Tag Archives: Swiss

Flag facts

When we’re asked what flag is our country’s one, my children (and I) have a similar reaction like when someone asks us “where do you come from?”.

If you ask my three children which country or culture they feel more close, they would tell: Swiss, Dutch, German, Italian, British…

When my son was asked lately to indicate the flag of “his country” for a yearbook, he hesitated. It took him a few days to fill in the blank and he finally decided for the Tricolore, the Italian flag. In a restrictive way, our family has the deepest bonds with Italy (where I grew up and my son was born), Switzerland (where I’m born and my husband’s passport country) and Germany (my passport-country).

When fellow blogger Becky Mladic Morales from Multicultural Kid Blogs asked for contributions to her June MKB blogging carnival about the topic “flags”, I decided to write down a few informations about the three flags that are the most important for my family.

The Swiss flag

The Swiss flag is a red square with a bold, equilateral white cross in the center that does not extend to the edges of the flag. The dimentions of the cross are formally established since 1889: “The coat of arms of the federation is, within a red field, an upright white cross, whose [four] arms of equal length are one and a sixth times as long as they are wide.”

The origin of the flag is described in several medieval legends: it is first attested at the Battle of Laupen in 1339 where the troops of the Swiss Confederation used a white cross. The modern design of the white cross in a square red field was introduced only during the Napoleonic period. Its first use was in 1800 during the Hundred Days by general Niklaus Franz von Bachmann – he used it in his campaigns of 1800 and 1815 – and was introduced as official national flag in 1889 after having been introduced at the federal treaty of 1815.

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The shape of the cross in the Swiss flag is the base for the Red Cross symbol, a red cross on white background. It was “the original protection symbol declared at the first Geneva Convention, the Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Armies in the Field or 1864. According to the ICRC the design was based on the Swiss flag by reversing of the colours of that flag, in order to honor Switzerland, where the first Geneva Convention was held, and its inventor and co-founder, the Swiss Henry Dunant.” An interesting fact: no historic record has been found of an association of the Red Cross emblem with the flag of Switzerland earlier than 1906.

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The German flag

When Germany’s feudal states tried to unite in 1848, the first flag of Germany was adopted, even if the union didn’t occure. The flag consisted of equal widths of black, red and gold. Those three colours appeared also on the uniforms of the German soldiers during the Napoleonic wars. When the states finally united in 1871, the colors were replaced with black, white, and red until 1919, after the defeat in World War I (during the Weimarer Republik), when the German republic was declared, the black, red, and gold flag returned.

After a little more than a decade later, the flag was retired in favor of the Nazi party flag, which also became the National flag until World War II, when the tricolor flag was welcomed again. During the time when East and West Germany were divided, East Germany added its coat of arms to the flag. Since 1989, the German flag returned like the original tricolor.

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There are different theories about the colours black-red-yellow/gold:



The combination of the colours black, red and gold goes far back in the history of the German Empire. The coat of arms of the Holy Roman Empire of German Nation showed a black eagle on golden ground.
Its claws and the mouth were coloured in red since the 13th/14th century. Oldest witness for that is the ca. 1300 created “Heidelberg Song Manuscript Manesse“.

Already in the year 1184, on the Hoftag (court day) in Mainz, the colours black, red and gold should have been named as “German Colours”.

In the year 1212 Archbishop Siegfried III. of Epstein crowned the Staufer Frederic II. to the German King in the cathedral in Mainz. Here Frederic weared a coronation coat in the colours red, black and gold. That coat was in use for the most coronations of the German kings and emperors until the end of the Holy Roman Empire of German Nation (1806). (Flaggenlexikon)

Codex Manesse; Meister des Codex Manesse (Grundstockmaler) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Some do explain the three colours by the uniforms of the corps called “Luetzow Hunters” (Lutzower Jäger): ” This military unit was recruited from non-prussian voluntaries, consist therefore in voluntary fighters from many German states, and count in this way for the vanguard of a national inspired people’s army” and which Karl-Theodor Koerner (1791–1813) described in his poem “Luetzow’s wild, audacious hunt”, where “their black uniform with the red cuffs and golden knobs with the black caps and the black – red – golden cockade thereupon” as very popular. (cfr. Flaggenlexikon)

The Italian flag

The flag of Italy is a tricolour (il Tricolore). It consists of three equally sized vertical pales of green, white and red. It’s current form is in use since the 19th of June 1946 and it was formally adopted on 1 January 1948.

The Cispadane Republic used this tricolour the first time in 1797. Napoleon’s army had just crossed Italy in 1796. – The colours red and white were the colours of the conquered flag of Milan and green was the colour of the uniform of the Milanese civic guard. A common interpretation is that the green represents the country’s plains and hills, the white the snow-capped Alps and thre red the blood split in the Wars of Italian Independence. A more religious interpretation referring the three theological vitues is that the green represents hope, the white represents faith and the red represents the charity.

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If you live in a multicultural family, which are the flags you teach your children about?

This post was written for the MKB Blog Carnival of June, 

the topic being “Flags”. You can find the list of the other posts 

on the website: http://kidworldcitizen.org/ after the 11th of June

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Schellen-Ursli or a Bell for Ursli

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Schellen-Ursli is a Swiss classic story for children about a Spring celebration in Engadine in Switzerland.

His original name is Uorsin and the author of this Romansch-Swiss picture-book is Selina Chönz and the illustrations are made by the famous Swiss painter Alois Carigiet.

It is a story in rhyme scheme about a little boy named Ursli, who lives in the Swiss Alps. His village is preparing the Chalanda-Marz procession (on the first of March), where Engadine children parade through the towns ringing cowbells to drive out the Winter and welcome the Spring. The boy with the biggest cowbell is supposed to lead the procession.

When he goes to Uncle Gian’s farmhouse with the other boys, he gets the smallest bell of all!  Determined not to be the laughing stock of the village, Ursli treks to his family’s summer hut up in the mountains where he knows that he can find a large cowbell instead. He spends a lonely, scary night. – When he comes back the next morning with the biggest cowbell in the whole village, he is the leader of the procession and everyone is happy that he is back.

Generations of Swiss children have grown up with the delightful story of Ursli (see the english translation: A Bell for Ursli: A Story from the Engadine in Switzerland).


Guarda (Photo credit: lukas.b0)

The Swiss German

Swiss German (Schwitzerdütsch, Schwyzerdütch, Schwitzertüütsch, Schwizertitsch) refers to the Alemannic dialects spoken in Switzerland. In 17 of the 26 Swiss cantons, German is the only official language: Aargau, Appenzell Ausserrhoden, Appenzell Innerrhoden, Basel-Stadt, Basel-Landschaft, Glarus, Luzern, Nidwalden, Obwalden, Schaffhausen, Schwyz, Solothurn, St. Gallen, Thurgau, Uri, Zug, Zürich.

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Multilingual Switzerland

Some people don’t know that Switzerland is multilingual. I’ve often been asked if I was able to talk „Swiss“, as I’ve lived there for a long time. Even if this kind of comment seems funny to those who live in or close to Switzerland, it is quite a common assumption among people coming from other continents, that Swiss talk Swiss, like Swedish people speak Swedish, Italians speak Italian, Germans speak German etc.

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(© wikipedia, Marco Zanoli)

Switzerland is a multilingual country with four national languages: German, French, Italian and Rumantsch (you can find it transcribed also as Romansh, Romansch, Rhaeto-Romanic or Rhaeto-Romance etc.). But only German, French and Italian maintain equal status as official languages at the national level within the Federal Administration of the Swiss Confederation.

According to the federal census of 2000, 63.7% of the Swiss population speaks German, 20.4% French, 6.5% Italian, 0.5% Rumantsch and 9.0% speaks other languages.

People talk German in the German Region (Deutschschweiz) that would be northern, central and eastern Switzerland. In the Romandie (French Region), in western Switzerland, people speak mainly French, whereas Italian is spoken in the Svizzera Italiana, the Italian Region in southern Switzerland. Rumantsch is the native language of the population in Graubünden (Grisons) in southeastern Switzerland.

The cantons of Fribourg, Bern and Valais are officially bilingual (French-German), whereas Graubünden is officially trilingual (Rumantsch-German-Italian).

Why is Switzerland multilingual?

The Swiss do not form a single ethnic group, they are a confederation (Confoederatio Helvetica: CH).

Historically, the Swiss derive from an amalgamation of Gaulish or Gallo-Roman, Alemannic and Raetic stock.

In the German speaking region (Deutschschweiz) we find the Alemannic German, historically amalgamated from the Gallo-Roman population and the Alemannii and Burgundii, including subgroups like the Walser. The term „Swiss“ from the 16th and 18th centuries referred to this group exclusively and only with the expansion of the Swiss confederation following the Congress of Vienna (1814-1815) the term was applied to non-Alemannic territories. Closely related German speaking people are the inhabitants of Alsace, Vorarlberg and the Swabians.

In the French speaking region (Romandie) people speak Franco-Provençal dialects. Today these dialects are assimilated to the standard Swiss French and amalgamated from the Gallo-Roman population and Burgundians (the historical Upper Burgundy). These dialects are closely related to the French (especially those of Franche-Comté).

In the Svizzera Italiana, people speak a variety of the Lombard language,Ticinese, partly assimilated to the standard Swiss Italian language, amalgamated from Raetians and Lombards. They are closely related to the Italian regions of Lombardy and Piedmont.

The Rumantsch is a Rhaeto-Romance language, closely related to the French, Occitan and Lombard. It was spoken in a larger territory in the early Middle Ages, that reached from the Grisons (Canton Graubünden) to the Lake Constance, whereas today, it’s limited to some parts of Graubünden.