The Municipality Of Büsingen am Hochrhein Where Binationality Is A Way Of Life

By Ingrid Cruz on January 14 2020 in Travel

Road sign on the Swiss-German border.
Road sign on the Swiss-German border.

If you live in a town or city anywhere in the world, you'll find that your place of residence identifies as part of one country. But Büsingen am Hochrhein is no ordinary German town. 

This village has a population of 1,450 where two cultures and political systems work together to afford residents the comfort of a German location while allowing them to celebrate being economically Swiss.

Where Binationality Is A Way Of Life

The BBC reports that Büsingen has been binational in identity for centuries now. Located near the Rhine, town residents are proud to represent two European cultures, and they've even made several interesting compromises along the way so they can hang on to their way of life.

German-Swiss borders are open in this small enclave to help residents go about their business. The caveat is that Swiss police can arrest German troublemakers and bring them to the country for booking. Notably, only about 700 meters separate Büsingen residents from Switzerland.

Unlike the rest of Germany, residents use the Swiss franc as their currency even though the Euro is Germany's legal currency. Residents can use German and Swiss postal codes to receive mail. 

Restaurant Waldheim is located exactly on the border, which means diners can be in two places at once. 

Not Everything Is Sorted

Büsingen cemented its peculiar place in world history and geography because of a family feud in 1693. The village was a part of Austria then, and the Austrian government kept Büsingen when it sold the property to Zurich. 

Lo and behold, the Austrian empire collapsed and a new country was born—Germany. Büsingen was a part of the Austrian empire comprising the new nation, so residents got a new nationality as a result of these political changes.

The Swiss tried to find ways for the town to re-join the country, and it almost succeeded. A 1918 referendum to be reinstated to Switzerland passed with a staggering 96% 'yes' vote. However, the German government had been hoping to trade something with Switzerland to make up for what would have become a lost territory. When the Swiss had nothing to exchange with Germany, the nation decided to keep Büsingen.

But the town held on to its steadfast Swiss identity. German soldiers respected Swiss customs whenever they set foot in Büsingen, putting their guns and helmets away due to local neutrality.

A formal agreement was reached in 1967 and is responsible for Büsingen's special concessions. The town is on German soil but participates in the Swiss economic area. Taxes as a major source of frustration for the town, which attracts retired elders who can enjoy Germany's lower cost of living.

An Example Of How Brexit Could Work?

Despite a few hurdles here and there, Büsingen's local arrangement has been working beautifully for everyone thus far. Leaders in the European Union have argued that the EU could give Northern Ireland special concessions after Brexit, thanks in part to Büsingen's decades-long arrangments.

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