The National Anthem No One Knows


If I were to judge the Swiss based on international news coverage, I would think that they are a superpatriotic people. Most news accounts focus on the perceived xenophobia of the Swiss and the escapades of the ultranationalistic Swiss People’s Party SVP. And yes, the fact that Oprah Winfrey allegedly was discriminated against when she tried to buy a $ 35,000 crocodile purse at a fancy boutique in Zurich (read my take on that on the deutschdrang Facebook page—August 11, 2013). That being said, one would expect the square red flag of schweizfahne1Switzerland to be flying from every window and rooftop in Switzerland. The fact is: Swiss flags are not very common at all, except in tourist areas to add that little extra Swiss idyllic touch. Most people don’t even own a Swiss flag. August 1, the Swiss national holiday, is a very tepid affair, with a few public fireworks, but no big family picnics or patriotic parades. And—most unpatriotic of all—the majority of Swiss people could not sing along to the Swiss national anthem if their life depended on it. They do know the tune and the first and maybe second line of the lyrics, but after that, it’s a wordless hum. This is particularly poignant since a number of Swiss pundits showed themselves outraged a couple of years ago that some members of the Swiss national soccer team—a few of whom had only recently acquired a Swiss passport—did not sing along with the Swiss anthem before games. But then again, neither did the dyed-in-the-wool-for-generations Swiss players. The national coach launched an offensive to teach his players the words to the unpopular hymn, but almost no one in the general population knows the anthem’s lyrics. The only Swiss person I have ever known who could Swiss national anthemsing more than one verse of the national anthem from memory was my mother. Everybody else—me included—knows the first line, which even appeared on a 1954 Swiss stamp that, sadly, did nothing to popularize the anthem in general. So we dutifully mumble “Trittst im Morgenrot daher” . . . hmhmhm . . . im Strahlenmeer.” Followed by silence or more hmhmhm.

So what gives with the Swiss and their lagging enthusiasm for the national anthem? To most Swiss people, the problem is quite clear. The “Swiss Psalm,” as it is officially known, was composed in 1841 and makes no sense to the Swiss people of today.

Schweizer Nationalhymne Swiss National Anthem
German Lyrics Official English Lyrics
Trittst im Morgenrot daher, Seh’ ich dich im Strahlenmeer, Dich, du Hocherhabener, Herrlicher! Wenn der Alpenfirn sich rötet, Betet, freie Schweizer, betet. Eure fromme Seele ahnt Eure fromme Seele ahnt Gott im hehren Vaterland! Gott, den Herrn, im hehren Vaterland!Kommst im Abendglühn daher, Find’ ich dich im Sternenheer, Dich, du Menschenfreundlicher,   Liebender! In des Himmels lichten Räumen Kann ich froh und selig träumen; Denn die fromme Seele ahnt Denn die fromme Seele ahnt Gott im hehren Vaterland! Gott, den Herrn, im hehren Vaterland!Ziehst im Nebelflor daher, Such’ ich dich im Wolkenmeer, Dich, du Unergründlicher, Ewiger! Aus dem grauen Luftgebilde Bricht die Sonne klar und milde, Und die fromme Seele ahnt Und die fromme Seele ahnt Gott im hehren Vaterland! Gott, den Herrn, im hehren Vaterland!Fährst im wilden Sturm daher, Bist du selbst uns Hort und Wehr, Du, allmächtig Waltender, Rettender! In Gewitternacht und Grauen Laßt uns kindlich ihm vertrauen! Ja, die fromme Seele ahnt Ja, die fromme Seele ahnt Gott im hehren Vaterland! Gott, den Herrn, im hehren Vaterland! When the morning skies grow red, and over us their radiance shed Thou, O Lord, appeareth in their light when the alps glow bright with splendor, pray to God, to Him surrender for you feel and understand that He dwelleth in this land.In the sunset Thou art nigh and beyond the starry sky Thou, O loving father, ever near, when to Heaven we are departing joy and bliss Thou’lt be imparting for we feel and understand that Thou dwellest in this land.When dark clouds enshroud the hills and gray mist the valley fills yet Thou art not hidden from thy sons pierce the gloom in which we cower with Thy sunshine’s cleansing power then we’ll feel and understand that God dwelleth in this land.[The official English translation only includes the first three verses.]

Heavy on the tongue and far from lyrical, the anthem has been described as a stilted prayer interlaced with a weather report. In fact, the numerous references to God alienate many Swiss people today. Although a Christian country in theory, Switzerland is not a bastion of religious faith. Many people consider themselves both politically and religiously neutral or Christian in name only.

Over the years, several attempts have been made to change the anthem, but now, finally, real change may come. The Swiss Charitable Society SGG has launched a competition to select a new Swiss national anthem. Entries can be submitted to the society from January 1 until June 30, 2014. A jury made up of authors, choir directors, music theorists, and public figures will choose the winning anthem, which will be presented to the Swiss government in hopes that it will officially adopt the new anthem. One issue that will require some serious creativity from the wanna-be anthem composers: the anthem must be meaningful and “singable” in all four official Swiss languages: German, French, Italian, and Romansh.

There is more than just national pride at stake: the winner of the competition will receive 10,000 Swiss Francs, in addition to—maybe—the undying gratitude of the Swiss people for saving them from the painfully antiquated current anthem. Who knows, if a catchy new anthem arises, the Swiss may finally become a little more patriotic.  

Further information, as well as the current anthem’s lyrics in all four official languages:

If you really want to try a sing-along:



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