How a nighttime bell has caused uproar in a Swiss village

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
How a nighttime bell has caused uproar in a Swiss village
Some people are complaining about bells in Swiss towns. Photo by AFP

There is uproar in a Swiss village and it's all to do with the incessant ringing of a nearby bell at nighttime.


Tribune de Genève reported that an unnamed woman recently moved to Plan-les-Ouates, a municipality of just over 9,000 inhabitants in canton Geneva. She took up residence near an old schoolhouse.

The bell on the top of the school building rings every 30 minutes, day and night.

The new arrival complained that the chiming disrupts her sleep and asked town authorities to turn off the bell during the night.

But her request did not strike a chord; in fact, it has caused outrage among many of the town’s residents, who have launched a petition — signed by 300 people so far — opposing any move to silence their bell.

"There is no question of stopping the bell for a new arrival", said longtime resident Gérard Genecand, who is spearheading the campaign to keep the around-the-clock tolling.


Jean-Claude Maillard, president of an association which manages municipal archives, is also angered by the woman’s request.

"It's like when a rooster crows in a village. When people from the city arrive, they complain about it", he said.

Both say that townsfolk is “sentimentally attached” to the bell, which was originally part of Geneva’s fortifications and was gifted to Plan-les-Ouates in 1901. Since then, it had become firmly rooted in the town’s culture.

In its response to the resident, municipal officials sent a message that was clear as a bell: they refused to comply with her request because “this bell has been ringing for 120 years and no one complained,” they noted."We have always heard it at night, but it never stopped us from sleeping because the body gets used to this type of noise very quickly," Maillard said.

Mayor Xavier Magnin said that the resident will not let go so quickly. "She threatened to take legal action”, he said.

In bell-loving Switzerland, the nightly chiming is a widespread practice and an integral part of the culture.

Most people like this centuries-old tradition, which dates back to the age before smart phones and other electronic devices showed exact time. 


And this is not the first time when bells set off an alarm in Switzerland.

In 2018, a dispute erupted in town of Hofstetten about the six-minute-long bell ringing at 5:30 am at the local church. Several residents asked that the morning chiming be postponed until 7 am, so they could get some more sleep.

But hundreds of outraged residents showed up at a church meeting and voted to leave the morning ritual unchanged for the sake of tradition.

Curiously enough, town authorities are much more lenient towards animals than people.

In 2019, the bells of a church in northern Switzerland have been switched off indefinitely so as not to disturb a pair of mating storks. 

The Swiss cherish the bell tradition but many of the country’s foreign residents, not so much.

Switzerland’s English-language forum even has a thread called ‘Damn church bells’, which publishes complaints from bell-haters.

It also advises apartment seekers to check how close the house is to a church and to listen to bells before signing the lease.

This suggestion may seem odd to newly arrived foreign nationals, but it does ring a bell with those who are accustomed to Swiss ways. 




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