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Freiheitstrychler: Who are Switzerland’s ‘freedom bell ringers’?

For non-German speakers, Freiheitstrychler is a difficult word to pronounce, but this group has become a symbol of how age-old Swiss customs and traditions can lead to political resistance. Here’s what you should know about it.

Federal Councillor and former President Ueli Maurer
Federal Councillor Ueli Maurer has stirred controversy with his ‘provocative’ attire. Photo Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

If you have been following Swiss news in the past two months, you have likely seen images of the Federal Councillor Ueli Maurer, who heads the Finance Department, wear a white t-shirt decorated with a Swiss flag as well as edelweiss and other Alpine flowers.

While the shirt may look innocuous enough, it is worn by a group of vocal anti-vaxxers, who oppose Switzerland’s policies toward  managing the pandemic.  

Trychler versus Freiheitstrychler

The Trychlern are bells worn by Swiss cows, and the word is also used to describe men who take part in traditional bell-ringing processions in the Alps.

Freiheitstrychler (“freedom bell ringers”) on the other hand, is an offshoot, militant group of the traditional ringers, who have been voicing their disagreement with the government’s anti-Covid measures.

Covid-19 vaccines: Why is Switzerland lagging behind other countries?

Before the health crisis, the trychlers were only known to folklore lovers, mainly in the Swiss-German regions of the country.

But during the pandemic, and after the “freedom” prefix was attached to their name, the offshoot group started to ring their bells during unauthorised anti-Covid protests.

“Founded by a group of committed Swiss people, we put our heart and soul into our constitutional rights”, the group says on its website.

The Maurer controversy

Perhaps the Freiheitstrychlers would be largely unnoticed if a Federal Councillor had not been photographed wearing the group’s t-shirt.

Ueli Maurer, a two-time President of Switzerland who is a member of right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP), was photographed at an SVP event in September wearing the Freiheitstrychler shirt.

This was taken by many as a deliberate provocation and a stance against the government’s Covid policies.

Maurer was accused of breaching the Federal Council’s principle of collegiality and consensus: no matter which political parties they represent or what their personal views are, all councillors must uphold and support the common government policies. 

In this particular case, Maurer sent conflicting messages, because while the Federal Council is trying to convince the population of the need for Covid vaccinations, the Freiheitstrychler reject this and other the official measures.

“With this behaviour, Maurer clearly stabbed the Federal Council in the back, said Balthasar Glättli, president of the Green Party.

After the fallout from incident, Maurer denied he wore the shirt as a political statement as he didn’t know what it stood for.

READ MORE: Thousands take part in illegal protest against Covid measures in Switzerland

Tradition versus political activism

Combining political opposition with an ancestral tradition is not to everyone’s taste.

The “freedom” faction is facing criticism from traditional trychlers, who accuse the anti-Covid group of harming the old custom.

“The Freiheitstrychler abuse our customs and damage our image”, according to traditional bell-ringer, Josef Winiger.

Due to the media hype, he said, some of their shows have been cancelled, “as the organisers of these events fear our performance will be politically motivated”.

Traditional trychlers want to distance themselves from the other group, especially as many “are not even real trychlers. They just got some bells somewhere and parade with them ”.

Photo by Wikimedia commons

Ruedi Herger, president of the Trychlerclub Herger of Seelisberg in the canton of Uri, is also fed up.

“We have to separate our bells from politics. If someone wants to go and demonstrate, he can do so, but our custom must not suffer ”.

That’s one message that rings a bell among the traditionalists.

READ MORE: Sluggish Swiss jab rates up despite anti-vaxxer sabotage

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For members


How to talk email, websites, social media and phone numbers in Swiss French

It's a very common experience to have to give out your phone number or email address in Switzerland, or take down the address of a website, so here's how to do this if you're in the French-speaking part of the country.

How to talk email, websites, social media and phone numbers in Swiss French

The correct names for punctuation marks used to be fairly low down on any French-learner’s list, but these days they are vital whenever you need to explain an email address, website or social media account.

Likewise if you want to talk about websites, or social media posts, there are some things that you need to know. 


Obviously punctuation points have their own names, and making sure you get the periods, dashes and underscores correct is vital to giving out account details. 

Full stop/period . point. Pronounced pwan, this is most commonly heard for Swiss websites or email addresses which end in. ch (pronounced pwan ce ash).

If you have a site that ends in .com you say ‘com’ as a word just as you would in English – pwan com.

At symbol @ Arobase – so for example the email address [email protected] would be jean pwan dupont arobas bluewin pwan ce ash.

Ampersand/and symbol & esperluette

Dash – tiret

Underscore _ tiret bas 

Forward slash / barre oblique

Upper case/capital lettersMajuscule (or lettre majuscule)

Lower caseminiscule

The following punctuation points are less common in email or web addresses, but worth knowing anyway:

Comma , virgule. In French a decimal point is indicated with a comma so two and a half would be 2,5 (deux virgule cinq)

Exclamation mark ! point d’exclamation – when you are writing in French you always leave a space between the final letter of the word and the exclamation mark – comme ça !

Question mark ? point d’interrogation – likewise, leave a space between the final character and a question mark 

Brackets/parentheses ( ) parenthèse

Quotation marks « » guillemets 


If you need to give your phone number out, the key thing to know is that Swiss-French people pair the numbers in a phone number when speaking.

So say your number is 079 345 6780, in French you would say zero septante-neuf, trois-cents quarante-cinq, soixante-sept, huitante (zero seventy-nine, three hundred forty-five, sixty-seven, eighty ).

Mobile numbers in Switzerland  begin with 079 or 078 (zero septante-neuf or zero septante-huit).

Social media

If you want to give out your Twitter or Instagram handle, the chances are you might need to know some punctuation terms as described above.

Otherwise the good news is that a lot of English-language social media terms are used in Switzerland too.

Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have the same names in Switzerland and have entered the language in other ways too, for example you might describe your dinner as très instagrammable – ie it’s photogenic and would look good on Instagram.

On Twitter you can suivre (follow), aimer (like) or retweet (take a wild guess). You’ll often hear the English words for these terms too, though pronounced with a French accent.

There is a French translation for hashtag – it’s dièse mot, but in reality hashtag is also very widely used.

Tech is one of those areas where new concepts come along so quickly that the English terms often get embedded into everyday use before the French-speakers can think up an alternative.

READ MORE: French-speaking Switzerland: Seven life hacks that will make you feel like a local