that the Swiss women had the right to vote as probably one of the first worldwide.

cubes of wood for voting | Switzerland | Voting rights

But it is actually the opposite: Just 1971 the right to vote for women was introduced by federal vote. Switzerland was therefore one of the last European countries which granted its female population full civil rights. And to cap it all it took another nearly 20 years until the last canton of Switzerland finally introduced the women voting right on a cantonal level.

Why is that so? That can be explained by the constitution of Switzerland and its direct democracy. For bills relating directly to the constitution, all the people who are entitled to vote have to actually vote about it. Which means back in that time all the people who were entitled to vote were men.

2. Why are there only a few Swiss whiskeys or similar spirits?

Glass of whiskey | Switzerland | Blog

Well, certainly Whiskey is something that is traditionally produced in Scotland, Ireland and America. But usually countries do have similar spirits on their own made out of grain - such as Vodka or Korn. In Switzerland it was forbidden until July 1, 1999 to make spirits from staple foods such as grain and potatoes. The corresponding law dates back from 1885 and was tightened again in 1930 to protect the population from the gasping alcohol abuse. The law also served agriculture to protect local spirits made from fruits. Luckily today we are able to enjoy fine whiskeys that are produced in Switzerland as well.

3. Kim Yong-un went to school in Switzerland

Even though there is no physical evidence, there are several reports that the northkorean dictator went to school in Switzerland. Under a false name and passport he and his siblings probably went to school for a couple of years in the 90s in Bern.

4. The Swiss Alps are full of military bunkers, shelters and protected premises

As weird as it sounds, the Swiss alps are perforated like a Swiss cheese. The first category are the military installations which go back to 1880. The so called "Reduit" or Redoubt was a defensive plan developed by the Swiss government to respond to foreign invasion. Even though Switzerland was never involved, the fear of a German invasion during the second world war was always there.

Schöllenen gorge | devilsbridge | Andermatt

The idea is simple: Fall back into your huge net of fortifications and military installations in the Swiss Alps (which work already as a defensive shield), protect all accesses and in worst case, blow up all tunnels, bridges and mountain passes. Today you can visit some of these bunkers and even spend a night in them - if you dare.

The second category goes back to the cold war and the fear of a nuclear strike. By law there has to be a shelter space for every inhabitant. Not all of them are in the alps, but all communities and cantons are obliged to install this kind of shelters. This results in about 360 000 personal protection rooms, plus around 1700 protective systems. They should also be available in case of other disasters and emergencies, e.g. an earthquake or risk of an avalanche.

The funny part about all these shelters is, that you probably won't notice them until someone points you directly to them. They are painted as normal houses or in the mountains you only see some holes here and there.

5. Guinea pigs must be held at least as a pair of two

Guinea Pig | Swiss animal protection ordinance