For members


What is Switzerland’s loudest city – and how loud is it?

Switzerland is known as a calm, peaceful and orderly place, but in some parts of the country, it can get loud.

An aerial picture of Zurich's Rosengartenstrasse
Zurich's Rosengartenstrasse is the noisiest residential street in the country, although Zurich is not the country's noisiest city. Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash

With its quaint, car-free villages and peaceful, snow-covered mountain tops, Switzerland sometimes feels like a large, outdoor library where everyone is keeping quiet out of fear a giant ‘shhhhhh’ could come at any moment. 

But while Switzerland’s hustle and/or bustle might not rival that of some of its noisier neighbours – we’re looking at you, Italy – some parts of Switzerland still trouble the decibel metre. 

The analysis was completed by the Zurich Cantonal Bank (ZKB) and focused on the noisiest cities in Switzerland.

Cities in the south and west of the country were the noisiest, while those in the centre were at the other end of the spectrum. 

Where is the noisiest part of Switzerland – and how noisy is it? 

The winner  — or loser, depending on how you look at it — is Geneva, whose residents are exposed to more than 60 decibels of noise. 

This corresponds to the volume of a lawn mower at a distance of 10 metres that can be heard even when the apartment windows are closed.

The study didn’t just take into account one point in the city, instead looking at how much noise the city’s residences were exposed to as a whole. 

READ MORE: These are the friendliest – and least friendly – cantons in Switzerland

And 94 percent of Geneva’s residences are exposed to a noise level greater than 50 decibels.

Perhaps surprisingly – or unsurprisingly if you’ve spent time in Ticino – the larger cities were not always the noisiest. 

In second place of noisiness is Lugano, followed by Lausanne, Zurich, Basel and Biel.

Zurich’s Rosengartenstrasse is the noisiest residential street in the entire country, with a decibel reading of 69. 

READ MORE: Ten things Zurich residents take for granted

Winterthur’s Zürcherstrasse came in second place with 66 decibels. 

Where is the quietest part of Switzerland? 

Aarau, Winterthur and Bern, on the other hand, are the quietest locations, according to ZKB analysis.

Aarau’s “whisper surfaces” have been installed in parts of the city with a goal to keep things quiet. 

Winterthur, a common commuter town for people working in Zurich, can thank bike-friendly policies and a large proportion of gardens for its quietness. 

Winterthur is after all known as Switzerland’s ‘Garden City’. 

That Bern featured so highly surprised the researchers, who noted that Bern managed to keep the noise down despite being a car friendly city. 

The researchers noted that Bern had somehow managed to pull off a “near impossible balancing act” in being both pro-car and pro-quiet. 

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For members


Is Switzerland’s male-only mandatory military service ‘discriminatory’?

Under Swiss law, all men must serve at least one year in compulsory national service. But is this discriminatory?

Swiss military members walk across a road carrying guns
A new lawsuit seeks to challenge Switzerland's male-only military service requirement. Is this discriminatory? FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

All men aged between the ages of 18 and 30 are required to complete compulsory military service in Switzerland. 

A lawsuit which worked its way through the Swiss courts has now ended up in the European Court of Human Rights, where the judges will decide if Switzerland’s male-only conscription requirement violates anti-discrimination rules. 

Switzerland’s NZZ newspaper wrote on Monday the case has “explosive potential” and has “what it takes to cause a tremor” to a policy which was first laid out in Switzerland’s 1848 and 1874 Federal Constitutions. 

What is Switzerland’s compulsory military service? 

Article 59 of the Federal Constitution of Switzerland says “Every man with Swiss citizenship is liable for military service. Alternative civilian service shall be provided for by law.”

Recruits must generally do 18 weeks of boot camp (longer in some cases). 

They are then required to spend several weeks in the army every year until they have completed a minimum 245 days of service.

Military service is compulsory for Swiss men aged 18 and over. Women can chose to do military service but this is rare.

What about national rather than military service? 

Introduced in 1996, this is an alternative to the army, originally intended for those who objected to military service on moral grounds. 

READ MORE: The Swiss army’s growing problem with civilian service

Service is longer there than in the army, from the age of 20 to 40. 

This must be for 340 days in total, longer than the military service requirement. 

What about foreigners and dual nationals? 

Once you become a Swiss citizen and are between the ages of 18 and 30, you can expect to be conscripted. 

READ MORE: Do naturalised Swiss citizens have to do military service?

In general, having another citizenship in addition to the Swiss one is not going to exempt you from military service in Switzerland.

However, there is one exception: the obligation to serve will be waved, provided you can show that you have fulfilled your military duties in your other home country.

If you are a Swiss (naturalised or not) who lives abroad, you are not required to serve in the military in Switzerland, though you can voluntarily enlist. 

How do Swiss people feel about military and national service? 

Generally, the obligation is viewed relatively positively, both by the general public and by those who take part in compulsory service. 

While several other European countries have gotten rid of mandatory service, a 2013 referendum which attempted to abolish conscription was rejected by 73 percent of Swiss voters. 

What is the court case and what does it say? 

Martin D. Küng, the lawyer from the Swiss canton of Bern who has driven the case through the courts, has a personal interest in its success. 

He was found unfit for service but is still required to pay an annual bill to the Swiss government, which was 1662CHF for the last year he was required to pay it. 

While the 36-year-old no longer has to pay the amount – the obligation only lasts between the ages of 18 and 30 – Küng is bring the case on principle. 

So far, Küng has had little success in the Swiss courts, with his appeal rejected by the cantonal administrative court and later by the Swiss Federal Supreme Court. 

Previous Supreme Court cases, when hearing objections to men-only military service, said that women are less suitable for conscription due to “physiological and biological differences”.

In Küng’s case, the judges avoided this justification, saying instead that the matter was a constitutional issue. 

‘No objective reason why only men have to do military service’

He has now appealed the decision to the European level. 

While men have previously tried and failed when taking their case to the Supreme Court, no Swiss man has ever brought the matter to the European Court of Human Rights. 

Küng told the NZZ that he considered the rule to be unjust and said the Supreme Court’s decision is based on political considerations. 

“I would have expected the Federal Supreme Court to have the courage to clearly state the obvious in my case and not to decide on political grounds,” Küng said. 

“There is no objective reason why only men have to do military service or pay replacement taxes. On average, women may not be as physically productive as men, but that is not a criterion for excluding them from compulsory military service. 

There are quite a few men who cannot keep up with women in terms of stamina. Gender is simply the wrong demarcation criterion for deciding on compulsory service. If so, then one would have to focus on physical performance.”

Is it likely to pass? 

Küng is optimistic that the Strasbourg court will find in his favour, pointing to a successful appeal by a German man who complained about a fire brigade tax, which was only imposed on men. 

“This question has not yet been conclusively answered by the court” Küng said. 

The impact of a decision in his favour could be considerable, with European law technically taking precedence over Swiss law.

It would set Switzerland on a collision course with the bloc, particularly given the popularity of the conscription provision. 

Küng clarified that political outcomes and repercussions don’t concern him. 

“My only concern is for a court to determine that the current regulation is legally wrong.”