Although my page is entitled “Swiss Oddities”, both Switzerland and Germany contribute about evenly to this oddity. Our topic today is the small town of Büsingen, an exclave of Germany which, being entirely surrounded by Swiss soil, is actually an enclave of Switzerland. Büsingen calls itself “Die deutsche Gemeinde in der Schweiz”—the German town inside Switzerland. The town, which measures just under 3 square miles in area, belongs to the district of Konstanz in the German Federal State of Baden-Württemberg. At its closest point, Büsingen is only separated by 700 meters –less than half a mile–from the rest of Germany, but those 700 meters belong to the Swiss Canton of Schaffhausen. The town of Büsingen boasts an idyllic location on a part of the Rhine River that is still clean and beautiful, where both Germans and Swiss alike love to swim across the river on a hot summer day just so they can claim to have swum into Switzerland or Germany, respectively. What is life really like in a town that is not physically connected to the rest of its country? Many things, like postal and telephone service, currency, education, or public transportation might seem quite complicated, but they work themselves out very easily in Büsingen. Mail can be addressed with a German (78266) or a Swiss (8238) zip code, and the phones work with either a German or a Swiss area code. The currency, in theory, is the Euro, but Swiss Francs are widely used as well, particularly since most people from Büsingen do their shopping in neighboring Schaffhausen. Children are educated in a German school for grade school, but have a choice to attend Swiss or German schools past that. Public transportation is part German and part Swiss, depending on the route and destination. And what do people speak in Büsingen? Well, it’s German, sort of, but also Swiss-German, sort of, but nobody really cares. There are no borders between Büsingen and Schaffhausen, but of course borders between Germany and Switzerland are difficult to find anywhere these days. Usually, the Rhine River is a good indicator of Switzerland’s northern border, but the entire Canton of Schaffhausen lies north of the Rhine, and so it is really Schaffhausen that is defying the customary border line, not Büsingen. Now that the Swiss and the Germans live in peace and harmony, none of this is causing any issues, but seventy years ago Nazi Germany was embroiled in WWII while neutral Switzerland tried to stay out of the fray. In spite of Switzerland’s non-involvement in the war, life was dangerous for those Swiss who lived along the Rhine River. Not only did they live in constant fear of a German attack, but they were often ducking bombs that were intended to fall on German soil, but didn’t quite make the target area. On April 1, 1944, U.S. bombers raided the city of Schaffhausen, mistakenly believing it to be part of Germany and killing about one hundred Swiss civilians. So how do the inhabitants of Büsingen feel about their mixed-up status? Actually, they seem quite content to get the best of both worlds. In 1918, they overwhelmingly voted to join Switzerland, but somehow the annexation never became reality, and so Büsingen continued in its little German fairy tale world. The people in these parts, both Swiss and German alike, have always found it easy to get along with each other, even if they were of different nationalities, and at times enemies on paper. Their world has never been about politics, but about practicality, something they truly excel at.
Official Büsingen website: http://www.buesingen.de/ OR http://www.buesingen.ch (how odd is that?). See some interesting pictures of Büsingen’s split personality at http://geosite.jankrogh.com/busingen.htm, also the source of our Büsingen map.
A video (in German) about some of the practical aspects of Büsingen’s split personality.