I have spent a lot of time in the past in Zurich, mostly on business trips. My maiden visit was in the early 80s while working as an internal auditor for an American bank. The audit team used to stay in a hotel halfway up the Adlisberg, overlooking the city, and at weekends I’d ascend the hill to stay at its more expensive parent hotel (pictured below after its Foster makeover) which had a fabulous open air pool. Obviously, weekends during the winter months would be spent in a ski resort. Thankfully, all this was well before the advent of EasyJet and the like, meaning a return flight to London would be around £500, which was what I could therefore spend at the weekend. Not bad eh? Let’s just say that I toured Europe’s 5* hotels and resorts on those weekends.
Despite job changes, I continued to travel regularly on business to Zurich. Unsurprising, given I have always worked in financial services. Consequently, it’s a town I know well though I’ve not been back for around 10 years – doesn’t time fly? That said, I wasn’t expecting too many changes to the Old Town.
My beloved had dropped me off at the airport en route to visit his client and I’d taken the train into the centre – much the quickest and cheapest option. I was always amazed that work colleagues took taxis at 10 times the price of the train fare, particularly on a Friday evening when the traffic in Zurich was murderous and it could take over an hour by taxi versus 15 minutes by train to reach the airport.
I began my wander round town heading along the Bahnhofstrasse. The part closest to the station I find far less interesting as it’s home to shops you can find everywhere. About half-way down the road, a subtle change takes place at the Sculpture Pavillion. Thereafter, it tends to be individual and designer shops, plus banks.
The installation erected in 1983 was designed by Swiss artist and sculpter Max Bill, and comprises 63 equally sized blocks of Black Forest granite. I like to think it’s saying something about Zurich’s solidity and security as a financial services centre. I also think it inspired a former employer’s logo.
The sun was shining as I continued to wander along the Bahnhofstrasse, which leads directly to the lake of Zurich. As I did so, I passed Paradeplatz, the centre of Switzerland’s financial sector, the heart of the Bahnhofstrasse and an important interchange for the tram network. In 17th century it was known as the “Säumärt” (pig market) as a livestock market was regularly held there. At the beginning of 19th century, its name was changed to Neumarkt (new market) and then, 50 years later, to Paradeplatz.
I continued in the direction of the lake, noting the large Friday market set out on the other side of the road. On reaching the lake, I took a few photos, before crossing the Limmat river to take a few photos of Niederdorf.
I didn’t however have time to wander around Niederdorf though it’s an interesting area, fondly referred to by locals as the “Dörfli” (little village). Like the Limmatquai, which runs parallel to it, Niederdorf is a pedestrian zone with loads of small shops hidden down the alleyways, while in the evening it transforms into a thriving and somewhat noisy area thronged with students and tourists in its many restaurants, bars and clubs.
See the imposing church with its twin towers? That’s a Zurich landmark. Legend has it that Charlemagne had the first church erected as a monastery on the graves of the city’s patron saints Felix and Regula. In the first half of 16th century, the Grossmünster was the starting point of the Reformation in German-speaking Switzerland. The theological school, which at the time was part of the monastery, became the University of Zurich. The church features stained glass windows by Sigmar Polke and Augusto Giacometti making it well worth a visit, just not today.
Instead, I chose to wander around the Old Town reaquainting myself with my favourite shops and restaurants. As in Munich, a significant amount of roadworks were taking place all over town. It looked as if it might have something to do with the city’s water supply, though it was hard to tell. This merely added to the usually parlous state of its traffic, though many of the smaller alleys are pedestrianised.
I also passed on a visit to the Fraumünster, it was simply too nice a day to spend much time indoors. However, it is a lovely building – with magnificent doors and windows by Giacometti and Chagall – founded in 853 by King Louis the German. This church, with its convent, was inhabited by the female members of Europe’s aristocracy. The convent had considerable influence and enjoyed the patronage of many kings, and up until 13th century the abbess had the right to mint coins! Ownership of the church and convent passed to the city of Zurich after the Reformation.
As always, I love looking at the architecural detailing particularly that on the medieval houses along many of the contorted, cobbled and narrow lanes. The guild and town halls from the Renaissance period offer a particularly attractive backdrop to the city and speak much of its multifaceted past.
After a delicious lunch at one of my former haunts, I decided to walk further around the lake which would make it easier for my beloved to pick me up. I’d had yet another lovely stroll down memory lane.