There is a certain impression visitors have of Zurich. It is the financial capital of Switzerland with an image where high fashion meets the delicate engineering of Swiss watches, of smartly dressed bankers who parade the cobbled streets lined with chic and expensive boutiques sipping on espresso and talking multinational currencies.
However, those who have visited the city in the recent years, would have noticed a change just west of the Hauptbahnhof, the main train station.
“This is the alternative Zurich,” said our guide Conny Rogenmoser, who picked us up for the walking tour from the 25hours Hotel on Langstrasse. Hip and quirky in everything it offers, the hotel is a great introduction to what this western neighbourhood stands for in today’s Zurich.
“I think it gives the people of Zurich an option if they want something a little different.”
Zurich West was the industrial heartland of Zurich. At the height of Zurich’s industrial prowess, this is where heavy metal works, ship building and engines manufacturing trades congregated. Over the years, due to production decline, the area had slowly emptied and decayed, and turned into the seedy hot spot for prostitution and petty crimes.
In the past decade, Zurich West has been given a facelift. Old factories and warehouses are being turned into offices, retail spaces, leisure venues and luxury apartment living that created this hip, funky and very colourful district so completely different to the rest of Zurich.
We begin the tour by exploring the old brewery building of Löwenbräu, its heritage listed 1898 brickworks and iron chimneys combined with modern new architecture to highlight the style and method of Zurich West’s transformation. The complex is now a space for start-ups and small businesses to flourish. Then, turning away from the Limmat river, we trace the base of an overhead train line to reach a corner where a market hall has been installed under the deep arches of a viaduct.
“This viaduct is what divides the living quarters of the workers to the industries that they worked in,” explained Conny, as she led me through the row of pop up boutiques that now occupy the spaces between its arches. It is a hive for entrepreneurship, and many are blossoming.
Business is good, despite the rough outlook of the neighbourhood, people are taking notice. A large workstation of Escher Wyss ship engine factory is now an activity hub called Pulse 5, with restaurants, shops and leisure centre, as well as a large exhibition space for creative events. A block away, the old Schiffbau building where the main ship assembly activities took place is now a fine dining restaurant.
No wonder many young families are moving in. We stroll past the area’s only green space, Joseph’s Meadow, and watch as groups of friends gather for a game of boules, meet for coffee and children escape their prams to run around the sprinklers on this warm spring day, it is a sight that is far removed from the blackened dusts of the industrial era I have imagined.
“Young people who want a more carefree lifestyle are starting to move here,” continued Conny, as we window-shopped our way towards the end of the viaduct. “In the beginning, people moved here because it was cheaper, but now, they are here because it is trendy, fun and really, the place to be!”
We join some of the residents for a drink at Frau Gerold’s Garten, an open air bar and restaurant adjacent to the train tracks and Zurich’s iconic Freitag accessory brand’s rusty container tower block as well as a typical all glass office skyscraper on the other side to complete the look. Manager Carla Taube doesn’t see the irony. “This is Zurich West,” she said, “don’t worry about how it looks, just come and relax!”
And such is the way Zurich West is portraying itself. It is trendy, it is fun, and almost a world away from the Zurich we have been taught to know.
I asked Conny what the older generation of Zurich residents think of the development here at Zurich West.
“I run this walking tour not just for tourists. Sometimes a Zurich local will sign up, and some of the older generation remember the area as it was, where their fathers and grandfathers worked,” replied Conny. “This place is very special to these people, and they are mostly happy that the Zurich West they know has not just gone to waste.” •
Photography by William McPherson
Swiss Air and partnering airlines have daily flights to Zurich from most major Australian cities, with connections from Singapore or Hong Kong.
On the ground, Tram no.4 from Zurich main train station will take you to Zurich West in around 10 minutes.
Where to stay
25hour Hotel has two properties around Zurich West: 25hour Hotel Langstrasse and 25hour Hotel Zurich West, both offer quality and quirky rooms. 25hours-hotels.com