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'Part of Swiss DNA': Village to vote on whether to ban cowbells

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
'Part of Swiss DNA': Village to vote on whether to ban cowbells
Switzerland is all about cowbells. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Some residents of the Bern municipality of Aarwangen have beef with the incessant ringing of cowbells. The community will resolve this issue the Swiss way — by voting.


The peaceful existence of this picturesque village was disrupted by two newly arrived couples, who lodged a complaint in November 2023 with the municipal authorities against the around-the-clock ringing of cowbells emanating from nearby pastures.

The complaint sparked an uproar among the residents, who decided to take the bull by the horns and launch a referendum to preserve the bell ringing — not just from cows, but also from churches.


The latter was added to the campaign because the chiming of church bells had also sparked various complaints over the years.

READ ALSO: How a nighttime bell has caused uproar in a Swiss village 

As a result of this ‘bell discontent’, the so-called 'bell initiative’ was created  in Aarwangen and signed by over 1,000 residents — even though only 319 signatures were needed for the issue to go to the ballot box. 

It will be finally voted on at the upcoming municipal assembly on June 17th.

“Aarwangen should embrace bell ringing as a tradition," said Andreas Baumann, who spearheaded the ‘keep the bells’ initiative. “These bells are part of the Swiss DNA," he said.

Ongoing dissent

If you think that this issue …rings a bell, you are right.

Cowbells have been the bone of contention between traditionalists and animal welfare advocates, (or just people with a very acute sense of hearing) who claim that heavy objects hanging from the bovine’s necks are not only too noisy but also detrimental  to the animals’ health.

Such a stance actually cost one woman her Swiss cirizenship.

In a widely publicised case, a Dutch woman has seen her request for naturalisation denied — not once but twice —because the residents of her village objected to her campaigning against cowbells (and as though this were not enough of, she also complained about the noise of church bells).

The village naturalisation committee said that the woman had a “big mouth, she annoys us, and doesn’t respect our traditions. 


'No bullying'
The fact is that cows hold a certain importance in Switzerland — both for the practical and legen…dairy reasons.

Maybe that's  because cows are such a big part of Switzerland’s landscape and their milk is an essential ingredient for the other things that Swiss love: cheese and chocolate. 

Unlike many other nations which don’t care as much about either cows or direct democracy, the Swiss held a referendum in 2018, pushed by a pro-cow group — yes, there really is such a thing — on whether subsidies should be given to farmers  who don’t dehorn their cows. 

It was rejected at the polls because the Swiss listened to the government’s argument that horned cows are dangerous for their unhorned comrades.

In other words, voters opted to prevent bullying among cows.


READ ALSO: Why are cows so important in Switzerland? 

And another example showing just how pro-cow the Swiss are, when occasional reports of cows attacking hikers on mountain trails pop up, people invariably side with cows, arguing that hikers have no business walking on bovine territory.

And another reflection of the fondness Switzerland’s population has for cows is that cattle-related questions are sometimes asked on naturalisation exams.

One such example is ‘Do you know what colour most of the cows in [Schwyz’s] Muota Valley are?’

(According to Barbara von Rütte, an attorney at the Europa Institute of the University of Basel “there is no correct answer to this question).

And there was this: “What is the most common cow name in Switzerland?

(It’s Fiona)



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