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From ogres to hermits: 11 weird facts that show Switzerland is truly unique

With Swiss National Day upon us on August 1st, this is a good time to explore some unusual and fascinating - though perhaps not widely known - facts about Switzerland.

From ogres to hermits: 11 weird facts that show Switzerland is truly unique
Switzerland is celebrating its birthday on August 1st. Image by annca from Pixabay

The mere mention of August 1st likely conjures up images of the beautiful Rütli meadow, where Switzerland’s foundations were reportedly laid in 1291.

This was when representatives from Uri, Schwyz and Nidwalden signed the Federal Charter promising to “assist each other by every means possible against one and all who may inflict on them violence or injustice within their valleys and without”.

And the rest, as the saying goes, is history.

However, beyond this story that defines the beginnings of Switzerland, there are other, though lesser known, historical and cultural aspects of this country’s past and present that are worth looking at as the country celebrates its 731st birthday.

Here’s a compilation of some curious, unusual and interesting facts, as well as typically Swiss quirks and oddities.

Switzerland has a pyramid

Everyone knows that Alps occur naturally in Switzerland, but you don’t expect to find a pyramid here.

While it is not at all like its namesakes in Egypt — for one, it is a wonder of nature rather than man-made — the Swiss pyramid, called the Niesen, forms a perfectly geometric peak.

Unattached to other mountains in the Bernese Alps where it lives, it stands alone, scenically overlooking the Thun Lake. You can see it here.

Satanic chicken

According to a book titled “A Pilgrim’s Almanac”, in 1471 a chicken in Basel laid a colourful egg.

The townsfolk immediately accused the poor bird of being possessed by the devil and burned it at the stake (that was before barbecues were invented).

Is this how the term ‘devilled eggs’ originate? We are not sure.

Fish with rights

Fast-forward to the 21st century and various animal welfare laws.

In fact, a Zurich lawyer, Antoine Goetschel, dedicated his career to defending animal rights in court.

He made headlines in 2010, when he represented a 22-pound pike that he claimed suffered when a local fisherman roughly yanked it for 10 minutes before pulling it from icy waters of Lake Zurich.

Fishing for trouble? Photo: Pexels

Lobsters with rights

By the same token, in 2018 Switzerland passed a law making it illegal to boil a live lobster, deeming this practice cruel, as lobsters apparently feel pain.

Instead, this legislation, the first of its kind in the world, calls for a more humane death by “rendering lobsters unconscious” before tossing them into scalding water.

Monkeys with rights

Alright, so it might appear a trend is emerging here, but in 2022 the Swiss canton of Basel City went to the polls to vote on a referendum topic to give primates rights

Voters however were not monkeying around, dismissing the idea by a 75 percent majority. 

Bern ogre

As The Local reported, Switzerland’s capital city has a scary Kindlifresserbrunnen,  which translates literally as the Fountain of the Eater of Little Children.

“Perhaps even more concerning is that nobody knows much about the statue, least of all why it’s eating a naked baby – and presumably planning on eating a few more out of the bulging sack”. 

There are several theories which attempt to explain what the statue is actually supposed to represent. Some are kooky, while others are incredibly problematic. 

A major theory is that the statue is a representation of the Krampus, a mythical creature across much of German-speaking Europe who comes out at Christmas time to punish the kids that have been misbehaving – although we’re not exactly sure how a kid is supposed to learn his or her lesson by being eaten. 

There’s trouble in Bern. Photo: Mike Lehmann – Wikicommons, CC BY-SA 3.0

READ MORE : The Swiss capital Bern has a statue of an ogre eating babies and nobody knows why

A woman town crier

After over 600 years of night watchmen, a woman’s voice now resounds loud and clear over Lausanne. 

Since she was hired for the job in August 2021, the watchwoman has been announcing the hours every night between 10 pm and 2 am from the bell tower of the city’s imposing Gothic cathedral, a landmark overlooking the roofs of the picturesque Old Town.

READ MORE: After 600 years of night watchmen, Lausanne gets first watchwoman


The term Bünzli is a Swiss-German insult to describe a particular type of person who is set in their ways, is narrow-minded and tries desperately hard to hang onto tradition.

They are fussy, fastidious, stodgy, and invariably dull rule- sticklers.

Curiously enough, there are no equivalent characters in the French or Italian part of Switzerland — make of it what you will. 

This article describes in more detail what a Bünzli is:

Reader question: What is Switzerland’s ‘Bünzli’ and how do I spot one?

Not a Bünzli, but a hermit

In 2016, the town of Solothurn advertised a job vacancy for a hermit to live a solitary existence in a secluded cave-like cabin near a gorge.

His job description : take care of nearby chapel and dispense wisdom to tourists.

Former policeman Michael Daum snagged the position that has existed since the 15th century. By all accounts, he is not a Bünzli.

Love of cow bells church clocks

The Swiss have a special fondness for hearing the sound of cow bells and chiming of church clocks in the tower — no matter how loud, how frequent, and how late at night.

People — who often just happen to be foreigners — complaining about the lack of sleep due to incessant noise are ostracised and denied Swiss citizenship.

These silence-seeking individuals can always apply for jobs as hermits.

The chiming of a church clock makes the Swiss happy. Image by Alexa from Pixabay 

READ MORE: ‘Annoying’ anti-cowbell campaigner denied Swiss passport

Cows rule

The Swiss love their cows, with or without bells around their necks.

They combine this love of cattle with their penchant for keeping statistics. This way they know how many cows there are in Switzerland: approximately 1.5 million.

Not only that, but they also know what names are most popular among bovines : the top five are Fiona, Diana, Bella, Bianca and Nina.

No, that is not weird at all.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Why are cows so important in Switzerland?

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For members


OPINION: Why so many Swiss are quitting the church and taking their money with them

It's not only the glaciers in Switzerland that are shrinking, the main churches are also shedding members every year, gradually changing the religious profile of the country. Clare O’Dea, a recent church leaver, asks what this means for society. 

OPINION: Why so many Swiss are quitting the church and taking their money with them

Along with the usual reasons for abandoning religion – loss of faith, rejection of the teachings, or a dislike of the institution – Swiss residents also have a financial incentive to take this step. 

Members of the three state-recognised churches – the Roman Catholic Church, the (Protestant) Reformed Church and the tiny Christian Catholic Church – are automatically subject to a special church tax collected by the tax authorities in all but two cantons: Geneva and Neuchâtel. Ticino offers taxpayers an opt-out. 

Depending on the canton, the tax is calculated as a percentage of other taxes paid, or as a percentage of the household’s overall taxable wealth and income. A church member earning an average salary could expect to pay between 200 and 400 francs per year. Remarkably, companies are also subject to church tax. 

This steady stream of income is good news for the churches, which are in a position to pay all their bills and have generous salaries. The average salary for a priest or pastor, according to the last ‘Salary Book’ (Lohnbuch), a 700-page survey published by canton Zurich, was 9,000 francs per month. 

READ ALSO: Do I have to pay ‘church tax’ in Switzerland?

A view of Zermatt including the church.

A view of Zermatt including the church. Many people are leaving congregations in Switzerland. Photo: Steppinstars/Pixabay

Opting out

But what if you don’t feel like footing the bill anymore? Those who want to leave their religious community (Jewish congregations pay tax in three cantons) and consequently stop paying the tax must declare their wish in writing. Last year, that group numbered around 65,000 people – 34,600 Catholics and 30,393 Protestants. 

But this exodus doesn’t necessarily trigger alarm bells for the leadership of the churches. The trend has been visible and talked about for the past 30 years at least, and there are still enough faithful – 2.89 million Catholics and 1.92 million Protestants – to keep the coffers full. 

Switzerland has changed from having an almost 100 percent religious-affiliated population in 1970, to the point today where one third of Swiss residents over the age of 15 now have no religious affiliation. 

When I set the wheels in motion to go churchless by sending a resignation letter to my parish earlier this year, I was advised in the response to inform my nearest and dearest of the move “to avoid any misunderstanding that could arise in the near or distant future”. In other words, forget about a church funeral. 

That won’t be a problem. With such a large, growing share of non-believers in Switzerland, secular celebrants are moving in to fill the gap for major life events, especially funerals. I’m even considering training for the role myself. 

READ ALSO: Can I have a religious wedding or funeral if I don’t pay church tax?

Secular land?

But there is a wider dimension to this phenomenon than individual destinies. We could reach a point in the not-too-distant future when Switzerland will no longer be a majority Christian country. 

When it comes to being devout, we have probably already reached that point. Many church members rarely attend services and are not fully observant in terms of following religious teachings to the letter. 

Swiss laws relating to marriage, reproduction and sexuality already starkly contradict the teachings of the old established religions, and nobody bats an eyelid. 

However, even with this type of à la carte Christianity, the cultural imprint in daily life remains strong. Alongside the physical presence of 6,000 churches, chapels and monasteries in the country, religion is embedded in festivals and rituals, language and personal beliefs. 

Catholics are still the largest religious community by a sliver – 32.9 percent Catholic versus 32.3 percent for no religion – according to the 2021 figures for people aged 15 and over. Members of the Reformed Church are down to 21.1 percent of the population, with other Christian communities making up 5.6 percent. Muslims are the next largest single group at 5.7 percent.


Graph: Swiss Federal Statistical Office

One important reason why the Reformed Church has taken more of a hit is because the missing flock in the Catholic church have been replaced with immigrants like me. Though some of these people may eventually leave the community, as I did this summer. 

What goes into a decision like this? One thing is sure, many people continue with a given religion out of habit or passivity. When I arrived in Switzerland 20 years ago, I must have checked the ‘Catholic’ box on a form somewhere. That would have been my chance to sever ties but I didn’t seize it. 

For those who are born here, the state-affiliated churches “capture” members at birth. Parents registering a birth have a choice to tick a box for religion. That information is recorded for posterity by the authorities until they hear otherwise. Young people are liable for church tax from the age of 20.


The Catholic Church’s woeful handling of child sexual abuse cases – long a reason for disillusionment among members – was back in the headlines in Switzerland this September, when a former senior cleric from the diocese of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg went public with allegations that six bishops had covered up cases of sexual abuse in recent years. 

This scandal was followed within days by the release of damning research on historical abuse by two historians, Monika Dommann and Marietta Meier of the University of Zurich. It will be interesting to see if these revelations push the number of leavers higher this year, although, as with the banks, there is almost always a fresh scandal about the Catholic Church in the news. 

READ ALSO: Study reveals hundreds of sexual abuse victims in Swiss Catholic Church

The Freethinkers Association, established in 1908, publishes guidance on leaving the church in Switzerland, including a letter template. The association points out that every person has the constitutional right to leave the church at any time with immediate effect. The freedom to go, the freedom to stay – you can’t ask for more than that.