Key visual of the exhibition "Switzerland Elsewhere" - it shows a married couple, the man pushing a large overseas suitcase.

Exhibition | 13.04. - 29.09.2019

Switzerland elsewhere



Today, roughly 751,800 Swiss citizens live abroad, distributed over 200 countries across the world. Many have settled down in their new homes, others plan to return someday. Migrations are a historical constant: up to the age of the French Revolution, mercenarism was the most common cause for leaving the country, but craftsmen, merchants, clergymen, scholars, and other specialists have been on the move in Europe ever since the early modern period. However, mass emigration only became a phenomenon in the 19th century when entire groups of family and entrepreneurs set off for distant shores and continents – in the hope of finding economic and private fortune.

Among other things, the exhibition addresses the foundation of Swiss expat associations and has fascinating stories to tell about past and present migrants. With the help of extraordinary exhibits, photographs, and films, the exhibition shines a light on a number of exceptional people – like, for example, “Müller the Turk” from Lucerne, who enjoyed a career as director of the Oriental Railway in Istanbul. 

A rich accompanying programme invites you to reflect on the subject – how about exploring your own family’s ancestry? On selected Sundays, the Office for Migration Histories invites visitors to share their family’s migration stories and have them written down.

Events and guided tours

Exciting events are taking place in our museums every day, including guided tours, lectures, workshops, readings and more. The choice is yours. We look forward to your visit.

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Guided tours in English can be arranged for school classes. Entrance and guided tours are free of charges for school classes from Switzerland. Why not call us and find out more? Full ranges of activities for school groups are available on demand.

For guided tours and indipendents visits for school groups, please contact us 14 days in advance.

Entrance and guided tours are free of charges for Swiss school classes.

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Blog posts


Off to a new world – Switzerland elsewhere

Forum of Swiss History Schwyz | 13.4.2019 - 29.9.2019
published on 11.4.2019

Many of us dream of emigrating. The reasons for leaving Switzerland were, and still are, many and varied. The exhibition Switzerland elsewhere has dozens of exciting stories to tell about Swiss men and women who decided to leave the country and seek their fortune abroad.

For a long time, Switzerland was regarded as a country of emigration. Just a few generations ago and up to the early 20th century, many Swiss citizens were forced to leave because of economic hardship. Others travelled to Africa, Asia and Oceania voluntarily where the colonial economy offered merchants, farmers, missionaries, and natural scientists many new, exciting opportunities. Today, about eleven per cent of the total Swiss population lives abroad: France, Germany, Italy, the UK, and Spain are the favourite destinations in Europe, while the USA, Canada, and Israel rank top among the overseas countries.

In search of a new perspective

But what is behind this wish to settle abroad, today as well as in the past? Migrations are a constant, in historical as well as global terms; this is also true for Switzerland. Up to the age of the French Revolution, mercenarism was the most common cause for leaving the country. Mass emigration only became a phenomenon in the 19th century when nearly a half million people left Switzerland for distant shores and continents – always in the hope of finding economic fortune and personal happiness in their “new home”. 

From «Müller the Turk» to Damian Felchlin from Schwyz

The exhibition presents an array of fascinating stories of Swiss migrants from the 19th century to the present. Extraordinary exhibits, photographs, and film clips document some of the narratives, for example, the story of “Müller the Turk” who left Lucerne in the 19th century and made a career for himself in Istanbul as director of the Oriental Railway, or the case of young Damian Felchlin from Schwyz who now works as a trade commissioner in the USA where he is responsible for promoting the import of Swiss products.

Council of the Swiss Abroad

The Organization of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) was founded in 1916 with the aim of supporting Swiss expatriates in maintaining connections with their home country and among themselves. OSA represents the interests of the 751,800 Swiss nationals living abroad and is recognized by the authorities as the official organ of the “Fifth Switzerland”. It informs Swiss expats about what is going on at home and offers a wide range of services. OSA is supported by around 650 Swiss associations and institutions across the world.

Subsidized emigration

In the early 1930s, during the Great Depression, the federal government subsidized the emigration of destitute people, who were willing to start a new life as settlers in Brazil received support. 

Recording your own “migration history”

A rich accompanying programme invites you to reflect on the subject of migration. How about exploring your own family’s ancestry? On selected Sundays, the Office for Migration Histories invites visitors to share their own or their family’s migration stories and have them recorded in writing.


Slave board, West Africa, before 1888

The Basel missionaries played an important role in the liberation of slaves from 1862.

Museum der Kulturen Basel


bestowed on Jakob Müller, between 1897–1916

Swiss National Museum

picture no. 1206661 (RM)

In Zurich, a first contingent of 40 impoverished unemployed people has left for Brazil to establish a new livelihood as planters in the jungle regions. The Ansa share, which made the emigration of the unemployed possible, was subsidized by the federal government with a considerable sum. The couple in the picture is waiting for the departure of the train at Zurich Central Station, shot in the 1930s

Keystone, Photopress-Archive

image no. 28025525 (RM)

A Swiss couple who want to emigrate to Australia arrives with their luggage at the departure camp in Büren am Albis, undated photography.

Keystone, Photopress-Archive

Karin Freitag-Masa

Head of Business Administration, Marketing & Communication

Forum of Swiss History, Schwyz +41 41 819 60 18


Archiv der Basler Mission
Association Fribourg - Nova Friburgo, Fribourg
Biblioteca cantonale di Lugano
Desertina Verlag und Logistik AG, Chur
Susann Bosshard-Kälin, Egg
ETH-Bibliothek, Hochschularchiv der ETH Zürich
Historisches Museum Basel
Roland Isler, Heatherton, Australien
Flavia Leuenberger Ceppi, Balerna
Jacques Edgar Müller, Zumikon
Musée d’art et d’histoire, Fribourg
Musée gruérien, Bulle
Museum der Kulturen Basel
Pharmazie-Historisches Museum der Universität Basel
Sammlung Verkehrshaus der Schweiz, Luzern
Schweizerisches Bundesarchiv, Bern
Schweizerische Nationalbibliothek, Bern
Schweizerisches Sozialarchiv, Zürich
Staatsarchiv Graubünden, Chur
Staatsarchiv Schwyz
Lucas Steiner, Schwyz
Stiftung Kantha Bopha, Zürich
Universitätsbibliothek Basel
Verlag Hier+Jetzt, Baden
Völkerkundemuseum der Universität Zürich
Y MAG, Schwyz
Zentralbibliothek Zürich

Nous remercions
der Auslandschweizer-Organisation ASO


Exhibition imprint

Overall management   Andreas Spillmann
Project direction and concept  

Pia Schubiger

Public relations and marketing  

Karin Freitag-Masa (Leitung), Conny Lüönd

Cultural Services and Museum Education  

Isabelle Marcon Lindauer




Gasser Derungs Innenarchitekturen GmbH, Carmen Gasser Derungs, Remo Derungs, Merit Albertin, Anne-Chantal Rufer

Graphic Design  

Grafik Designer FH, Gabriel Andermatt und David Clavadetscher

Exhibition construction  

Aroma Productions AG
Roger Drein, Malen und Stuck
Atelier S&G
Ruedi Schmidig

Lighting design  

Mati AG, Mica Ostermeier

Loan services  

Maya Jucker, Bernard Schüle, Angela Zeier

Conservation and mounting of objects  

Markus Leuthard (Leitung), Tino Zagermann (Projektleitung), Anna Jurt


David Blazquez (Leitung), Christian Affentranger, Markus Scherer


Jonas Hänggi

Photographic library  

Andrea Kunz, Fabian Müller

Lithographs and Scans  

Georg Sidler

Media planning, implementation and programming  

René Vogel (Leitung), Thomas Bucher, Pasquale Pollastro upbrand emotions Gmbh, Thomas Krummenacher, Christoph Probst

IT, Web and audio  

René Vogel (Leitung), Thomas Bucher, Pasquale Pollastro, Danilo Rüttimann


Marie-Claude Buch-Chalayer, Weil am Rhein
Giovanna Planzi, Minusio
Nigel Stephenson, Basel


Apostroph Luzern AG