For a small country of only eight million people, Switzerland has a rich and diverse music scene and hosts perhaps the most music festivals of any country in Europe. However, songs in Swiss German don’t always get the spotlight. In fact, at major events, most of the music is in English.
Music in Switzerland is quite regional because of the country’s four national languages, so Swiss German songs may not be popular in the French– or Italian-speaking areas. This linguistic reality has, unfortunately, made it more difficult for Swiss musicians to succeed on the world stage.
If your only impression of music in Switzerland involves the von Trapp family frolicking across the Swiss-Austrian border, you’ll be surprised by the wealth of folk music in Switzerland. And if you’re trying to learn Swiss German, you may also be surprised at how fun it is to learn it through the songs! So, let’s take a look at some of the best and most popular songs in Swiss German.
Traditional Swiss German songs
The Guggisberglied is probably the oldest known Swiss folk song, with the text of the song dating to the mid-19th century (though we can safely assume its roots go back further still). The tragic song was passed down through a long oral tradition, and it tells the story of a woman pining for an absent lover. It takes its name from the village of Guggisberg, about 30 kilometers south of Bern, and many believe it derives from a true story.
Es Burebuebli (The Farmer Boy) is a charming old tune that’s still sung as a children’s song. It’s sung from the perspective of a girl who doesn’t like farmer boys, though sometimes a rather humorous twist is added to the lyrics. After turning down an entire troupe of boys from higher standing because of all their faults, the girl eventually settles for the farmer boy!
Swiss German Christmas songs
Kommt all herein, ihr Engelein
Kommt all herein, ihr Engelein (Come All Ye Little Angels) is a very popular Christmas song that originated in Bremgarten, in the Swiss canton of Aargau near Zurich. It then spread to neighboring Germany and Austria. It’s one of few original Swiss carols (a “Swissmas” carol, one might say), as most others are imported from Germany and Austria and subsequently translated into Swiss German.
Die heilige Driikönige
Die heilige Driikönige (The Three Holy Kings) is also a popular Christmas carol across much of the German-speaking world, being a famous composition by the German composer Richard Strauss. There is a very distinct charm to its Swiss German rendition.
Modern Swiss German hits
“Dr Alpeflug” (1973) by Mani Matter
No list of great contemporary Swiss German music would be complete without a mention of Mani Matter, who remains a musical icon 50 years after his tragic death at the age of 36. His lyrics are somewhat peculiar and absurdist, but they are often used in Swiss German classes as a fun way to grasp some grammar and as an example of the Bernese dialect. “Dr Alpeflug” remains an enduring favorite, encompassing all the wit and irony for which Matter’s music is so cherished.
“Eisbär” (1981) by Grauzone
The band Grauzone (gray zone) from Berne was perhaps the most important Swiss contribution to the Neue Deutsche Welle — that is, the German new wave movement of the 1980s. Though the band was short-lived, their 1981 cult hit “Eisbär” (Polar Bear) remains a beloved classic of Swiss rock.
“Charlotta” (2015) by Hecht
Hecht is an indie-rock band from Zurich that formed in 2001. They play all of their songs in Swiss German, and the words of their song “Charlotta” are known all across Switzerland (or at least in the German-speaking parts). While “Charlotta” has been Hecht’s most popular song so far, be sure to keep an eye out for these five. Even after all these years, we can still expect more great music from them.
Hills alive with the sound of music
These famous Swiss German songs from across the years should serve as a great entry point into Swiss music, whether you’re a traditionalist dreaming of singing folks songs in an alpine Beizli (Swiss pub), looking forward to a snowy Christmas in Zurich or catching up with some modern bops. Whatever your taste, these songs are a useful way to improve your Swiss German and maybe bond with your Swiss friends and neighbors.