A guide to living & enjoying Züri West. How well do you know this hot spot? Take our quiz first and then read the article to find out fun facts & new places to explore learning about Züri West then and now…
Anyone who steps foot in Zürich knows that Züri West is where Zürich goes to be ‘cool’. But many do not realize the area’s important historical role in Switzerland’s industrial development. Today’s cool cultural hubs, tall commercial buildings, and booming residential developments were once home to foundries, factories, and warehouses. Yet, despite the seemingly stark transformation, the area has continuously served as a haven for Swiss innovation and change. Join Girlfriend Guide to Zurich in discovering Zürich West of present and past.
The Escher Wyss Complex
Then: Escher Wyss & Cie’s Headquarters
In 1805 Hans Casper Escher and Salomon von Wyss founded the Escher Wyss & Cie textile company. Throughout the 19th century, the company expanded its production: from textiles to turbines, boiler and steam engines, ships, hydraulic systems and hydroelectric plants. To meet increasing demand, in 1891 the company began constructing its vast industrial headquarters in Zürich-Hard (today’s Zürich West).
However, in the mid-1950s, Escher Wyss faced increasing global competition and decreasing product demand. Because of the company’s shrinking bottom line, the company was taken over by Sulzer Group AG in 1969. Thereafter, many of the company’s (and area’s) industrial buildings, including Escher Wyss’s foundry (today’s Puls 5) and shipbuilding and boiler making facility (Schiffbau/ Kesselschmiede), were closed. By the mid 1980’s, most of the area’s once thriving factories were emptied.
Now: The Schiffbau & Puls 5 Cultural Centers
During the mid-1990s, city officials and local representatives met to plan the future of this industrial area. They envisioned Zürich West as the future hub for cultural and commercial innovation and one of the first buildings to undergo renovation, was Escher Wyss’s Schiffbau. In 1995 Sulzer Group AG (see above) sold this 10,000-square meter factory to Zürich’s Schauspielhaus for an undisclosed amount. The facility was refurbished and is now home to the Schauspielhaus Theatre, La Salle Restaurant and Zürich’s renowned Moods Jazz Club.
The 1,540-square meter Giesserei (foundry), was once the focal point for Escher Wyss & Cie’s machine production. In 1975, the foundry’s furnaces were turned off and the space was then used for industrial storage. Today, Puls 5’s interiors still reflect the original space’s use, yet, the building still provides a modern home for several restaurants, businesses and Migro’s Fitness Park. Puls 5 also hosts many cultural events including, the upcoming Contemporary Art Fair Zürich.
Today’s Escher Wyss Platz was named in honor of Hans Casper Escher and Solomon von Wyss, the two industrial entrepreneurs who once ran their booming foundry, factory and ship making facility in the area.
Then: Viadukt & the Makeshift Workshops
During the 19th century, the ground railroad setup in the present day Josefwiese area, prevented the district from expanding. To alleviate this problem, NOB (Swiss Northeast Railway) built the 834-meter long Viadukt (viaduct) from hewn natural stone. Shortly after its completion in 1894, local craftsmen and shop owners set up shed like structures underneath the structure’s tall arches to run their businesses.
In 2003, SBB’s plans to renovate the Viadukt forced those makeshift shopkeepers to move. The decision led to local outrage as community members feared SBB’s makeover would lead to unwanted gentrification. To ease concerns, SBB and later PWG, worked with local representatives to design today’s facilities and so, on September 4th, 2010, the new Viadukt opened its doors.
Apart from its rather functional history, the Viadukt was one of the few places in Switzerland bombed by Allied Forces (Royal Air Forces) of WWII. The attack, which happened on December 23rd 1940, was deemed accidental; apparently a result of a pilot navigation error.
Now: Viadukt features an indoor Market Hall, Tango, Sports & more
Today’s Viadukt is home to Zürich’s first indoor market hall (MarktHalle) and to various Swiss and international specialty shops whose owners are closely rooted within the area. When visiting, make sure to check out Tritt Kase’s cheese shop and St. Jakob’s Bakery inside the MarktHalle.
Tritt Kase is every cheese lover’s paradise. This tiny shop inside the Markhalle offers what seems like a gazillion different types of cheese. Staff is very friendly and quick to give customers detailed information about their specialties.
St. Jakob’s Beck is located at the front entrance of the MarktHalle and run by St Jakob’s Stiftung (Foundation). This bakery serves some of the best wähe (Swiss pie) in town – all while supporting a very good cause. According to their website, the foundation works ‘towards promoting the self-esteem of people with impairments through goal and market oriented work.’
After eating, dance the night away in Club el Social or visit Balboa Gym to burn any unwanted cheese calories. In Club el Social, you can learn all about Argentinean Tango. In addition to many dance and tango courses, the studio hosts concerts and community events.
Renzo Balboa’s new, no nonsense gym is located in Viadukt Bogen 14. Although minimalistic in style, this gym offers a plethora of ‘push yourself to the limit’ classes. Make sure to check out Sandy Hager’s Own the City Outdoor Workout (which will make any body a fit body), Ale Lindman’s Power Ballet and Leandro Fornito’s breakdance workout (Breakletics).
Max Maag Complex
Then: Max Maag Zahnräderfabrik (Gearbox Factory)
After dropping out of ETH and completing practical mechanical studies instead, Max Maag began working as a mechanic in a factory in Seebach. According to TagesAnzeiger, it was there, while fixing a gear’s technical error, that Max Maag started meticulously working towards perfecting gear design.
In 1908, Max Maag, developed his own process, known as Maag Interlocking, to produce high quality precision gears (gearboxes/ transmissions). In 1913, Maag moved his workshop to Hardstrasse 219 (Zürich West) and soon thereafter, Maag-Zahnräder AG was officially formed.
Over the next 80 years, the company continued producing ground gears, gear cutting machines and gear grinders. In the late 70s, however, as market conditions declined, the company was downsized and partially taken over. By 1994 Maag Zahnräderfabrik was solely a real estate management company (today known as Swiss Prime Site). While not much remains of the original Max Maag factory, Maag’s design process is still in use today.
Now: Prime Tower
Towering 126 meters above where Max Maag’s factory once stood, Zürich’s Prime Tower (also known as Maag Tower) is Zürich’s tallest and Switzerland’s second tallest skyscraper. The building, which was constructed between 2008 and 2011 is home to several financial and legal companies and the renowned Clouds’ Restaurant and Bistro. On clear days, visitors to this top floor restaurant will relish the amazing panoramic views of Zürich and the Alps. Sunday visitors need not miss Clouds’ Sunday Brunch Buffet.
Then: Steinfels’ Soap Factory
In 1880 Friedrich Steinfels moved his expanding soap factory from Hirschengraben to the Hard (today’s Hardstrasse). The move allowed Steinfels to meet increase demands for his products and eased his Hischengraben neighbors’ complaints about his factory’s smog emissions. Thereafter, company concentrated most of its soap and candle production in the newly established facilities and continued operations there for the next 100 years. The factory closed in 1987.
Now: Dinner, Drinks & a Movie
Today’s Steinfeldsplatz is home to many trendy restaurants and bars. On warm summer nights, make sure to check out Aya Mosaic outdoor bar. Abaton’s Cinema Complex offers a wide range of newly released feature films often in both English and German. And Nooch Asian Restaurant is the perfect place for quick and yummy Asian.
Then: Toni Yogurt Factory
Operating from 1977 to 1999 at Pfingstweidstrasse 96, the Toni Dairy Company (later Swiss Dairy Food), was once Europe’s largest milk processing companies.
Now: Museum, School & Library
The Museum für Gestaltung has several excellent exhibits currently on display. When visiting, don’t miss Take a Holiday! which offers a glimpse into Swiss culture through tourism campaigns, Turn the Puppets Loose a fantastic display of historical theatre puppets and Sigurd Leeder Traces of Dance which provides a glimpse into the life and work of the expressive dancer, renowned teacher and choreographer Sigurd Leeder.
Migros Herdern Haus
Then: Migros Herdern Building
Built between 1961-1965, Migros’ 17 story administration building (Herdern Haus) was one of Switzerland’s earlier high-rise buildings, but it was not the first. (Lausanne’s Tour Bel-Air built between 1929-1931, is known as Switzerland’s ‘first’ high rise.) Located towards the western most edge of Zürich West, Migros Herdern building will undergo renovation in the next 10-15 years and plans toto reuse some of its vacant space.
Now: Museum of Digital Art
After returning to Zürich from London, game developer Christian Etter opened Europe’s first museum of digital art (MuDA) in Migro’s Herdern Haus. MuDA is currently showcasing Gramazio Kohler’s designs. In addition, it hosts many events, discussion forums and children’s workshops. For more information on MuDA’s offerings, click here.
Then: Watch Tower and Dungeon
Towards the outer edges of Zürich’s West, along the left side of the Limmat, stands this robust, medieval tower (HardTurm) that once served as a vital part to the city’s line of defense. The building is thought to have served as both a watch tower and possibly a dungeon.
Now: Residential Building & Namesake
Once the residence of Knight Heinrich Manesse, this building passed the hands of several noble families until eventually being turned into a residential building. The tower Hard still serves as the area’s (Zurich Hard) namesake. When in the area, make sure to stop by Sphères café, a true coffee/tea/book lover’s oasis in the heart of Zurich West. Sphères is located just 5 minutes away from the HardTurm (walking east along the Limmat).
FALSE Escher Wyss Platz is named after one of Zurich’s most renowned business leaders and politicians, Alfred Escher. (Hans Casper Escher and Solomon Wyss)
TRUE Switzerland was bombed during WWII and the Viadukt was one place that was attacked.
FALSE Prime Tower is also known as called Maag Tower and is Switzerland’s tallest building. (Yes, it’s also known as Maag Tower but it’s not Switzerland’s tallest (2nd tallest). It is Zurich’s tallest, however).
FALSE Steinfels was originally a beer brewery. (Soap and candle factory)
TRUE Toni Areal was once Europe’s largest dairy production factory.
FALSE Migros Herdern Haus was Switzerland’s first high rise building. (Lausanne’s Tour Bel-Air)
FALSE Zuri West’s HardTurm building was once a castle. (Watch tower)
Zuri Girl Tip. One of our favorite locations in Steinfels La Maison du Vin. We host exclusive wine tastings there and our readers always receive 10% off and free delivery of 6+ bottles when shopping!
Written by Zuri Girl Emilia Siravo is a freelance English language teacher and researcher living in Zurich, Switzerland. Born in Philadelphia to a passionate Italian father and fiery Argentine mother, Emilia felt propelled to neutralize things by marrying someone Swiss. In addition to her work, Emilia loves going on long hikes with her husband and very active 4-year-old son, doing BootCamp and practicing yoga. Follow Emilia online on Twitter: @esiravo or read her blog.