The gentle tinkling of cowbells is a sound almost everyone associates with Switzerland. It conjures up images of peaceful pastures, with majestic snow-capped mountains in the distance. But what if those bells right outside your bedroom window day and night, and rather than tinkle gently, clang loudly around the necks of 20 or 30 cows? That is the dilemma many Swiss communities are facing. Aarwangen, population 4,700, is a charming village sitting on the banks of the beautiful river Aare, with the Bernese Alps in the distance. It has a medieval castle and an attractive town center with a church and traditional farmhouses. But the village is also strategically placed to serve Switzerland’s highly successful economy. Now, a growing number of new houses and apartments extend out from the village’s original center. Those traditional farmhouses are still functioning, the green fields around the village are home not just to new houses, but to dairy cows, complete with bells around their necks. For some of Aarwangen’s new residents, the din proved too much. At least two families complained formally to the village council, asking for the bells to be removed at night. Howls of protest ensued. Long-term residents, and the village’s remaining farmers – just five or six according to village mayor Niklaus Lundsgaard-Hansen – were outraged at what they felt was an attack on their traditional culture. The farmer who owned the herd in question viewed it as a “personal insult to him and his cows,” said the mayor.
“This is much more than just bells for animals. It is about how we, the Swiss, want to live, preserve and maintain the culture and traditions in our country,” said Andreas Baumann, president of the preservation initiative committee. Controversy over cow bells arises from time to time in Switzerland. Aarwangen, has mobilized in recent months to support the melodious ringing of bells. Within a few weeks, 1,100 people had signed the initiative, representing about a third of the voting population. However, Aarwangen is now forced to adopt official rules regulating sound and the need for silence in accordance with federal noise control regulations. The locality will develop a new set of rules, which will be presented in 2024. The owner of a residential complex adjacent to the pasture filed a lawsuit against excessive noise and demanded that the farmer be prohibited from hanging bells on his cattle between 10 PM and 7 AM. The courts also accepted the farmer’s argument that young animals tend to break through the fence and searching for animals without acoustic support in the forest at night would be difficult.
But in a country of high immigration, where 25% of the population is not Swiss, there will always be those who see any change to tradition as an attack on their culture and their identity. That is really what Aarwangen’s cowbell row is about. In last month’s parliamentary elections the right-wing Swiss People’s Party campaigned on the slogan “so that Switzerland stays Switzerland,” and was rewarded with sizeable gains. Next month, Aarwangen’s population will gather for a public meeting to vote on the future of their bells. In the meantime, perhaps shocked by the level of feeling, one of those who objected to the noise has withdrawn their complaint. The other has moved away.
The truth about cow bells
Why do cows wear cowbells?
Because their horns don’t work.
Swiss was recently declared the official cheese of the Catholic Church.
It’s the holiest of cheeses.
What do you call a woman who has a duster in one hand, a brush in the other, a shovel on one foot and a spade on the other foot?
A Swiss army wife.
What kind of milk is used to make Swiss cheese?
December 18th Birthdays
1980 – Christiana Aguilera, 1968 – Bridgette Mendler, 1978 – Katie Holmes, 1924 – Cicely Tyson
1947 – Steven Spielberg, 1964 – Brad Pitt, 1943 – Keith Richards, 1969 – Casper Van Dien