The northern Swiss city of Zürich (ZEUR-ik or ZEUR-ish, both are ok) was unmistakeably a 'rich' place... rich in terms of culture, and 'rich' in terms of money. But while some 'rich' places merely exuded excess and extravagance, like Monaco, Zürich was more subdued. It may have had a huge financial district with stately bank buildings, but it tempered it with signs of small-town charm typical of Switzerland. Zürich also was not so much the tourist town, settling instead for the business crowd. Indeed, one of the trips I took there was a business trip. It was a great location to host conferences.
The city's layout was pretty simple. Zürich sat at the mouth of the Limmat River as it drained from the Zürichsee toward the Rhein in the north. The first photograph shows the end of the Zürichsee and the western bank, where the financial district sat. The modern shopping district, fully serviced by streetcar, paralleled the west bank. The platform bridge over the Limmat in the photo's center led to the shopping zone. The eastern bank, off the photo, was lorded over by the Zürichberg hill with the "old city" (or Altstadt) was build into the hillside. The pedestrian zone, lined with old-style shops and restaurants, was located about one block to the right of this photo. In the distance was Zürich's industrial zone, although some of the old factories have been shut down and converted for other uses. I stayed in a hotel out there. It stood on the site of a closed factory, and nearby factory buildings had become trendy theaters and parts of the city's new convention center.
My favorite stop on my tour was the Swiss National Museum, shown in the second photograph. Located across the street from the main train station, it occupied one of several wonderful châteaus in the area. It was a wonderful exhibition of Swiss history. It focused heavily on the birth of Swiss independence and neutrality courtesy the Thirty Years War of 1618-1648, and the story of the country's rise to its current position as the world's center of diplomacy. It also has a wonderful collection of medieval ecclesiastic art and artisan tools of the printing and art trade, plus exhibits concerning Switzerland's prominent role during in the Protestant Reformation.
Because of the latter, it was not surprising that the city was laden with a number of beautiful churches, Catholic and various denominations of Protestant. The third and fourth photographs show scenes of the city's inner harbor at the mouth of the Limmat. Along the west bank were the Fraumünster (left of the third photograph) and St. Peter's church (right). On the other hand, Zürich's most prominent church was on the east bank -- the Grossmünster, shown in the fourth photo was a monument to Hans Waldmann in the foreground. The first photo in this travelogue was taken from the very top of the Grossmünster's right-hand tower, which was accessible to the public for only a couple Swiss francs. I was struck by how empty and plain the Grossmünster's interior was, completely lacking in decoration unlike most similar structures even in Protestant-dominated locations within Germany. I assumed it was built that way because it showed no signs of having been stripped, like some Protestant churches in the Netherlands after being converted from Catholicism.
I next wandered the old city pedestrian zone, called the Niederdorf. I was surprised by how relatively quiet it was during the day, but that was because it appeared to be more the nightclub district than the main shopping strip. Most of the establishments on the Niederdorf and its various alleys were pubs or restaurants, although there were a few specialty shops scattered around.
I then passed along the east bank further down the bank of the Zürichsee, encountering several landmarks. The first was the old and fantastic Opera House, that was unfortunately covered with scaffolding as it was nearly completion of renovation work. The Opera House was grand with its columned facade and numerous little sculptures across the top. It had a busy calendar of classical music and plays, and that evening I noted the large crowd going in for a performance wearing high fashion -- tuxedos and very expensive gowns. The docks were right across the street along the bank, and seagulls were flying around in large numbers despite the cold. Further down the bank I noted the Hotel Eden du Lac, a good example of the hotel buildings in the city with that stately touch, something I also found among the bank and government buildings. The fourth photograph shows an example of what I meant (given that I could not use my photo of the scaffolded Opera House). Returning along the bank, I took the fifth photograph of both the Grossmuenster and the statue of Hans Waldmann, a former city mayor.
My journey then took me back to the west bank where I toured the commercial and financial districts up to the Paradeplatz in front of the main train station. This was a busier section as I noted the stores getting close to closing time. The Paradeplatz was marked with a statue of the famous artist Escher, and it was the busiest section of all.
That night, I went back out to check out how the city was lit up. It was tremendous. Most of the landmarks were well lit and looked very impressive, even imposing as the ornate decor cast weird shadows. If there were no people present, the place would look absolutely haunted. One landmark I did note at night that I didn't see during the day was a memorial to the Apollo-Soyuz mission, made of wire frames and colored ropes arranged in the shapes of the two rockets -- however I did not know whether or not that was a permanent memorial.
While I might not place this city high on my priority list for future visits, as this was a winter visit I did not have the opportunity to enjoy the city's various parks and vantage points. I was left to concentrate on the city center, which probably did not do enough to entice a return visit. If I do return, I will hope for a summer trip and then perhaps my enthusiasm will have increased.
Trip taken 9-10 February 2002 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2002 Tom Galvin