For members


Swiss TV: The shows that will help you understand Swiss society

So, you've got a good grasp of an official Swiss language but still feel like there are some cultural references you don't quite get? Don't worry! We've compiled a list of TV programmes to get you up to speed with Swiss society.

Swiss flags in a window in Zurich
Tune into some TV shows to help gain a better understanding of Swiss society. Photo by Etienne Girardet on Unsplash

Fascht e Familie

Granted, as Switzerland’s housing shortage rages on you may struggle to see the funny side of real estate, but perhaps there has never been a better excuse to dive into Swiss German cult classic Fascht e Familie (almost a family) – a comedy series with a property crisis at its core.

The series follows real estate agent Rolf Aebersold who is set on selling his aunt Martha’s house without her knowing, but the ad mistakenly ends up in the newspaper section ‘Furnished rooms for rent’. Rather than calling her nephew out on his plan and resigning herself to a future in a retirement home, however, the tough old lady opens her home to several tenants who quickly become just like family, united in their fight against the nasty real estate agent who repeatedly threatens their home with his shenanigans.

The main setting of the show is the shared kitchen, and every episode presents new problems and mayhem – ideal for those eager to practice their language skills. The series ran for five seasons from 1994 to 1999 and won the Prix Walo, also knows as the Swiss Oscar. You can still catch the series on SRF Play and there’s good news for those not quite fluent in Swiss German, cough, cough – you can also watch the series on DVD in standard German.

READ ALSO: How Switzerland’s urban housing shortage is spreading to the countryside


If you’re in the mood for something shorter and less demanding of your language skills, then Gotthard is a great pick. The two-parter, available on Amazon Prime, is one of the costliest and most historically complex movies to ever be produced in Switzerland and just for that (expense) alone, well worth a watch.

The production is set in Göschenen in the founding canton of Uri and does a terrific job in showcasing the inhumane labour conditions workers faced during the construction of the Gotthard Tunnel in the late 19th century. Gotthard follows the fates of three young people as they navigate love, friendship and suffering during the “Gründerzeit” (founding period). The movie can be watched in Swiss German, standard German, French, and Italian with subtitles unavailable.

SRF’s ‘With the people’

TV shows and movies aside, if you really want to find out how the Swiss live it’s high time you tuned into the Swiss broadcaster’s SRF bi de Lüt (SRF with the people). The entertainment show, a Swiss favourite, brings viewers closer to contemporary Switzerland – one region at a time. Every episode focuses on a unique theme, be it tradition and customs, music, food, culture, guest, or a live event, and is accompanied by handy standard German subtitles so you don’t have to decipher every local dialect (phew!).

In one episode, you can learn about trained florist and yodelling conductor Lydia Barmettler who runs two businesses – a leasehold company and a mountain business – in two different cantons alongside her husband Lukas, while another episode dives into the work-intensive life of hut wardens and their families living in the alps over spring to autumn.

It is also worth checking out SRF bi de Lüt ‘Heimweh’ (homesick) which sees Swiss people return to Switzerland and restart their ‘Swiss’ lives from scratch after years living abroad.


Pingu and his entourage have accompanied Swiss youngsters through their childhood since 1990. The series focuses on a family of anthropomorphic emperor penguins who reside in the South Pole and use Penguinese – a made-up penguin language – to communicate. Pingu himself is a young, playful, and curious penguin who goes through various adventures with his seal friend Robby in the short 5-minute episodes.

Created in Switzerland, the now cult stop motion series quickly garnered international success, both due to its creative storytelling and the lack of a real spoken language – most dialogue consists of babbling and muttering -, and was later revived for CBeebies from 2003 to 2006 before debuting on YouTube where kids from all over the world can still keep up with the rebel penguin today.

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For members


From condoms to vaccines: The most controversial rulings by Switzerland’s highest court

The Swiss Federal Court, the highest judicial authority in the country, has ruled on some highly contentious issues over the years.

From condoms to vaccines: The most controversial rulings by Switzerland’s highest court

Before we get to actual cases, it is important to understand how Switzerland’s justice system is set up.

There are different court levels.

When people file their cases with the legal system, their first contact are district courts, which group together judiciary authorities by local areas.

Many Swiss towns are too small to have their own courts, so a district court is just that — a court that covers several neighbouring communities.

If, say, you become involved in a civil lawsuit, a divorce case, or any kind of litigation or dispute, the case will be first be heard at the district court.

Most often, its rulings are final.

However, if you are not happy with the verdict of your district court, you can appeal it within 30 days, at which point your case will go to the higher judicial level, that is, the cantonal court.

Each canton has its own high court — Switzerland’s second most important judicial entity hierarchically.

Besides criminal cases, cantonal high courts hear civil claims, and there are also courts on cantonal level for administrative cases.

The next is the Federal court, the highest judicial authority in Switzerland.

Headquartered in Lausanne, it is the final instance on all appeals against decisions of the highest cantonal courts, as well as the three other federal courts, which deal with criminal, administrative and patent cases, respectively.

This chart shows how the judicial system is organised in Switzerland. 

READ ALSO: What you should know about Switzerland’s courts

This means that by the time a case (that is to say, the appeal) comes before federal judges, it has already been ruled on by lower courts.

This is what happened in these three recent controversial cases as well.

The condom

You might think that taxpayer-funded federal court should not spend its valuable time (and public money) on a case involving a condom, but it has done so nevertheless.

As Swiss media reported, on September 14th, the highest court ruled on a case that has been heard in the lower courts in Zurich since 2017.

It involved a young man (19 at the time), who took off his condom during sex with an 18-year-old woman, without, however, informing her or asking for her consent to do so.

This practice is called ‘“stealthing’ in English.

The woman filed a complaint in a district court of Bülach (Zurich) and, after a series of rulings and appeals through higher courts (see above), ended up before the federal tribunal.

The case took so long because it had many twists and turns.

Stealthing is not punishable by Swiss law, which is why both the district and cantonal court acquitted the young man

The Federal Court  also acquitted him, but reassessed the case from the perspective of sexual harassment. That ruling had stuck, and the young man must now pay a 2,500-franc fine, in addition to 7,200 francs in court costs.

Forced vaccine

In the most recent case, which The Local reported last week, the Federal Court sided with the man who wanted his ex-wife to be forced to vaccinate their two children against measles.

The mother, an anti-vaxxer, had refused to do so, and the long-winded battle between the parents, which made its way through the lower courts, eventually landed in the federal tribunal.

As it had done in several previous similar cases when parents didn’t see eye to eye about vaccinating their children, the court followed the  public health guidelines, which are clearly in favour of childhood immunisations.

Therefore, judges sided with the father, giving the mother an order to immunise her children against measles.

Parents can be made to vaccinate their children court ruled. Photo by charlesdeluvio on Unsplash

Assisted suicide

In another recent case, from June, the court acquitted a Swiss doctor, Erika Preisig, who was charged with homicide for helping a mentally ill patient die in a Basel assisted suicide clinic. 

Previously, predominantly people suffering from physical ailments could benefit from voluntary suicide, which is legal but well-regulated in Switzerland.
However, Preisig was charged because she had violated the previous Federal Court ruling, from 2006, which required a psychiatric evaluation on the patient before helping them die.

In June, the court overturned its old decision, finding that although Preisig had not obtained a psychiatric report, she had studied the medical records, had intensive discussions with the patient, questioned relatives, and obtained a second opinion. The mentally ill person was understood to have made a well-considered decision and was capable of judgement. 

The Federal Court had therefore confirmed that Preisig could assume, even without a psychiatric expert opinion, that the patient had a permanent wish to die, as she suffered from an incurable, permanent, severe mental impairment.

READ ALSO: What to know about Switzerland’s latest court judgement on assisted suicide


While obtaining Swiss citizenship is a long and complicated process, and rejections at communal level are often made arbitrarily, the Federal Court had sided with applicants on several occasions.
For instance, in 2018, the court ordered the commune of Trimmis in canton Graubünden to grant Swiss citizenship to an Iranian refugee who had lived in the community for 30 years. 

It reversed a ruling made previously by the lower court, which sided with local authorities who denied the man the right to become Swiss.