Skooter reporting 06/29/12
These all out-of-date clichés, like cuckoo clocks, tick-tocking watches and chocolate-box churches are typical images of Switzerland. Actually, the modern metropolis and bubbly financial center of Zurich has more in common with Europe’s more out of the ordinary, ultramodern cities, like Berlin or Barcelona, than many first think.
Beneath the surface of its squeaky-clean streets, super-efficient tram systems, thorough banking principles and holier-than-thou Alpine churches lies a somewhat stranger city that is ready to surprise at every corner. Outside the center city, Swiss farmers encourage brave tourists to mount and ride their famous brown dairy cows on a day of cow trekking.
Zurich is known as the home to more than 50 museums and 100 art galleries, and in the eerie side of the city, it is suggested that one should take a crash course at the Moulage Museum, part of University Hospital Zurich. Dating back to 1917, this small, off-kilter museum exhibits a collection of lifelike, 3D wax reproduction of skin diseases and body parts. The museum’s molds is world renown, but the bizarre rooms of preserved faces and limbs apparently created by Swiss surrealist H R Giger, better known as the man who created the apocalyptic, stomach-churning visuals for the Alien, Poltergeist and movies. So if you have time to travel outside Zurich, his industrial-themed Giger Bar, in his hometown of Chur 100km to the south, is well worth a side trip.
Zurich and its surrounding districts have a history of eccentric behavior. In the early 1920s, Zurich became the hub of the art world because it is the founding place of the Dadaist art movement, which cast off reason and logic and supported cultural chaos. The movement’s directive was to make up the rules as it went along, and this philosophy 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 lively contemporary art spaces and home to an avant-garde boutique, which over the years has stored everything from designer adhesive band aids to stylish swine-flu masks and Dada branding irons. In that same part of the city the professional English magician and local personality Dan Dent creep around at night during his regular ghost walks. To let him deliver the strangest night you could possibly wish for, you have to pay the price at least 15 Swiss francs.
The Swiss are so throbbing cool nowadays that they can transform recycled junk into fashionable items, Cue Freitag, one of the trendiest bag and accessory companies in Europe. Influenced by the traffic that bustled 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 odd enough, make sure you see the brothers’ flagship store: a 26m-high abstract structure on Geroldstrasse in the city’s alternative District 5, made out of reclaimed industrial rubbish and restored shipping containers. Just one step from this store, is Hive, a seditious underground nightclub-cum-art collections where you are expected to purchase an eco-design lamp from its onsite shop as you are to dance until dawn.
It is not just the shops and museums that challenge classification. For something completely distinctive, you can walk or stumble into Blinde Kuh, the world’s first restaurant in the dark. Often plagiarized but never enhanced, Blinde Kuh is as much an attack on the senses as the palate. The restaurant was set up to give employment to the blind and partially-sighted, and has gone far beyond its original philanthropic principle and is now a gourmet destination in its own right; proffering locally-sourced dishes such as fried salmon fillet with lemon-walnut pesto and asparagus penne with sun dried-tomato cream.
Now if you are looking for a sweeter treat, no visit to Zurich would be complete without a relaxing break at Sprüngli, a chocolatier on the city’s premier shopping mile Bahnhofstrasse, the country’s most mouth-watering chocolate shop. The Swiss will be the ones calling you uncanny if you leave with just a token bar of chocolate, rather than a bright pink, squidgy cream-puff and the local favorite that is the luminous “Luxemburgerli”, a rainbow-colored macaroon. So be sure you have those mind-boggling treat before you leave.