Fri 12th July.
René was around forty years old, he had a spacious apartment in a nice part of the city. We had breakfast together and he told me about his previous cycle trips, his job and living in Zürich compared to some of the other places he’d lived.
A few years ago he cycled around South America for a few months, citing Chile as the best place he’d ever cycled. He got the idea from a Canadian he’d hosted who had spent three years cycling around the world and this was his favourite place to cycle, favouring it so much that he went back there within his three years.
As part of René’s trip there, he got a cheap(ish), last-minute ticket for a two-week cruise that went down to Antarctica.
He had also lived in South America for a few years with his work, which took care of building incineration plants for waste. Rather then using landfills, the waste would be destroyed creating energy and gas that was also used. He spoke Spanish, English, Swiss-German and French and told me a lot about living Switzerland.
Something I asked about was Germans who went to work in Switzerland as money was better. What they didn’t anticipate however is the Swiss-German language being an issue, as Swiss-German is actually its own language, rather than a dialect of German.
He also told me it varied from city to city, so the Swiss-German spoken in Zürich, is different to that spoken in Bern, or Basel and it takes Germans about three months to adapt and learn one particular brand of Swiss-German. Once they learn it, they have to learn it again if they move to another city, so it doesn’t end up working out well for the Germans.
Swiss-German is also written as German, but the language is a version Swiss-German, so it becomes very complicated when you compare writing and talking.
They also communicate in a written form of the spoken work in emails and texts to one another, but this is a slang form of the language and changes from person to person as there is no specific rule for the writing. Complicated.
One of the other things René told me, was about concierges in Switzerland (the people that are paid to take care of a building that people live in. Like a cleaner, but with a few more jobs, it’s also taken quite seriously). Part of the frustration here was the concierge making sure people do their washing on the right days allotted to them. For example, if you’re given a Friday to wash your clothes this is the only day you can do it. If you do it on the wrong day, you get told off and reminded of which day allotted to you.
So in this respect it was often a backwards and difficult place to live, but on the whole people understood the rules and obeyed.
A few Swiss friends of mine in London, studied in Zürich and recommended a list of things to see and do.
I wanted to see the Museum für Gestaltung (Design Museum) for a long time as it was well-known in the design world. Aside from that I had that a few other spots to visit but it would be a relaxing day.
I remember hearing about Zürich when I was young and thinking it sounded like somewhere futuristic, partially because the name seemed unusual and my young brain had chosen to twin that with a futuristic far away place. It had always been a place of great curiosity to me and I was excited to finally see it and its people.
The Design Museum had a Martin Parr exhibition that had opened the day I arrived there. Funny I should come to a Swiss museum to see the work of an Englishman. But he is someone I admire very much and it was an excellent exhibition. There was also a retrospective of a famous Swiss photographer upstairs.
One of my favourite things I saw in the museum was a quote from the Swiss sculptor, Albert Giacometti, famed for his tall thin sculptors of people. The quote caught me completely off-guard and read something like this: “In the morning I wake up after a night of dreaming of women with huge breasts towering over me. Then I wake up, work all-day, tire myself out, sleep, and do it all again the next day”.
This brought me great comfort for some reason, probably due to the fact that such an established and important artist was so boyish and simple (his sculptures and face appear on the Swiss 20 franc note).
I left the museum and looked around the design bookshops. Then visited the Freitag tower.
Freitag is a popular brand of repurposed materials, turned into tough bags that became very popular on the market among urban and design categories. The brothers started the businessin Zürich and the Freitag tower was their flagship store and monument to repurposing, what the brand was built on. It is designed by architects and made from shipping containers (the tower is about eight containers high), stacked on top of each other with the shop in the bottom three.
The building has come to represent a fresher rejuvenated part of the city and the park below has turned into a temporary shopping hang out with markets and cafés, similar to Boxpark in Shoreditch, representing a lot of new designers and brands coming in the city.
I hadn’t expected to see anything like this in Zürich and was surprised at the style that was becoming increasingly popular in London and internationally (trendy, pop-up, repurposed boutique shops and markets) was popular here and in France (the YES WE CAMP campsite was a similar project).