The Town Torn Between Two Countries

Büsingen am Hochrhein is a German town with a lot of Swiss character. That’s because this small town on the Rhine is entirely surrounded by Switzerland. That makes Büsingen an enclave, and like many territorial enclaves, Büsingen has absorbed the many forms and conventions of its host nation — perhaps a little more willingly. Residents of Büsingen speak Swiss and prefer to use Swiss francs instead of Euro. Although kids go to a local German school, many high school students end up studying on the other side of the border. Most Büsingen residents work for Switzerland in nearby Swiss towns and get paid in Swiss francs. Even their electricity comes from Switzerland. Yet, they pay German income taxes, because technically they are still German citizens. So how did Büsingen end up in this bizarre position? It all started in 1693, long before Germany existed. The village was under Austrian control when a family feud over religious allegiance led to the kidnapping of the Catholic-leaning feudal lord of Büsingen. His cousins hauled him to the nearby Swiss (and Protestant) town of Schaffhausen, where he was sentenced to life in prison. It took six years and the threat of Austria invading Schaffhausen to finally free the feudal lord. Then, when the Austrian Empire was absorbed by Germany in the 19th century, Büsingen was claimed by the new republic. In 1919, the residents of Büsingen held a referendum and 96% voted to leave Germany. However, Berlin wasn’t interested in giving the town up because Switzerland offered nothing in return. Finally, in 1967, Germany and Switzerland agreed to add Büsingen to the Swiss customs area, which removed border controls and checkpoints around the village of less than three square miles. As for Büsingens themselves, many feel that life would be much easier if their town was a part of Switzerland, but that’s unlikely to happen. So instead, people just pretend to be Swiss. They fly the Swiss flag and celebrate Swiss festivals, and life goes on.