Arts and Culture

They have more than 30 words for "apple core", and other things you didn't know about Switzerland

German test pilot Markus Scherdel steers the solar-powered Solar Impulse 2 aircraft over the Lake Murten during a training flight at its base in Payerne September 27, 2014. The aircraft, which was unveiled April 9, weighs 2.4 tons with a wingspan of 72 meters (236 ft.) and has more than 17,000 solar cells. The attempt to fly around the world in stages using only solar energy will be made from March 2015 starting from Abu Dhabi.

Solar Impulse 2, a record-breaking Swiss plane. Image: REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Micol Lucchi
Lead, Swiss Public Affairs, World Economic Forum
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If it's 1 August, it must be ... Swiss National Day. As the Swiss celebrate the occasion as they have since 1891, here are some surprising facts about the country, and it's not all about mountains, clocks and chocolate.

1) Swiss know-how contributed to the first moon landing, as a then Swiss company, Kern & Co, provided lenses to NASA. The Apollo 11 mission included two colour cameras equipped with the lenses which immortalized the giant steps of the astronauts.

They are not the only Swiss product that has made it into space: Victorinox pocket knives were standard issue on all NASA space shuttle missions.

2) Switzerland has long been associated with time-keeping, from cuckoo clocks to intricate watches. In the digital age, a pair of Swiss men created Doodle, a simplified online calendar that lets people share their availability – now used by over 20 million people each month. Much further back, Rolex invented the first waterproof watch, in 1927

Switzerland scores highly across the board in the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Index, coming fourth overall
Switzerland scores highly across the board in the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Index, coming fourth overall. Image: World Economic Forum

3) The first patent for aluminium foil was taken out by Swiss businessman Heinrich Alfred Gautschi in 1905 and the first aluminium foil plant opened in Switzerland in 1910. It didn’t take too long before it was put to good use wrapping up chocolate bars. Today, the Swiss eat more than 10kg of chocolate a year each on average.

4) Switzerland borders Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, Italy and France, and, because of such a diverse population, it has four national languages: German (spoken by 63% of the population), French (23%), Italian (8%) and Romansh (<1%). There's a huge diversity of dialects too: Swiss German has more than 30 words for apple core.

5) The Gotthard Base Tunnel, which opened in 2016, runs underneath the Alps and at 57km is the world’s longest rail tunnel. Switzerland’s rail system extends to more than 5,000km and Swiss people travel an average of 2,000km per person every year.

6) The world’s largest nuclear shelter, the Sonnenberg tunnel, is in Switzerland. It can house up to 20,000 people. Most homes also have nuclear bunkers and there is space for the entire Swiss population to shelter from a nuclear attack.

7) Switzerland has more than 1,500 lakes, and you are never more than 16km away from one. More than 60% of the country’s electricity is produced by Switzerland’s 556 hydroelectric power plants.

8) Solar Impulse is a privately-financed long-range experimental solar-powered aircraft project aimed at bringing attention to clean technologies. The aircraft Solar Impulse 2 is the first in the world to fly 40,000 km without using a drop of fuel.

9) Switzerland has some tight laws on animal welfare. In 2008 the government ruled that social animals such as guinea pigs must be kept in pairs. More recently, it was decreed that if cats are kept alone, they must have daily contact with either a human being or visual contact with another cat.

Switzerland is a world leader in the transition to clean energy
Switzerland is a world leader in the transition to clean energy Image: World Economic Forum

10) The foundation of the Swiss Confederation 1291 created a democracy at a time when most of Europe was ruled by absolute monarchies. Today, referendums are part of that heritage and citizens may challenge laws if they can gather 50,000 signatures within 100 days. But women were not granted the right to vote at the federal level until 1971.

11 Switzerland has some of the most liberal gun laws of any country with over 2 million privately-owned guns in a population of over 8 million. Also, military service is compulsory for all healthy men aged between 18 and 34, and men can volunteer up to the age of 65. Servicemen are required to keep their assault rifles or pistols at home. But Switzerland has a far lower rate of gun-related deaths than most comparable countries.

12) Switzerland’s neutrality allowed Jean Henri Dunant to create the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva in 1863. Its emblem was a red cross on a white background: the inverse of the Swiss flag. Dunant won the very first Nobel Peace Prize, in 1901.

13) Along with Vatican City, Switzerland is the only other country in the world to have a square flag, a red square with a white cross.

14) Name a famous Swiss woman? Actress Ursula Andress was born in the canton of Bern in 1936. She is best known for her breakthrough role as Honey Ryder in the first James Bond film, "Dr. No".

15) And a famous Swiss man? Roger Federer has won 20 tennis Grand Slam singles titles – the most in history for a male player – and has held the world No. 1 spot in the ATP rankings for a record 310 weeks, including a record 237 consecutive weeks.

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