Zurich is known as the secret capitol of Switzerland. But what does this city have to offer visitors other than banks and exclusive shops? Here are some important things you should know about “Züri” and its inhabitants.
The Tram is the Fastest Way
“De Schnäller isch de Gschwinder” or, in other words, everything is faster and more hectic in Zurich than in other
Swiss cities. That’s why it is best to get in a tram upon arrival at the train station (The number 11 tram is best.) and travel along Zurich’s most known promenade, the Bahnhofstrasse. It’s the best way to get a first impression of Zurich’s pedestrian zones and the main areas of Rennweg, Paradeplatz, the stock exchange and Bürkliplatz.
If there is a vegetable, flower or flea market at Bürkliplatz, it‘s worth getting off the tram to “emol” (en.: once) take a look. You might meet some people and get an earful of throaty “Züritüsch”. The next stop at Bellvueplatz is a great place to disembark and walk to the lakeside. You can sit on one of the “Bänkli” (en.: bench), “chill e chli” (en.: chill a little bit) and enjoy the scenery before returning on foot through the Niederdorf to the train station. There are many charming little shops to “lädele, poschte und chröömle und heimeligi Restaurants zum iichere.” (en.: to shop something or go in a restaurant) in the little lanes and alleys of the Niederdorf.
For the “Gluscht” and Small or Large Appetite
If you haven’t „im Sterne verchoo” with a bratwurst at Bellvue, there are many ways on the way back to satisfy a “chliine” (en.: small) or large appetite: “Züri Gschnätzlets mit Röschti“ or „Shuttle in der Öpfelchamere“, Fondue or Raclette, a “heisse Schoggi beim Schober“, a beer in a beer hall or even a praline or Luxemburgerli from one of the delectable confectioneries in the Niederdorf. None of this is cheap, but the food is tasty and the locales cosy.
View of Zurich from the Polyterrasse
After meandering through the winding “Plätzli und Gässli” of the Niederdorf, it’s nice to head to the viewpoint of the Polyterasse. Take the Polybähnli at Central to get up to the two universities of Zurich, the Uni and the ETH (lovingly called “Poly” by the locals). The terasse of the ETH offers breathtaking views of the whole city, the Limmat and Lake Zurich. You can see the old town as well as the high rises on the outskirts of the city and let your eye wander from the local mountain (the Üetlieberg) over the glittering lake to the upmarket residential area of Zurich’s gold coast. If the weather is good, you can see all the way to the Glarner Alps. Should you feel like it, you can take the tram up to the “Züriberg” where the rich live and the zoo is located. If you’re after a more authentic experience, head down to Kreis Cheib.
The New Quarters in Zurich West
New quarters featuring a mix of modern architecture and old repurposed factory buildings have sprung up in the area around Limmatplatz, the Chreis Cheib. This is where “Züri läbt” (en. Zurich lives),where people live and enjoy the “Usgang” (en.: outgoing). Here, just like in the Niederdorf, is where the nightlife is swinging and “achtig” (en.: attention) also the Langstrasse, “äxgüsi” (en.: soryy) the red light district.
For sure, Zurich is a multicultural city today. But the original “Zürcher”, the ones with the “Zürischnurre, fadegrad” (en.: zurich, direct mouth) and who are sometimes also “dure bei Rot” (en.: crazy), still exist. To cut a long story short, your average local is pretty cheeky and short on patience. There’s another type of “Zürcher” as well, a somewhat elite type from the Falkenstrasse area, that can still be found carrying the “old aunt”, aka the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, under their arm. This “Zürcher” may be a banker, lawyer or businessman, dressed classically in a blue or grey suit with shirt and tie “Schale” (en.: suit).
How to find out what’s going on in town?
Whether you need information on business, culture, politics or current affairs, it’s worth reading the various Zurich newspapers. There are many; to mention just a few, there’s the NZZ, the Tagi, 20 Minuten or the Blick am Abend and all are available both in print and online. And “fröge choscht jo bekannlich nüt” (en.: a questions costs nothing), you can ask for information at the Swiss Railway Station, the VBZ and the tourism office. You will need a bit of patience though and stand in line after pulling a “Zetteli” (en.: ticket).
Festivities and other „Hundsverlochete“
Zurich folk, more than residents of any other Swiss city, really enjoy their special festivals and celebrations throughout the year. In spring, the “Bug” gets burnt at the “Sächslilüüte”, a festival that might be called a spring festival or Bonzefasnacht. The latter because all who participate in the parade are dressed in Biedermeier costumes and white wigs and is dominated by the Zurich guilds. These are, by the way, still very much male bastions.
Summer sees the Streetparade dominating the cultural scene and autumn is ushered in with the Knabenschiessen. Don’t worry: no boys are shot – this is a “Chilbi” with a shooting competition and the last few years’ winners were mostly “Meitli” (en.: a girl). During the advent and Christmas season, the streets are transformed into a wonderland by the Christmas lights. You can buy chestnuts on every street corner and ride the “Märlitram” (en.: special tram) with the “Christchindli” and “Samichlaus”.
In between the seasonal festivities, there are any amount of events, parties, “Füürwärk” (en.: fireworks) and festivals. There is almost always “öppis los” (en.: goes on something) in Zurich.
Real Integration Through Language
If you like Zurich and really want to understand the locals, you have to understand both the local customs and language. This entails learning more than the basics of “Grüezi”, “hoi wie gohts” or the tongue twisting “Chuchichästli”. You have to dive into the local culture and enjoy the theatre, cabaret, exhibitions, markets and go “Gass sii, go iichere, abmache und debi sii.” There are many guidebooks, tours, events self help groups and other meetings to assist you with planning your time in Zurich.
The best way to get into local culture, though, is to join a specialised language school such as Learn-Swiss-German.ch . You’ll also meet local people who might turn into friends with whom you can share activities like “Zäme go käffele, es Bierli neh oder es Cüpli, eis go habbere oder zäme chöchele”. And, after mastering the language, you can also join a couple of local clubs and make more friends. Your social life will take off “vo sälber”.