typical images of Switzerland -- cuckoo clocks, tick-tocking watches and chocolate-box
churches -- are all out-of-date clichés. In reality, the modern metropolis and pulsating
financial hub of Zurich has more in common with Europe’s more offbeat, avant-garde
cities, like Berlin or Barcelona, than many first think.
the veneer of its squeaky-clean streets, super-efficient tram systems, rigorous
banking principles and holier-than-thou Alpine churches lies a somewhat
stranger city that is ready to surprise at every turn. Even Swiss farmers outside
the city centre encourage brave tourists to saddle up and ride their famous brown dairy cows
on a day of cow trekking.
Zurich is home to more than 50 museums and 100 art galleries, take a crash
course in the weirder side of the city at the Moulage
Museum, part of University Hospital Zurich.
With a collection that dates back to 1917, this small, off-kilter museum
exhibits lifelike, 3D wax replicas of skin diseases and body parts. The
museum’s moulds enjoy a worldwide reputation, but the strange rooms of
preserved faces and limbs feel like something created by Swiss surrealist H R
Giger – more commonly known as the man who created the apocalyptic,
stomach-churning visuals for the Alien, Poltergeist and Prometheus movies. Should you be travelling outside Zurich, his
industrial-themed Giger Bar, in
his hometown of Chur 100km to the south, is well worth a side trip.
and its surrounding cantons have a history of strange behaviour. As the founding
place of the Dadaist art movement, which rejected reason and logic and
championed cultural chaos, Zurich became the centre of the art world in the
early 1920s. The movement’s mandate was to make up the rules as it went along,
and this ethos lives on at its original base, Cabaret Voltaire, in the heart of the
Niederdorf, Zurich’s medieval old town. Today, it is one of Switzerland’s most
vibrant contemporary art spaces and home to an unconventional boutique, which over
the years has stocked everything from designer adhesive band aids to stylish swine-flu
masks and Dada branding irons. It is in the same part of the city that professional
English magician and local personality Dan Dent prowls at night during his
regular ghost walks. Priced from 15 Swiss
francs, he promises to deliver the strangest night you could possibly wish for.
Swiss are so achingly cool these days that they can even turn recycled junk
into must-have fashion items. Cue Freitag,
one of the hippest bag and accessory companies in Europe. Inspired by the
traffic that hummed through the intersection outside their Zurich flat, the
Freitag brothers designed a courier bag made of old truck tarpaulins, used bicycle
inner tubes and car seat belts. If the brand’s runaway success was not weird
enough, make sure you see the brothers’ flagship store: a 26m-high conceptual
structure on Geroldstrasse in the city’s alternative District 5, made out of
reclaimed industrial refuse and refurbished shipping containers. Next door is Hive, a subversive underground
nightclub-cum-art collective where you are as likely to purchase an eco-design
lamp from its onsite shop as you are to dance until dawn.
is not just the shops and museums that defy categorisation. For something
completely different, walk -- or stumble -- into Blinde Kuh, the world’s first restaurant in
the dark. Often copied but never bettered, Blinde Kuh is as much an assault on
the senses as the palate. Set up to offer employment to the blind and
partially-sighted, the restaurant has gone far beyond its initial philanthropic
premise and is now a gourmet destination in its own right -- expect locally-sourced dishes like fried
salmon fillet with lemon-walnut pesto and asparagus penne with sun dried-tomato
a sweeter treat, no visit to Zurich would be complete without an indulgent
breather at Sprüngli, a chocolatier on the city’s premier shopping
mile Bahnhofstrasse. Despite
being the country’s most mouth-watering chocolate shop, the local favourite is
the luminous “Luxemburgerli”, a rainbow-coloured macaroon, and if you leave
with just a token bar of chocolate, rather than a bright pink, squidgy cream-puff,
the Swiss will be the ones calling you weird.
The article 'The stranger side of Switzerland' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.