German immigration to Switzerland

German migrants in Switzerland

The German-born Albert Einstein as an employee of the Swiss Patent Office (Bern, 1905)
Total population
(298,000 (2014)
Regions with significant populations
Zurich; metropolitan areas of Zurich, Basel, Bern / German speaking Cantons (some 2/3 to 3/4 of the German migrants); other Cantons (some 1/4 to 1/3)
Mostly Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism.
Thanksgiving 1940 evening invite by German consul in St. Gallen
Invite to Thanksgiving evening by German consul in St. Gallen (1940), "for Reichsdeutsche only...Reichsredner: S.A. Gruppenführer Kolb"

About a quarter of a million German nationals had permanent residence in Switzerland in 2009, rising to some 300 thousand five years later. For the Germans, Switzerland became the most appreciated country to settle in, to find work or to study.[1][2][3] The "surge" of immigration during in the first decade of the 21st century, especially the German one, is a result of the EU-15 opening[4][5][6] and, for students, of the Bologna Process.[7]

History – looking back

Ever since the emergence of Switzerland and Germany as distinct nations in the Early Modern period – the Swiss became exempt from the jurisdiction of the Imperial Diet in 1499 as a result of the Swabian War, formal recognition of Swiss independence dates to 1648 (Peace of Westphalia) – there has been considerable population movement in both directions, but meaningful population statistics become available only after the Napoleonic era, with the formation of the restored Swiss Confederacy and the German Confederation in 1815.

A number of Germans, and of people living in Germany, fled the militarism of German Empire and, shortly afterwards, the Nazi regime or were expelled by it, in the first decades of the 20th century and sought refuge in Switzerland, among other places.

21st century - 1st decades


Because of the unequal size of the two countries, Germany being roughly ten times larger than Switzerland, German residents in Switzerland have a much greater visibility than Swiss residents in Germany: In 2007, about 37,000 Swiss nationals, or about 1 in 180 Swiss citizens, lived in Germany, accounting for just 0.05% of German population. At the same time, about 224,000 German nationals, or 1 in 350 German citizens, lived in Switzerland, accounting for 3% of Swiss population.[8]

The number of Germans in Switzerland has doubled in the period of 2002 to 2009. The reason for this is the SwissEuropean treaty regarding the freedom of movement for workers, activated in 2002. While the freedom of movement treaty applies to all EU citizens, German nationals have been the main beneficiaries because their proficiency in the German language allows them to take qualified jobs in German-speaking Switzerland without the added difficulty of a language barrier.

As of 2009, they were the second-largest expatriate group in Switzerland, numbering 266,000 (or 3.4% of total Swiss population) second to the Italians with 294,000 (3.7% of total Swiss population). 22,000 were born in Switzerland (of these, 18,000 were minors, children born to German parents living in Switzerland). 19,000 Germans with permanent residence in Switzerland were married to a Swiss citizen.

In 2007, the number of Germans in Switzerland passed the historical maximum of 220,000 Germans recorded prior to World War I. However, because of the lower total population at the time, the pre-1914 fraction of Germans relative to total Swiss population was as high as 6%. The rate of naturalizations has also steeply increased since 2007.[9] The reason for this, beyond the rising number of qualifying German nationals who had resided in Switzerland for the twelve years required by Swiss nationality law, was a change in German nationality law which permitted German nationals to hold Swiss-German dual citizenship (while prior to 2007, Germans wishing to be naturalized in Switzerland had to give up their German citizenship).[10]

Historical demographics 1995–2014:

year 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
German population
92 94 96 99 104 110 118 126 135 146 159 174 203 235 252 263 275 284 292 298
percentage 1.3% 1.6% 2.4% 2.9% 3.4%
naturalizations 1,290 3,969
2009 – German citizens with permanent residence in Switzerland in the larger German speaking cantons: Zürich 72,000 (5.5% of the inhabitants / 28.6% of the German citizens); Aargau 25,000 (4.1% / 9.9%); Berne 24,000 (2.5% / 9.5%); Thurgau 15,000 (6.3% / 6.0%); Basel-City 13,000 (6.8% / 5.2%); Lucerne 11,000 (3.0% / 4.4%); Basel-Country 10,000 (3.7% / 4.0%) – in total some 170 thousands, 67.5% of the 252 thousands.

German citizens have mostly settled in Zürich and the city's wider metropolitan area. Already at the historical maximum of German presence in Switzerland in 1910, German population in Zürich was as high as 41,000 or 22% of the city's total population. As of 2009, German population in Zürich was at about 30,000, or close to 8%.[2] As of 2015 this population counted 33,297, slightly above 8% of the 410,404 inhabitants, of which 131,168 were foreigners, some third of all people of the city of Zurich.[11]

Reception and image in Switzerland

Fears, xenophobia, feelings of being left-behind

Since 2007, there have been reports on Swiss xenophobia (or "germanophobia") directed against German immigration, both in Swiss and in German media.[12]

While Swiss opposition against immigration from Southeast Europe and Africa is – as in other places – characterized by concerns about criminality and the burden put on social welfare by large numbers of lower class or destitute immigrants, opposition to immigration from Germany has a contrary motivation, notably the fear of competition from qualified immigrants on the job market,[13] and rising prices on the real-estate market because of the increased demand created by well-to-do German immigrants, while in terms of crime rate, the German community was recorded as the group with lowest delinquency, at only 0.6% of the crime rate among Swiss nationals.[14]

The extent of and reasons for Swiss opposition to German immigration were studied in Helbling (2009–11), based on a survey from 1994-95 of 1,300 Swiss (of which some 940 responded) from the city of Zürich[15] (Zurich, and the Zurich area, are the main target of recent German immigration – see demographics above). The survey found that, in 1994-95, the Germans were the fourth-most disliked immigrant group in Zürich (disliked by almost each 9th). Following – with a distance – the immigrants from Turkey (disliked by each 3rd to 4th), the Arab World (disliked by each 3rd) and Former Yugoslavia (considered as a single group, disliked by each 2nd). And disliked slightly more than the Tamils (disliked by each 10th) and Black Africans (disliked by each narrowly under each 10th of the 940 respondents).

Hostile attitudes towards immigration groups in the city of Zurich in 1994-95[15][16]

hostility – in percentage of the 940 Swiss who responded...
  1.5 %
  1.9 %
  3.3 %
  4.3 %
  Black Africans
  9.9 %
10.3 %
11.3 %
27.6 %
33.1 %
51.1 %
(full hostility 100%)

Helbling concludes – summing up further literature and media – that "German immigrants put in danger Swiss characteristics as much as immigrants from the Balkans", that "contrary to many other studies, education does not improve attitudes towards Germans", that "people who are young and seek to improve their job position are significantly more Germanophobic than those who are satisfied with their current job situation and are already established" and that "it appears that as much as low-skilled workers fear that poorly educated immigrants take their jobs, well-educated Swiss consider German immigrants as competitors on the job market".[13]

As to the feeling of the "intimidated" part of Swiss-Germans, feeling being left-behind, the journalist Gunhild Kübler, a German living in Switzerland, remarks:

China has 1.3 billion people, 16 times more than Germany. The Federal Republic again exactly 16 times as many as the German-speaking Switzerland. So, if a German would put himself in the position of an intimidated German Swiss, he may well imagine that his country is not adjacent in the East to the Czech Republic but to China.
Gunhild Kübler[17]

Cristiana Baldauf, one of the course leaders of the Swiss integration courses for Germans and Austrians, and a German and Swiss citizen, with a German mother and Italian father, says:

I think, that what the Swiss dislike about the Germans, is the German in themselves.
Cristiana Baldauf[2]
Integration – differences in culture, behavior, manners, language problems

Experience shows that the excitement fades away on every major wave of immigration with its increasing integration. So, a.o. also Helbling[13] cites the popular example of now largely integrated Italians, who came in one of the "waves" in the '60s as gastarbeiters to Switzerland, and whose generations are today a part of the society of the German-speaking Switzerland, without giving up their culture.

It is particularly notable that Italians are the most liked immigrants, while at their arrival in the 1950s and 1960s they were the group of immigrants that attracted the most hostilities.
Marc Helbling[18]

In the relations of the German-Swiss and the incoming German come up, overtly or covertly, specific misunderstandings – perceived similarities, different mentalities and manners and, now already well known, language problems and differences.[2][13][17][19][20]

Cristiana Baldauf comments on the fundamental differences, on the petty ones and on the different languages:

One has to bear in mind that the Swiss are ticking quite differently as we do.
Cristiana Baldauf[2]
Often just minor differences bear a potential for misunderstanding.
Cristiana Baldauf[19]
The language plays a central role in the misunderstanding. The Swiss German is more than just a dialect for most German-speaking Swiss, it is the mother tongue, the language of the heart. Much of what has to do with proximity is expressed with the Swiss German: intimacy, spontaneity and emotions [...]

High German is indeed learned and spoken at school, although the active knowledge remains hidden away in the cellar, often making the Swiss feeling inferior to the eloquent Germans.

Cristiana Baldauf[19]

See also

Notes and references

21st century – 1st decades (most references in German)

  1. (ap): Schweiz weiterhin beliebtestes Ziel: Immer mehr Deutsche wandern aus – Immer mehr Deutsche kehren ihrem Land den Rücken: Im vergangenen Jahr stieg die Zahl der Auswanderer auf 155'300 und damit den höchsten Stand seit 1954, wie das Statistische Bundesamt am Dienstag in Wiesbaden mitteilte. Das beliebteste Ziele war dabei mit 18'000 Auswanderern die Schweiz. Erst mit Abstand folgen die USA (13'800) und Österreich (10'300), NZZ, October 30, 2007
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Ivo Marusczyk, Marion Leibrecht: Deutsche in der Schweiz: Wie die Schweiz tickt – Minister Steinbrück weiß es nicht. In Integrationskursen für Deutsche könnte er es lernen, Die Zeit, March 26, 2009
  3. Christoph Eisenring: 2005 bis 2014 beliebtestes Auswanderungsland: Die Schweiz bleibt bei Deutschen hoch im Kurs, NZZ, January 6, 2016
  4. EU-15 for short – more precisely: EU-15 / EU-17, EU-8 and EFTA – i.e. EU-15: the "old" EU member states, EU-17: plus Cyprus and Malta, EU-8: ten new EU-Staaten minus Cyprus and Malta – see: Personenfreizügigkeit Schweiz – EU/EFTA, SEM, auf
  5. Matthias Müller: Zufluchtsort Schweiz: Immer weniger deutsche Einwanderer, NZZ, June 13, 2013
  6. Gunnar Heinsohn: Auswanderungsland Deutschland: Kompetente wandern ab, NZZ, July 7, 2016
  7. Gordana Mijuk und Michael Furger: Bald leben zwei Millionen Ausländer in der Schweiz: Es wird eng, NZZ, April 17, 2011
  8. Note that this comparison ignores dual citizenship. As of 2007, Switzerland recorded 75,000 Swiss citizens residing in Germany, while Germany recorded only 37,000 foreign nationals with Swiss citizenship, suggesting that the remaining 38,000 people have dual Swiss-German citizenship.
  9. Pro Tag werden 10 Deutsche eingebürgert, Tages-Anzeiger, 30 May 2010.
  10. Renat Künzi: Deutsch-schweizerische Doppelbürger behalten roten Pass, Swissinfo, August 31, 2007
  11. Zahlen und Fakten : Bevölkerung, city of Zurich,
  12. e.g. Der Spiegel : January 2007, NZZ : October 2007, Schweizer Fernsehen : October 2009, Bild, February 2010, Die Zeit : February 2014, 20 Minuten : May 2015, Blick : May 2015, Der Spiegel : May 2015, Focus : May 2015, Handelszeitung : May 2015, Tagesanzeiger : May 2015, : May 2015, : May 2015
  13. 1 2 3 4 Helbling (2009-11), see below
  14. Neue Statistik: Tamilen sind krimineller als Ex-Jugoslawen, Tagesanzeiger, September 12, 2010
  15. 1 2 Institute of Sociology of the Zurich University, October 1994 to March 1995, 1'300 targeted participants between 18 and 65 of age, response rate 72%, i.e. some 940 respondents (source: Helbling 2009-11) – a survey conducted by Jörg Stolz (et al.?), published in German: Soziologie der Fremdenfeindlichkeit. Theoretische und empirische Analysen, Campus, Frankfurt/New York 2000 and Einstellungen zu Ausländern und Ausländerinnen 1969 und 1995: eine Replikationsstudie, in: Hans-Joachim Hoffmann-Nowotny (publisher): Das Fremde in der Schweiz, Seismo, Zurich 2001, pp.33–74
  16. graph (source: Jörg Stolz (2000) – fig. II, p. 7, in: Marc Helbling: Germanophobia in Switzerland (PDF), Discussion Paper SP IV 2010-702, WZB Berlin, May 2010
  17. 1 2 Marco Lauer: Integration: I ha di gärn! - Deutsche in der Schweiz, Tagesspiegel June 24, 2009 / also as: Integration für Deutsche in der Schweiz: "Grüezi Gummihälse!", TAZ, October 21, 2009
  18. Marc Helbling summing up Gianni D’Amato (2001) and Josef M. Niederberger (2004) in: Germanophobia in Switzerland (PDF), Discussion Paper SP IV 2010-702, WZB Berlin, May 2010, p.6
  19. 1 2 3 Cristiana Baldauf-Hornig: Deutsche in der Schweiz: Vorsicht vor Fränkli und Grüezi – Wie es Deutsche schaffen, bei Schweizern nicht anzuecken, SZ, May 17, 2010
  20. see also Literatur - Beletristik, populär on German Wikipedia
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