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Zürich is a Swiss city split into 12 districts, Kreis 1 to Kreis 12. It seems like Zürich people like to identify themselves as belonging to a specific district when introducing themselves to other Swiss online. Other Swiss German city residents do not identify themselves as belonging to a Kreis in their respective cities. It seems like only Zürich people do this.

Besides "Kreis" translating to "district", how does it relate to a similar German word "Kreuz" which means "cross". Does "Kreis" in Swiss German hold some sort of underlying linguistic + historical importance compared to other German languages, given that also only the Swiss use the word "Canton" for states.

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  • @HubertSchölnast why did you edit the post for every Zurich to Zürich? isn't the former the English spelling of the city's name (the post was written in English), while the latter is if the post had been all written in German?
    – user610620
    Nov 4, 2021 at 8:25
  • I also thought this before, but I checked it here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zürich Nov 4, 2021 at 8:33
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    @Hubert Schölnast - The Wikipedia article does say the traditional spelling is without the umlaut, and it appears that both versions are acceptable in English. But given where we are, the no umlaut spelling does seem out of place
    – RDBury
    Nov 4, 2021 at 9:41
  • Why would you assume that Kreis has anything to do with Kreuz? How did the context that you stated lead you to believe so?
    – Jan
    Nov 18, 2021 at 16:15
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    While I see that there is an accepted answer which just explains the different understadings of Kreis in an administrative way - I fail to see the question and how the answers do fit. Please rewrite it. Even if it means that the answers "enlightened" what you really wanted to ask. Sure I could do it myself - yet I know nothing about your intentions. Nov 19, 2021 at 8:30

2 Answers 2

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In geometry a »Kreis« is a circle. It is either the set of all points on a plane having the same distance (the radius) from a given center point, or the set of all points that have a distance less than the radius.

In geopolitics a »Kreis« is an administrative area. Areas named »Landkreis« or just »Kreis« exist in Germany and obviously also in Zürich.

In Germany a »Kreis« is the geographical area around a »Kreisstadt«. I'm not really sure about administration in Germany (I live in Austria) but I think a Kreis is a level between Gemeinde (municipality) and Bezirk (district):

  • Gemeinde (municipality) - Kreis/Landkreis (district) - Regierungsbezirk (district) - Bundesland (state) - Deutschland (Germany)

In Austria it is similar, but we don't have Kreise in Austria. (We only have "Wahlkreise" (election districts) which only are used in election arithmetics but have no administrative meaning.):

  • Gemeinde (municipality) - Regierungsbezirk (district) - Bundesland (state) - Österreich (Austria)

I'm also not really sure about Switzerland, but I think this should be correct:

  • Gemeinde (municipality) - Kanton (canton/state) - Schweiz (Switzerland)

And in all three countries bigger cities are exceptions of these systems, some of them (Berlin, Vienna, Hamburg, Bremen) are states with their own inner structure.

In France, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg, in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in Canada, Syria, Bolivar, Ecuador and El Salvador there also is an administrative layer called »canton« (German: Kanton). In Switzerland this is the same level as states in other federal nations like Germany, Austria, USA, Mexico, India etc. A canton is not always the highest administrative level. For example in France it is the 3rd level (btw: France is not a federal nation, so it doesn't have states.)

Other cities are also subdivided in smaller administrative areas. For example Vienna in Austria is subdivided in 23 districts called »Bezirke« (singular: Bezirk). And they also have numbers. I used to live in »11. Bezirk« for a long time, but also in »10. Bezirk« and in »16. Bezirk«. Those districts have names too (10. Bezirk = Favoriten, 11. Bezirk = Simmering, 16. Bezirk = Ottakring) but in Vienna people are used to say just the number of the district. Also Paris is subdivided in 20 districts, called »arrondissements« which also have numbers, and as far as I know, also in Paris people are used to use just the numbers instead of the names. (The name of the 6th arrondissement is »Luxembourg« and it might be confusing if someone says they live in Luxembourg. It is clearer if they say they live in the 6th arrondissement.)


Kreis (circle) and Kreuz (cross) are not related to each other.

The origin of the word »Kreis« is Old High German »kreiz« (arena, magic circle) which is a cognate of the verb »krizzon« (modern German: kritzeln, English doodle, scribble, scrawl) which originally meant to carve a line. (People carved a line on the ground which was the border of a magic circle or an arena for fights.)

The origin of the German word Kreuz (Old High German kruzi) is latin crux (beam with crossbar, gallows, torture stake) and was used for many centuries only as the name of Jesus' cross (Christian cross). The former German name for this execution device was »Galgen« (gallows), but later the word »Galgen« was used only for an execution device that looks like the greek capital letter Gamma (»Γ«) while the device that looks like a plus sign (»✝«) lost the name »Galgen« and was named »Kreuz« only.

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    The EU attempt at standardization: de.wikipedia.org/wiki/NUTS
    – Roland
    Nov 4, 2021 at 8:09
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    Anyone know why only Zurich of the major Swiss cities is numbered into Kreis's? Basel and Lucerne aren't numbered into Kreis's
    – user610620
    Nov 4, 2021 at 8:28
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    ... In Austria the city districts of Vienna and Graz are named »Bezirke« and they have their own district mayors als councils. The districts of other austrian cities are named »Statdteile« (city parts) and are just administrative areas without political representation. According to Wikipedia de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stadtkreis_(Schweiz) these Swiss cities are subdivided into »Stadtkreise«: Zürich, Winterthur, St. Gallen, Luzern. Other cities like Geneva, Lausanne and Bern are subdivided in »Stadtteile« and cities like Basel, Biel and Lugano don't have city districts at all. ... Nov 4, 2021 at 8:55
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    btw: Luzern has 6 Stadtkreise and their numbers are uppercase latin letters (A to F). These 6 Kreise are subdivided in 26 smaller Quartiere (quarters): de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luzern#Stadtgliederung Nov 4, 2021 at 9:07
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    According to Wiktionary, Bezirk and "circle" both derive from the Greek κίρκος, so they are, at least in a sense, cognates. In English, a "circle" does not just mean a geometric figure, and Kreis seems to have additional meanings in an analogous way. The Holy Roman Empire was divided into "Imperial circles"/*Circuli imperii*/*Reichskreise*; perhaps this is related.
    – RDBury
    Nov 4, 2021 at 10:20
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In a number of cities in Switzerland, there is an administrative or statistical division of the city between the levels of neighborhoods/quarters and the municipality. In Zürich, Winterthur, St. Gallen and Lucerne, they are called "Stadtkreis"; in Bern "Stadteil"; in Geneva „sections“; in Lausanne "quartier" (the latter two are French-speaking). These are just different names for the concept of city districts. Other cities, e.g. Basel, Biel, and Lugano, don't have this intermediate level.

Why are they called "Kreis" or "Stadtkreis" in some cities, and something else in others?

  • Because no one took care of a uniform naming. Switzerland being a federal state, the cantons are free to implement their own administrative structure.
  • "Kreis" means circle. It has no connection with "Kreuz". As user RDBury pointed out in a comment, the German word for district – "Bezirk" – is derived from Latin "circulus" and thus also means circle. In that sense, "Kreis" is a synonym of "Bezirk".

In Zürich, the city districts have their origin in two phases of incorporations which took place in 1893 and 1934. Before 1893, the municipality of Zürich consisted only of the old town. This is now "Kreis I". The other city districts were independant municipalities. This is still reflected in their names, and they kept some of their own village life. Today, neighborhood associations, guilds and political parties are organized by city districts.

Sources (German):

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  • French word for the Geneva and Lausanne sections?
    – user610620
    Nov 19, 2021 at 3:35
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    In Geneva, they’re called „sections“ (French word with the same spelling and meaning as The English one). In Lausanne, they‘re called „quartier“ (quarter), and the smaller units „secteur“ (sector). It‘s complicated!
    – wra
    Nov 19, 2021 at 4:17

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