Graubünden Town’s Debate Over Bells Signals Bigger Problem

The centuries-old village of Zuoz (pronounced TSOO-whuts) has just 1,300 residents in the heart of Romansh-speaking Graubünden. But a fairly robust debate over early morning church bells could underline a bigger problem Zuoz is facing. WRS’s Tony Ganzer reports:

It was the biggest issue to hit tiny Zuoz in recent memory—should the church bells ring at 5 A-M or not?

It may seem like a silly thing to bring passionate debate but the town divided primarily into two camps. On one side, or if you will, in one corner: traditionalists, arguing to keep the bells ringing as they had done for dozens if not hundreds of years.

In the other corner: a group pushing progress, and arguing for business owners.

“Right next to the church tower we have two or three hotels, and people were afraid that guests would only stay for one night if they would be woken up by a bell at 5am,” says Claudio Duschletta, the town’s clerk and manager. He says the fear of losing precious tourism business was a main argument against the bells.

But ultimately the town council voted to keep the bells ringing by a clear majority and it seems after a winter and summer tourism season, the town is still doing fine.

“Figures are the same. I used to work in tourism for 10 years before I started to work for the village of Zuoz, and to be honest with you I never had one complaint about this issue. So it was probably only a trick to talk about tourism, but they were probably meaning something else…[like] personal interest,” Duchletta says.

If you are awake at 4:59 in the morning in Zuoz (as I was) you’ll notice how quiet the Alpine village really is, save for the sound of one of the many fountains bubbling away.

Even just down the street from the church tower though, the bells weren’t all that loud to my ear.

It seems the bells may have represented a bigger struggle in Zuoz…to keep its tradition and identity.

Identity issues

Anita Grundbacher is retired, and teaches Romansh in her spare time. She says the bells used to wake farmers and signal the start of the day, and admits the town doesn’t need that anymore. But she says the bells belong to Zuoz, they are part of the town.

Freelance painter Constant Künz was on the other side, against the early-morning bell ringing. He says the bells ringing are an old tradition, but there used to be a bell ringer to signal sunrise, customizing the ring-time each day. Now bells are mechanized and unnecessary.

“The more influence we get from abroad or from out of the valley I should say, the more difficult it gets to maintain all of these traditions, says town clerk and manager Duschletta.

He says Zuoz is fighting to keep both its town identity, and Romansh culture intact, and the debate about bells may have been part of that. More and more Italians and Germans are buying up property in the town as summer homes, he adds, driving up property prices for locals.

And even though Constant Künz was against the bell ringing he thinks such debates are good. He liked to see the town take an issue seriously and with great passion.

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