Border stories: Germany and Switzerland

by Katja Blöchlinger

A special feature of Konstanz, one of the places involved in the IstKon Exchange, is its proximity to a country border: The border Germany shares with Switzerland. In this article, I present some facts about factors connecting the two countries’ – and why (on some days) you can almost hear and see more Swiss people in Konstanz than Germans. So let’s start with fact number 1!

  1. Switzerland is not part of the European Union (EU), but still a Schengen country
    While Switzerland decided not to join the EU in the 90s (and is not going to join in the near future, as the political climate suggests), it is still part of many European treaties. One of them is the Schengen Agreement. The agreement deals with EU internal border control, which were constraint to a minimum. This is also the reason why the IstKon participants from Turkey can apply for a Schengen-Visa and can then not only enter Germany, but also casually walk over to Switzerland. And along these lines:
  2. The country border in Konstanz is the only art border in the world
    An art border you may ask? Yes, because you will not find fences here, but rather 22 red sculptures made of steel depicting the Tarot trumps. It was built in 2007 and is the only one of its kind in the whole world.
  3. Germany is Switzerland’s most important trade partner
    Switzerland is an export-oriented country and exports to Germany have been thriving for a considerable time now.  This is also due to the so-called Bilaterale Verträge (Bilateral Treaties) Switzerland has with the European Union, covering many topics from free movement of labor (people, essentially) and goods as well as agricultural issues and collaboration in science. The treaties enable straightforward trade.
  4. Yes, Swiss people do speak German – but not the standard one and not all of them!
    Swiss people are often confronted with the fact that foreigners assume they are speaking the standard German way – which they totally don’t. Many Germans, especially those coming from Northern Germany, have problems understanding the Swiss dialects (there are many of them, malicious gossips are to say that every five kilometers people speak differently) and are surprised when they come to Switzerland and cannot understand the people there perfectly well.
    Actually, only about 60% grow up speaking Swiss German (one of the many dialects around). About 25% speak French in the West of the country, about 8% speak Italian, and very little people in some rather remote areas speak Romansch (0.5%). And the rest have none of these languages as their first language, as Switzerland is genereally really multicultural: over 20% of its residents do not have a Swiss passport.
  5. Swiss people love Konstanz – for multiple reasons
    The unique location directly at the lake, it’s charming old town with many restaurants and cafés, a big mall and small original stores: and all of this at an affordable price! Ever since in 2015 the Swiss franc (the Swiss currency, as Switzerland does not use the Euro) became really strong and buying Euros quite cheap, Swiss people flood border cities to go shopping or have meals at restaurants they could maybe not afford to go to in Switzerland. In Switzerland, goods and services are generally much more expensive than in Germany and other neighbouring countries. This is for the most part due to the higher incomes, but also favored by Switzerland not being part of the EU, which increases the costs for producers importing stuff to Switzerland or branding them differently to the Swiss market.

Now all of these facts lead us to the solution as to why you may sometimes hear more Swiss people in the old town of Konstanz than Germans – on Saturdays especially, when they are not working: Border crossing is really straightforward, an artsy experience and the Swiss people love a good bargain. And above all, Konstanz is a real gem.

At IstKon 2019 you will experience all of this as we will not stay on one side of the art border, but also cross it.

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