The Wild Wild West Zurich’s Trendiest Hotspot
21 September, 2016
Welcome to Zurich West– the trendy, creative, gastronomic, nocturnal district of Zurich! It may not seem so, but this is Zurich, too! Forget everything you have learned and discard your picture postcards – no lake with crystal-clear water, no quaint streets or luxury stores; just brick, concrete and cranes surrounded by hoardings. Where’s the catch? Well, this is the anti-Zurich,the more casual, urbane and cosmopolitan precinct.
The fact is that all-powerful Zurich has undergone a radical facelift and its flagship is none other than Zurich West, its former industrial district. In less than two decades, it has become Switzerland’s engine of modernity, imbuing it with a trendiness on a par with Berlin, London and New York.
Once Upon a Time There Was An Industrial District…
Running alongside Hardbrücke, on the western side of the city, Kreis 5 or Industriequartier, as the area is also known, emerged as an industrial site in the 20th century. However, industrial activity in the area went into sharp decline in the late 1980s, after which derelict warehouses, factories and workshops were soon reclaimed by artists and designers from the underground scene. Alternative art venues were opened and illegal parties were hosted which became celebrated in half of Europe.
Full-scale change, however, arrived with the new millennium and Kreis 5 (meaning “District 5” in German) underwent a feverish transformation, which continues apace today. Now, where ships, soap and turbines were once manufactured, the machines have gone quiet and given way to art, design, gastronomy and music, as well as to businesses, flats and hotels. Attesting to the area’s industrial past is the overwhelming size of the streets, the monumental factory structures and the colossal railway tracks.
With an unabashed eclectic mix of past and future, brick buildings with steel and glass skyscrapers and a cityscape constantly being redefined, Zurich West exercises a magnetic pull that attracts the Swiss and foreigners alike, turning it into a seething, multicultural melting pot. Seduced by its alternative atmosphere and its formidable terrain, we start off on our journey!
Im Viadukt – Shop Till You Drop!
Chic, local designer stores, architects’ studios, cafés and organic food stalls rub shoulders in Im Viadukt, a vibrant shopping paradise built under the arches of the old rail bridge. Here you will find everything, from cut flowers to bicycle bells. Beware, though – you won’t pick up any bargains, as the idea of “cheap” is not included in the Swiss dictionary.
If you’re feeling peckish, the Markthalle offers zero-mile products, and its restaurant, fresh lunch fare at reasonable prices. Sundays are devoted to brunches, but book ahead it you want to avoid being crowded out. The upbeat ambience dovetails into the night and bars are full to bursting of young people sipping Prosecco in the Ambrosi, biding their time for some concert in the Bogen F.
Around Frau Gerolds Garten
A jumbled network of gardens, designer stores and dance clubs range back-to-back along Geroldstrasse. In the middle, a pile of transport containers reminiscent of a Lego on a grand scale, abandoned to their fate – this is Frau Gerolds Garten, an urban oasis which smacks of DIY and a hipster hubpar excellence. In summer, an open-air market springs up here on Saturdays, to be replaced in winter by fondues to beat the cold. It fills up at midday with people having coffee among plants and graffiti, and at night with those having their “first” before descending on the neighbouring clubs. Be sure to soak up the panoramic views from the upper terraces – the trains pass by on eye level and, if you’re lucky, you can make out the Alps in the distance.
A stone’s throw away lie two institutions of alternative clubbing. The iconic Hive is a temple of electronic music, while the veteran Supermarket attracts youngsters who dance to house and techno until dawn. Indeed, when it comes to clubbing, Zurich is queen and Zurich West the base camp for the electronic and experimental scene.
Before leaving the area, we do a spot of shopping. At Bogen 33 and Walter you can pick up vintage furniture. And, in a 25-metre-high tower pile of containers, the Swiss label Freitag flaunts its recycled bags made of truck awnings. A recycled building for a recycled product – Freitag has become a veritable symbol of Zurich West’s contemporary industrial style and its leading ambassador. The views from the rooftop are amazing; there is even a telescope if you want to capture things in detail!
Touching the Stars in Prime Tower
126 metres and 36 storeys establish Prime Tower as the tallest building in Zurich. The green-skinned building was unveiled in 2011 and towers over the city, acting as the new standard-bearer of modern architecture and economic development in the area.
Set on the top floor is the Clouds restaurant, which does its name proud – touching the sky looks more feasible from here! The views over the lake, the old town and the Alps are breathtaking, as are their prices. On the ground floor, Hotel Rivington & Sons takes us back to the 1920s underground in New York, when the sale of alcohol was banned under the Prohibition and bars were camouflaged under the hood of shops and hotels. Treat yourself to a cocktail at any hour – the selection is enormous.
Schiffbau and Puls 5 – Avant-garde and Tradition
Not far from here stand the shipyards of Schiffbau, where vessels were once built to order from around the world. They now host the most avant-garde events in the famous Schauspielhaus Theatre, and the best jazz concerts in the city at Moods, while the glamorous La Salle offers French and Italian cuisine in an outdoor area surrounded by glass walls. Drinks are served in the popular Nietturm Bar, a stunning glass cube crowning the building, with spectacular panoramic views.
One street down, night owls are gearing up for night action.Exilfeatures a programme of alternative parties and concerts, ranging from rock to hip hop, while Blok Clubis dedicated to international electronic music.
A stone’s throw away lies Les Halles, a delightful bistro with Parisian flourishes. Housed in an old warehouse, this popular meeting point is raucous and unkempt, with second-hand artefacts and vintage publicity posters. You can purchase one of the host of bicycles scattered about the interior while ordering their speciality –moules-frites (mussels with French fries).
Modernity and tradition intermingle in the former steel foundry, the site of the Puls 5 complex, a colossal, 5000 m2 construction where the huge, erstwhile production floor is encircled by restaurants, shops, offices, a fitness club and flats. Enhanced by such features as steel girders, bare piping and a large industrial crane, this space hosts events of all kinds and embodies the alliances between past and future, as well as the merger between different uses that coexist in one place. If you happen to come here, be sure to try the Restaurant Gnüsserei, surmounted in the centre by the centennial steelworks dome.
Löwenbräu – Voguish Contemporary Art
Contemporary art has moved to Kreis 5 and set up shop in the former Löwenbräu brewery. Its red brick walls now enclose the Löwenbräukunst, a complex dedicated to cutting-edge art. Here, emerging artists from all over the world showcase their work in the Kunsthalle Zürich and Migros Museum of Contemporary Art. The building is also the site of several international art galleries, notably the acclaimed Hauser & Wirth, and of Zurich’s leading art bookshop,Kunstgriff,where you should make a point of browsing their extensive book list.
And here, with the colossal Swissmill as our guiding landmark, a concrete behemoth inaugurated in 2016 used to store grain, and the second tallest tower in the city, we wind up our tour. We have arrived at the river Limmat– time to have a dip!
Be sure to discover this alternative Zurich – you have daily Vuelings here!
Text by Núria Gurina i Puig for Los Viajes de ISABELYLUIS
Photos by Zürich Tourism/Elisabeth Real and Núria Gurina
21 September, 2016