Swiss German For Members

German word of the day: Sommerzeit

Shannon Chaffers
Shannon Chaffers
German word of the day: Sommerzeit
Photo credit: Francesco Ungaro / Unsplash + Nicolas Raymond / flickr

The clocks are springing ahead this weekend, marking the beginning of daylight saving time and the end of the dark winter period. Aptly described in German as die Sommerzeit, here is the history of how the practice came about.


Why do I need to know this word?

The phrase, which sounds like this, will come in handy in German-speaking parts of Switzerland this weekend if you want to lament a lost hour of sleep in the morning or celebrate the extra hour of daylight in the evening. 

What does it mean? 

Die Sommerzeit translates to “summer time” or “summer season,” and refers to daylight saving time, which begins this weekend in many European countries, including Switzerland. At 2 am on Sunday March 26th, the clocks will spring forward one hour ahead, leading to more daylight. 

In the UK, this period is known as “British Summer Time" - one hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time - while in North America, daylight saving time is used more commonly. 

In French-speaking Switzerland it's usually known as passage à l'heure d'été, and in Italian speaking Switzerland it's ora legale.


What's the history of daylight savings?

As it turns out, the concept of die Sommerzeit in Europe originated in Germany. The German Empire, along with Austria-Hungary, introduced the practice in 1916 in order to conserve fuel during World War I, with the idea being that the extra daylight would reduce the use of artificial lighting, allowing the surplus fuel to be put towards the war efforts. Within weeks, many other countries across Europe followed suit. In the following years, the practice spread to Australia and the U.S as well.

But after the war, daylight saving grew unpopular in Europe. It wasn’t used on a large scale again until World War II, when Germany again popularised the practice. But a few years after the war ended, it fell out of favour for the second time.

It only picked up again when France reintroduced it in 1976, in response to an energy crisis sparked by the oil embargo in 1973. Switzerland was the last European country to adopt it in 1981. It's been in place since then - despite attempts to reverse it through referendums.

Cuckoo clocks

Remember to change the time on your cuckoo clock. Image by Regina Basaran from Pixabay

By 1996, the EU standardised the saving time schedule, which now runs from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October. 

But the future of daylight saving time is uncertain. In 2019, the European Parliament voted to abolish the practice of changing the clocks, however efforts to actually implement this measure have stalled.

When the EU voted for this, Switzerland said it would follow their lead. But as debates continue on daylight saving, who knows when things will change.  So at least for this year, die Sommerzeit will continue.  

READ ALSO: Why Switzerland hasn't called time on daylight savings

Use it like this: 

Wann beginnt die Sommerzeit? 

When does daylight saving time start?

Ich kann die Sommerzeit kaum erwarten!

I can’t wait for daylight saving time!

With reporting by Rachel Loxton


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