SHARE
COPY LINK

UNDERSTANDING THE SWISS

After 600 years of night watchmen, Lausanne gets first watchwoman

After over 600 years of night watchmen, a woman has for the first time been tasked with shouting out the time each hour through the night from the Lausanne cathedral bell tower.

After 600 years of night watchmen, Lausanne gets first watchwoman
The new workplace: Lausanne Cathedral. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

Cassandre Berdoz began working as an assistant night watchwoman at the Lausanne cathedral on August 16th, the Swiss city announced Thursday.

“This is the first time that this position … has been held by a woman, who is helping keep alive a tradition uninterrupted since 1405, while helping
it evolve,” it said in a statement.

Berdoz, it said, was likely the first woman to ever be officially appointed to the task anywhere in Europe.

READ MORE: Hear ye, here ye! This Swiss city is looking for a town crier

The new watchwoman herself said she was thrilled with the new position.

“As far back as I can remember, this tradition has fascinated me, and I have always wanted to be a watchwoman,” the Lausanne native said in the statement.

She is joining the ranks of male colleagues who have clambered to the top of the cathedral bell tower every single evening for the past 616 years.

All year round, from 10:00 pm to 2:00 am, the night watchman, wearing a big black hat and carrying a lantern, steps out to the bell tower railing to serve as a living clock for the people of the picturesque city on the shores of Lake Geneva.

The night watchmen, who once numbered in the tens of thousands across Europe, used to play a far more vital role.

Back when fire was a permanent threat to medieval towns and cities built in wood, he was an essential part of a network of watchmen, most of whom patrolled the streets.

From his perch, the cathedral watchman was tasked with sounding the alarm at the first whiff of smoke. 

But as technology advanced, the once ubiquitous position became largely obsolete and the watchmen all but disappeared across the continent.

Lausanne is today one of 63 European towns and cities that still have night watchmen, Thursday’s statement said.

Except for a few substitute stints, women have never held the position anywhere on the continent, it said, citing information from the European Guild of Night and Tower Watchmen.

“Lausanne is thus an equality pioneer” in this area, the city boasted.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

UNDERSTANDING THE SWISS

Reader question: What is Switzerland’s ‘Bünzli’ and how do I spot one?

In Switzerland, you might hear the term 'Bünzli' to describe someone. What does it mean?

A person wearing socks with sandals
Socks with sandals are a part of the Bünzli uniform. Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

One of many cultural curiosities, a Bünzli is someone who is simultaneously very Swiss – but whom the Swiss make significant fun of. 

The term has no direct English translation, which can make it a little confusing at first to understand. 

At least in part because it is relatively difficult to translate into English, the word Bünzli itself is often used among English speakers who live in Switzerland. 

Here’s what you need to know about Bünzli, a truly Swiss phenomenon. 

What is a Bünzli? 

The term Bünzli is a Swiss German insult to describe a particular type of person who is set in their ways, has narrow mind and view of things and tries desperately hard to hang onto tradition. It is almost always used as a criticism or in a negative context. 

While the internet gives up the translation ‘philistine’ in English, there are other elements which make a Bünzli a Bünzli. 

This insult – based on a real Swiss surname – applies to those boring people who follow all the rules and make sure everyone else does too.

Other English words like fussy, fastidious, stodgy and exact also describe a Bünzli. 

A Bünzli is the sort of person who would never cross the street when the light is red, who never stays out too late and never gets too drunk.

A Bünzli will have a perfectly manicured garden and will never want to split a bill evenly, instead demanding to pay exactly what he or she had – and nothing more. 

He is also the person most likely to complain to the building president when you dare to do your washing on Sunday, or to ring the police when he sees someone parked in front of a fire hydrant.

Some say Bünzli are particularly Swiss, like a distilled, concentrated form of pure Swiss-ness, although the fact that Bünzli are usually the target of ridicule from Swiss people indicates that foreigners are not the only ones who find the behaviour weird or out of line. 

The best English translation is probably a ‘goody two-shoes’, although in this case the more likely attire is socks paired with Adiletten. Yep, you get the idea.


Wearing Adiletten with socks doesn’t make you a Buenzli…but it helps. Photo: Christian H. Flickr

Still not sure what a Bünzli is? 

If you still don’t know what a Bünzli is, it might be helpful to see a few further examples. 

The following YouTube video goes through some specifics of the Bünzli is in Swiss German (although if you already speak Swiss German, you’ll likely know what a Bünzli is). 

Switzerland’s English forum often holds debates where expats look to discover the exact meaning of the term

Swiss news site Watson lists several reader examples of their Bünzli experiences, from having the police called for a noise complaint at 10:01pm, to telling tourists who asked for directions while holding a train door open to let go of the door so the train can leave. 

How do I spot one? 

For those who still don’t exactly know what a Bünzli is, don’t fret.

It’ll often happen the other way around, i.e. the Bünzli will discover you, when you haven’t done your recycling or when your doormat is the wrong way around in front of your apartment or when you cycle across the pedestrian crossing with no cars around. 

Keep the above in mind and trust us, you’ll know one when you see one. 

Have you had any Bünzli experiences? Please let us know in the comments below. 

SHOW COMMENTS