Next up in our series THE OUTSIDERS, meet a team who are separated from their own country by metres yet play their football on ‘neutral’ territory.
BY MARK GODFREY
Surrounded by the Swiss: not something you hear very often, is it? In this case, we’re not referring to a rare military skirmish (those multi-functional Army knives can be very threatening under certain circumstances), rather the tiny German enclave of Büsingen am Hochrhein which is, as inferred, totally contained within the conventional borders of Switzerland. The town has been separated from the Motherland (or should that be Fatherland?) since 1805 and the time of the Napoleonic Wars when it switched from Austrian control to that of Württemberg, which itself became a part of the German Empire a year later before eventually becoming part of the modern Bundesrepublik Land of Badem-Württemberg we see today. The ties to Germany remain unbroken despite the result of a referendum in the town after the First World War, in which the inhabitants voted to become part of Switzerland, was ignored due mainly to the Swiss being unable to offer anything substantial in return.
Being cut off from your ‘own’ country may sound difficult, but in Büsingen’s case things don’t seem to be so troublesome; bordered by the predominately German-speaking Swiss cantons of Schaffhausen, Zürich and Thurgau (as well as the River Rhine) means that conversing with the neighbours is never a problem. And should you wish to make a dash through ‘enemy’ territory to the safe haven of home, there are no ruthless border patrols with rabid Alsatians and machine guns to stop you – Switzerland joined the Schengen area in 2008, therefore movement across borders is simple and unfettered. Besides, at the narrowest point, the distance between the town and the rest of Badem-Württemberg is a mere 700 metres.
The links do not end there; you can pay for goods and services in both the official currency of the Euro but also with Swiss francs, policemen of Germany and Switzerland are stationed in the town and if you wish to send a letter there, you can address to both countries provided you use the postal code that refers to its designation under both systems. Perhaps the apparent convenience of the double life there is actually just confusing – I suppose only the Boozers (a nickname I just made up for Büsingen’s 1,500 or so inhabitants) could clarify that.
The town’s football club, FC Büsingen, is equally unique; they’re the only German side to compete in the Swiss League, doing so in the Zürich region group of the fourth division, although they did once make it as high as the second tier in 1973 before dropping back to their more accustomed amateur level very rapidly. They were formed in 1924, and despite being interfered with by Hitler’s Nazis during the Second World War, they returned in 1947 in the Swiss League, likely due to ease of travel and more Swiss clubs being within handy distance.
Since 2008, the Büsi-Boys first team has been coached by Wolfgang Arbenz with a string of steady if unspectacular league performances behind them. However, this season they sit unbeaten at the top of Gruppe 10 of the 4. Liga at the halfway stage of the season. They resume their title push in March after the winter break as they try to add the title of Saisonmeister to that of Wintermeister.
The home ground Kirchberg is very much at the heart of the small community, with a second team, women’s team, senior and junior team all able to take advantage of the facilities on offer. Interestingly, it is the installation of a new artificial pitch planned for April 2016 that has convinced the club to apply for membership of the Deutscher Fussball Bund (German FA). The reason? Money of course. FC Büsingen would become eligible for a 100,000 Euro grant from a DFB infrastructure fund and are hopeful of a positive outcome from their ambitious application.
FC Büsingen may play in Switzerland but they retain the ‘famous’ German sense of humour; the club song – Fussballerlied FC Büsingen – makes reference to the mighty Rhine on which the enclave stands. During the yearly spring floods brought about by the thawing of snow from the Alps, the pitch can become waterlogged, to which the song says they will “never go under”. Sehr gut, ja?