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German word of the day: Sommerzeit

The clocks are springing ahead this weekend, marking the beginning of daylight saving time and the end of the dark winter period. Aptly described in German as die Sommerzeit, here is the history of how the practice came about.

German word of the day: Sommerzeit
Photo credit: Francesco Ungaro / Unsplash + Nicolas Raymond / flickr

Why do I need to know this word?

The phrase, which sounds like this, will come in handy in German-speaking parts of Switzerland this weekend if you want to lament a lost hour of sleep in the morning or celebrate the extra hour of daylight in the evening. 

What does it mean? 

Die Sommerzeit translates to “summer time” or “summer season,” and refers to daylight saving time, which begins this weekend in many European countries, including Switzerland. At 2 am on Sunday March 26th, the clocks will spring forward one hour ahead, leading to more daylight. 

In the UK, this period is known as “British Summer Time” – one hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time – while in North America, daylight saving time is used more commonly. 

In French-speaking Switzerland it’s usually known as passage à l’heure d’été, and in Italian speaking Switzerland it’s ora legale.

What’s the history of daylight savings?

As it turns out, the concept of die Sommerzeit in Europe originated in Germany. The German Empire, along with Austria-Hungary, introduced the practice in 1916 in order to conserve fuel during World War I, with the idea being that the extra daylight would reduce the use of artificial lighting, allowing the surplus fuel to be put towards the war efforts. Within weeks, many other countries across Europe followed suit. In the following years, the practice spread to Australia and the U.S as well.

But after the war, daylight saving grew unpopular in Europe. It wasn’t used on a large scale again until World War II, when Germany again popularised the practice. But a few years after the war ended, it fell out of favour for the second time.

It only picked up again when France reintroduced it in 1976, in response to an energy crisis sparked by the oil embargo in 1973. Switzerland was the last European country to adopt it in 1981. It’s been in place since then – despite attempts to reverse it through referendums.

Cuckoo clocks

Remember to change the time on your cuckoo clock. Image by Regina Basaran from Pixabay

By 1996, the EU standardised the saving time schedule, which now runs from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October. 

But the future of daylight saving time is uncertain. In 2019, the European Parliament voted to abolish the practice of changing the clocks, however efforts to actually implement this measure have stalled.

When the EU voted for this, Switzerland said it would follow their lead. But as debates continue on daylight saving, who knows when things will change.  So at least for this year, die Sommerzeit will continue.  

READ ALSO: Why Switzerland hasn’t called time on daylight savings

Use it like this: 

Wann beginnt die Sommerzeit? 

When does daylight saving time start?

Ich kann die Sommerzeit kaum erwarten!

I can’t wait for daylight saving time!

With reporting by Rachel Loxton

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For members


Putsch: How one Swiss German word became known around the world

Swiss German is notoriously difficult for many people to understand, even those who speak 'Hochdeutsch'. But there is a famous term that has made it into the global vocabulary.

Putsch: How one Swiss German word became known around the world

Swiss Germans are incredibly proud of their wide variety of dialects, known as Schwyzerdütsch.

But it’s fair to say that these dialects are not well known outside of Switzerland. In fact, even some High German speakers struggle with understanding Swiss German. 

But according to a report in Swiss newspaper Blick, there is a famous word used in other languages that actually originated from Swiss German. 

And no, it isn’t Müesli, which is probably the most famous Swiss German export.

READ ALSO: Swiss German vs Hochdeutsch: What are the key differences? 

The word is ‘putsch’, which many people around the world use in a political context to mean a coup, or an attempt to overthrow a government.

According to the report, ‘putsch’ originated from the Zurich dialect of the 19th century.


At that time in Zurich, putsch meant knock, thrust, clash, bang or push.

This type of clash happened in Zurich’s Paradeplatz on September 6th 1839. It involved thousands of members of the rural conservative population who stormed against the liberal rule of the city of Zurich.

The insurgents saw the position of the church threatened, feared for their traditions and felt abandoned by the government and townspeople.

The putsch, which was led by Pastor Bernhard Hirzel, cost the lives of 14 insurgents and a member of the government council. The Zurich government abdicated, and the rebels celebrated this as a success. In the long run, however, the uprising had no effect.

A painting shows fighting during the Züriputsch 1839.

A painting shows fighting during the Züriputsch in 1839. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/ Zentralbibliothek Zürich

The events received a lot of attention abroad. German newspapers reported on the ‘Züriputsch’. In France and Britain, reports spoke of “le putsch” or “the putsch” in Switzerland.

In the decades after 1839, the term gained popularity. According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, it became even more well known in English around the Kapp Putsch of 1920, when Wolfgang Kapp and his right-wing supporters attempted to overthrow the German Weimar government.

Putsch attempts were common in Weimar Germany, so the word appeared often in the stories of British journalists who described the events

Adolf Hitler’s attempt to gain power with the National Socialists in the Bürgerbräukeller in Munich on November 9th 1923 went down in history as the “Hitler Putsch” or “Beer Hall Putsch”. These events helped the Swiss German word achieve a global breakthrough.

READ ALSO: Why November 9th is a fateful day in German history

In 1958 and 1961, when sections of the French military campaigned for Algeria to remain part of France, they revolted against the government in Paris. The resistance failed both times and the North African country became independent in 1962. The events found their way into the French history books as the “putsch d’Alger” and the “putsch des généraux”.

In recent history, former US President Donald Trump’s supporters tried to enact a putsch in Washington DC in January 2021. In neighbouring Germany, a group of far-right extremists were arrested in a suspected plot to overthrow the government in December 2022. And in June this year, the leader of the Russian Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, failed in a revolt against the Russian government.

So if this word is part of your vocabulary then congratulations – you already speak (a little) Schwyzerdütsch.