Events in Switzerland to look out for in 2014

After seeing its fair share of unique events last year, including the Zürifäscht and Eidgenössisches Schwing-und Älplerfest (I don’t even want to try to translate this), it’s time to have a brief look at which events will be having an impact in Switzerland this year.

Film Festivals

Switzerland will see its fair share of film festivals in 2014, starting this month with the Solothurner Filmtage (23.01-30.01) which focuses on Swiss movies and starts off the festival calendar. In summer, fantasy film fans will be able to attend the Neuchatel International Fantastic Film Festival (04.07 – 12.07) before the stage is set for the two biggest festivals in the country. The Festival del Film Locarno takes place in the beautiful town from August 6 to August 16. One month later, the Zurich Film Festival celebrates its 10th anniversary starting September 25 and running through October 5.

Movie fans should definitely mark these dates in their calendars as they often represent a chance to see movies that struggle to find distributors and of course, to soak in a little of Hollywood glamour.

Music Festivals

As every year, the festival summer in Switzerland offers choices for everyone. The most renown festival internationally, the Montreux Jazz Festival, takes place from July 4 to 19. Indie fans will get to see their favorite acts in St. Gallen (26.06 – 29.06), Zurich (28.08 – 31.08) and on the Gurten (17.07 – 20.07), while hiphop an rap fans can enjoy their idols in Frauenfeld (10.07 – 12.07) and Biel (22.08 and 23.08).

Of course, the festivals are not only the only chances to see popular musical acts these years. Pop sensation Justin Timberlake is stopping by Zurich on April 15 for his world tour. Rock Legends Metallica will play in Basel on July 7th. The Backstreet Boys will be in Zurich in March. Of course, more stars are bound to announce their concerts throughout the year.

World Cup Public Viewing

With the Football World Cup taking place in Brazil this year, Europe benefit from very advantageous kick-off times. With Switzerland being drawn into a group with Ecuador, France and Honduras, I hope our national team will be able to progress into the knockout stage of the tournament. But even without a successful Swiss team, bars and pubs throughout the country should be showing the games on their TVs, creating spots for public viewing. It remains to be seen if large-scale screens will be set up in cities, but it has been done before and might be repeated this summer. This would give sports fans the opportunity to watch the games with likeminded people, especially if it coincides with terrific summer weather.

These are just some of the more interesting events taking place in Switzerland this year. Of course, should I come across anything else interesting, I’ll make sure to let you know.
As you might have read, I’m changing posting days to Tuesday and Thursday, so I’m back the day after tomorrow with the 31st chapter of my story. Until then, I remain

sincerely yours,
Albert

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Switzerland’s Winter Wonderland

It’s finally December and with the last month of the year, winter holds the country in an even stronger grasp than normal. I don’t care for snow and/or the alps, but for most people, it is the best time to leave behind the towns and villages in the lowland for some relaxation and fun among the mountains. So in today’s post, we’ll have a brief look at the three regions most commonly associated with skiing, snowboarding and being a winter wonderland.

Bernese Oberland

An hour away of the capital, Bern, lies the spectacular and beautiful Bernese Oberland. At the foot of the Bernese Alps lie the two sister lakes, the Lake Thun and the Lake Brienz, connecting by the river Aar. The Oberland offers a variety of beautiful alpine resorts. Grindelwald is famous for its breathtaking view of the menacing north wall of the Eiger, a mountain that has claimed its fair share of mountaineers. Wengen, home of the yearly Lauberhorn ski race, offers the opportunity to glide in the path of the professionals, while even James Bond enjoyed his stay in the nearby Mürren.

Valais

South of the Bernese Oberland lies the beautiful, bilingual canton of Valais. Zermatt lies at the foot of Switzerland’s most iconic mountain, the Matterhorn. Leukerbad is famous for his thermal baths, which make even the coldest of winters more bearable. Thanks to the NEAT initiative, the canton is much more accessible than before and can be reached by travelling through the Bernese Oberland. The canton is also home to Crans-Montana, a resort popular due to its yearly golf tournament and Switzerland’s highest mountain, the Dufourspitze.

Grisons

Grisons is about one-and-a-half hours away from Zurich and offers a variety of idyllic mountain retreats. December is a great time to visit Davos before it is taken over by business magnates and politicians during the Global Economic Forum. The Spengler Cup right after Christmas offers entertainment and low-level hockey action. St. Moritz is famed among the rich and famous, but the towns around it are quieter and prettier. Have a lookout for Samedan, Pontresina or Sils Maria. The whole Engadin valley is beautiful and secluded, but well worth the trip.

But if you’re more interested in getting away from the snow and the cold, a trip to the Ticino might be more to your liking. That, however, is a story for another day.A

As always, have a great start to the week and please like, share and subscribe!

Sincerely yours,

Albert

A Primer on Swiss Plebiscites

Yesterday, Switzerland went to the polls for the fourth and last time this year. The country has a unique political system with an almost unrivalled amount of influence given to voters. Today’s post tries to give you a quick summary of our plebiscites, a pillar of our direct democracy.

Apart from electing a parliament featuring 200 members of the National Council (Nationalräte) and 46 members of the Council of States (Ständeräte) every four years, the Swiss Public votes on crucial issues four times a year. There are three types of questions that can be answered on these voting dates.

1. Mandatory Referendums

Any modification of the constitution and any participation in supranational institutions have to be voted on by the public. Two of the best known mandatory referendums were the vote to join the EWR (declined in 1992) and the vote to join the United Nations (narrowly accepted in 2002). Important to know is that an amendment does not only have to be voted for by the majority of citizens, but also by the majority of cantons (Ständemehr). This is to ensure a form of parity between smaller and larger cantons.

2. Optional Referendums

Any law accepted by the Federal Assembly can be brought to a vote by the public, if 50’000 signatories are found to support the referendum. Yesterday, the country voted on the new national road law (Nationalstrassengesetz), which included price hike for the highway pass (Vignette). The public voted in support of the referendum and against the change of the law, which means that the cost of vignetter remains steady at 40 Francs.

These referendums also includes votes on certain contracts between countries, such as the Schengen pact or the contracts between Switzerland and the European Union (Bilaterale Verträge).

3. Federal Popular Initiatives

An instrument that has gained in popularity in the last couple of years are the popular initiatives. Citizens and political parties may collect 100’000 signatures for one of their causes and the public will be able to vote on its inclusion in the constitution. Many of the more controversial political decisions have been made due to these initiatives. The ban of minarets was a huge topic in international media after its acceptance in a 2009.

Both of the initiatives presented to voters yesterdays were rejected. The first one, the “Family Initiative” wanted to give traditional families, who raise their own children at home, a tax discount. The second one was far more controversial as the initiative by the JUSO (Young Socialists) aspired to have a 1:12 formula for salaries in firms. The highest salary would have been allowed to be only 12 times as large as the lowest.

Other interesting initiatives voted on in the recent past were the initiative against exorbitant salaries (Abzockerinitiative), against second homes (Zweitwohnungsinitiative) and for deportation of deliquent foreigners (Ausschaffungsinitiative). And the future holds more interesting initiatives to come such as one against mass immigration proposed by the far right (Masseneinwanderungsinitiative) and for a minimal wage proposed by the parties on the left (Mindestlohninitiative).

Swiss citizens have the great chance to influence politics on so many levels. It’s a pity that not of all us make use of this extraordinary privilege. If you have more questions about Swiss plebiscites, just leave it in the comments or ask me on Twitter!

Until Wednesday, I remain

sincerely yours,
Albert

What’s going on in Zurich

During the last weeks, university work has been catching up with me, which leaves with little time to write. But luckily, that should change after Wednesday, when an important deadline passes. You can expect more content in the next weeks, including my favorite books and movies of the year as well as at least three more chapters of “An Elusive Hero”.

As for the part of my blog where I talk about Switzerland, my work has prevented me from travelling around as much as I’d like to. But I’d like to tell you about a few interesting happenings going on in the next weeks.

The Ice-Rink on the Polyterrasse

In the next two weeks, the Polyterrasse near the ETH main campus will feature an ice-rink for young and old. The rink is 15 x 30 meters big and offers guests the possibility to skate at one of the best spots of the city.  It is open mostly in the late afternoon, except on weekends, where it opens between 2pm and 10pm on Saturday as well as 2pm and 8pm on Sunday. Skates can be rented on location. The Ice Rink is supposedly staying on the Polyterrasse until November 30, the night of the Polyball, so you have two weeks to check it out!

The Polyball

The Polyball is the traditional ball at the ETH Zurich, which has been held for the last 130 years. This year, the festivities take place on Saturday, November 30, with the motto “New York Nights”. The detailed program of the party, which starts at 7 pm and runs through 5 am the next morning, can be found on their official website. However, the cost of attending is pretty high, as tickets cost 89.- for non-students if ordered before the event and 94.- on the evening itself. But since it is an event full of glamour and tradition, it might be worth the money.

The Christmas Market at Bellevue

And as the month comes to a close, the Christmas feeling will be in the air all around the city. As many German and Swiss cities, Zurich also has its own Christmas market, serving winter specialties like “Glühwein” and candy canes. It’s location on the newly built Sechseläutenplatz puts the market in an accessible downtown area. Anyone wanting to get into the Christmas spirit early will have ample opportunity start November 28 running through December 24.

That’s whats going on in Zurich in the next few weeks. If you have any more tips, please let me know!

Sincerely yours,

Albert

 

Tennis, Books and more!

This week is quite a busy week for me, so my post today will be a bit shorter than usual. A few interesting events are going on in Switzerland in the next few days, so I wanted to give you a quick overview of all the interesting experiences you can gain.

Let’s start off with some sports, as the ATP Swiss Indoors Tournament will be played in Basel this week. The tournament is one of the most important indoor tennis tournaments and will host some of the greatest players around this year. Roger Federer, one of the greatest players to ever hold a racket, will be appearing in his hometown as well, hoping to keep the title in the country. Stanislas Wawrinka, who has played an amazing season thus far, will try to do the same. Other fantastic players fighting for glory are Richard Gasquet (FRA), Juan Martin del Potro (ARG) or Nikolai Davydenko (RUS). For anyone interested in sports and tennis specifically, the tournament is the best chance to see it in Switzerland!

As everyone reading this blog regularly knows, I read a lot. And this weekend a fantastic event for book lovers takes place in Zurich as the city hosts “Zürich liest” (Zurich reads).
Over 100 events can be visited in Zurich, Winterthur and the adjacent regions. It starts this Thursday and runs through Sunday. I’ll be visiting a reading from Swiss-American author Stefan Bachmann on Friday at 8pm at “The Bookshop by Orell Füssli”, so maybe I’ll catch you there. Other notable events include the opening of the festival on Thursday at the Kaufleuten and a reading by the nominees for the Swiss Book Award on Friday at the Literaturhaus Museumgesellschaft. However, it is a predominantly German-speaking literature festival, so it might be difficult for non-German speakers to follow all of the action. A lot of the events are aimed at children, so families will find their fair share of opportunities to learn more about the magical world of books. For a full schedule, check out their website.

And last, but not least, the Basler Herbstmesse starts on October 26. The traditional fair has been around for over 500 years and offers it’s 1 million visitors various events. There will be Basler specialties, fun rides and the whole city will be full of interesting booths. The fair runs until November 10. I’ve never visited it before, but plan on checking it out this year, if I find the time. For more information, check out this website.

So that’s it from me for today. If you have any other events to recommend, please let me know on Twitter or in the comments!

Have a great week.

Sincerely yours,

Albert

Staying Indoors in Switzerland (Part 1)

The coming weekend is filled with fantastic events in Switzerland. In Zurich, music fans can listen to fantastic acts such as the Arctic Monkeys, the XX or Ellie Goulding at the local
open-air festival. Supporters of the traditional Swiss wrestling sports will gather in Burgdorf near Bern to watch a new national champion be crowned. Luckily for them, the weather seems to be looking up just in time after temperatures have dropped in
the last days. On the other hand, getting tickets for the two events will be either difficult or very pricey. But these events also slowly mark the end of summer of coming, so the focus of my blog posts will shift to discussing more indoor in the next months. 

If you’ve followed my other posts on this site, you might know that some of my greatest interests are books, movies and games of all kind, so I try to find a balance between invigorating night outs and introspective quiet evenings at home. So here are some
suggestions for indoor activities in Switzerland in the next few months.

Watch a hockey game

I’m not particularly interested in hockey (though it’s cool my adopted hometown team SC Bern won last years championship), but the atmosphere at hockey stadiums in Switzerland is often better than at football games. The stadiums are mostly packed or even sold out,
with fans of away teams often travelling the short distncess with their respective teams. Even though it takes time to get used to the fast-paced sport, an evening at a stadium is a great way to see some of the enthusiasm of Swiss sports fans and get a taste of local rivalries. Interesting games to watch are the games between the ZSC Lions (Zurich) and Davos, Bern and Fribourg or Ambri and Lugano, which often draw sell-out crowds and are intense contest thanks to their shared history. Hockey season resumes September 12.

Eat a traditional Fondue or Raclette

In the Romandie, having Fondue or Raclette is a pleasure all year around. In the German-speaking part of country, the Suisse Allemands prefer to enjoy their cheese in the
colder months. The two dishes are perfect to be enjoyed in groups in the comfort of a warm restaurant or dining room. Combined with a good white wine or some excellent tea, they’re the perfect introduction to Swiss cuisine and obviously a can’t miss activity
for visitors and new residents alike. In Zurich, great fondues can be found at the restaurants “Le Dezaley” and “Walliserstube”, while I prefer to enjoy raclette at home or at a friend’s place. Just be sure to make sure you don’t lose your bread in the pot, as you’ll
owe the table a bottle of wine or a kiss.

Visit a Castle

One of the great pleasures during my childhood visits to Switzerland was to explore some of the medieval castles scattered all over the country with my parents. Many
castles are well-preserved and cover a wide range of styles. The Kyburg near Winterthur is more of a fort with fascinating medieval weaponry on display, while the Chillon Castle on Lake Geneva is stunning with its unique location right on the lake. Additionally, many smaller cities like Thun, Murten or Lenzburg have castles open for the public focusing on their history or defensive roles. These castles are great places to start a journey to medieval Switzerland. I hope to show you some of the castles in more detail in a future post, as I plan to revisit some of these places in the near future.

So, these are some of my tips for cold days or days you’d just rather stay somewhere with a roof over your head. More tips to follow next Monday with part 2!

Have a great start to the week. Sincerely yours,
Albert