German Swiss - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. German Switzerland is equally divided between Protestant (44.4 percent, 1980) and Catholic (47.6 percent, 1980). Religious divisions within the German Swiss reflect those of the confederation as a whole. These divisions have been a major source of internal tensions since the Reformation. The canton of Bern is over 75 percent Protestant, while the alpine zone is Catholic. Religion plays a structural role in countering the linguistic pluralism within German Switzerland itself and the confederation. Greater tensions exist between German Swiss Protestants and Catholics than between the German Swiss and French Swiss. Political affiliations crosscut these dimensions and tend to offset religious differences today. Alpine areas of German Switzerland have customs that relate to supernatural beliefs outside the traditional religions. In the mountains, natural forces are viewed as generally malevolent or, at best, neutral. These forces manifest themselves in avalanches, landslides, mists, or storms. The Föhn, a warm, gusty wind blowing from the Alps and creating sudden temperature reversals, has been associated with madness. These beliefs are fading in the Alps today.

Ceremonies. Each canton and commune has ceremonies unique to it. To the non-Swiss visitor, German Switzerland must appear, at times, to be on some continual form of vacation. There are festivals to herald the coming spring, harvest festivals, major and minor religious days, founder's days, and the Swiss National Day, 1 August. The most famous carnival is the Baseler Fastnacht, a 48-hour festival with grotesque masks and garb and parades.

Arts. German Switzerland was particularly rich in folk arts. Today there is a renewed interest in this heritage. Many of the skills in native woodcrafts have disappeared, as the winterbound peasant farmer is essentially a thing of the past. Tourism and nostalgia have promoted activity in carving, weaving, embroidery, and traditional dressmaking ( Frauentracht ) among both urban and alpine German Swiss. Much of this craftwork is done at a cottage-industry level with commercial sale as the ultimate objective. The federal government encourages this activity, and authorized craft outlets ( Heimattwerke ) are found in the large cities. The arts and customs of dance and song have survived less affected by social and Economic changes. Yodeling, which originated in ancient times, persists, and alp horns are played. The German Swiss hold a strong place in the literature, music, and art of modern Western culture. In particular, they have merged architecture and engineering into structural art, most notably with the bridges of Robert Maillart, Othman Ammann, and Christian Menn.

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