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The opposite of staid

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For all the trendy bars and elegant eateries that are drawing a discerning clientele to Zurich West, this former industrial

district still retains itsrough charm. In fact, nowhere is Switzerland more cosmopolitan than here.

Frau Gerolds Garten

Geroldstrasse 23
8005 Zürich
Schweiz
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It may not look like it, but this is Zurich! No glittering lake, narrow old-town streets or Bahnhofstrasse lined with luxury shops anywhere to be seen, just warehouse buildings, industrial wasteland and construction fencing. Why would anyone want to set foot here? Because this is Zurich like you’ve never seen it before, more open, more urbane, and totally in contrast with the rest of the city’s rather staid and quaint image. What residents call this hip, new neighborhood is less than inspired: Züri West. But it’s also the name of one of Switzerland’s most successful rock bands and doubles as a mischievous nickname for the sleepy Swiss capital, Berne. The best place to start exploring is on Geroldstraße, where a jumble of shipping containers between the railroad tracks and
a Salvation Army hostel looks like a pile of building blocks abandoned by a giant child.

This fantastical mix of beach club, urban gardening project and street art gallery is called “Frau Gerolds Garten.” There’s a circus tent in amongst the containers, and vegetables and herbs flourish in old wine vats. Two years ago, Marc Blickenstorfer and a consortium of partners opened this trendy place, and right now, the “hotspot king” is standing on top of the containers, looking down onto the tracks and the trains that regularly rumble past. “Isn’t it fabulous? I loved these kinds of places when I was a kid,” says the 43-year-old enthusiastically, “they made me want to go off and see the world.” The surroundings aren’t exactly “attractive” – as Blickenstorfer, who runs another restaurant by the lake, freely admits. “But the neighborhood has an urban beauty Zurich didn’t have before.” He’s not the only one who likes it here. At lunchtime, young mothers drop by for coffee, and after work, bankers enjoy a cool beer here. Then comes the party crowd, who begin the evening at Frau Gerolds’ before moving on to the nearby nightclubs.

Les Halles

Pfingstweidstrasse 6
8005 Zürich
Schweiz
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Twenty years ago, no one would have dreamed of spending a night out in Zurich West – even though it was only a ten-minute streetcar ride from Zurich’s central station. They used to make cogwheels and soap there, and process lakes of milk in factories surrounded by high fences. When the factories closed, the abandoned buildings were initially used for illegal parties, then the architects and artists arrived. Today, agencies, law firms and hotels occupy the former industrial spaces, but the old ambience remains. A good example of this is the Puls 5 complex located
in a former foundry. Offices, restaurants and shops now occupy one part, but the old factory atmosphere still clings to the huge production hall, the true heart of the complex with its steel joists and industrial crane. Trade fairs and fashion shows sometimes take place here during the day, and in the evenings, inline skaters use the football field-sized concrete floor as a giant skating rink. The former Löwenbräu brewery has also been successfully transformed to house the Kunsthalle art museum and several galleries. Atop the old brick building, two new residential and office blocks gleam red and black.

The prestigious Schauspielhaus Zürich theater ensemble has also discovered the area and now performs in the Schiffbau, a restored shipyard building also housing the smart La Salle restaurant. A hundred meters away, tucked behind a car wash, there’s the Les Halles bistro, where wobbly chairs and dim lighting exude an alternative charm. Stroll a little further and you will discover plenty of other unusual spots, like the Freitag Tower, a stack of 17 containers that sells bags made of upcycled truck tarpaulins. Then there’s the Hotel Rivington, an old-school bar with fixtures and fittings from an old New York establishment. A market hall and an array of fashion stores have opened beneath the arches of a viaduct dating from 1894, over which trains still clatter today. At one store, The Senior Design Factory, grandmothers teach young hipsters to knit and crochet.

Gerold Chuchi

Geroldstrasse 5
8005 Zürich
Schweiz
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The best place in Zurich West is probably Gerold Chuchi, which shares its premises with the Hive techno club. When the weekend is over and the partygoers have gone home, tables and chairs are set up on the dance floor and the space becomes a restaurant. One of the initiators is Dresden-born Sebastian Woloschanowski, 34, aka Wolo, who is anything but modest when he talks about his “pop-up restaurant:” HE serves the cheapest pasta in town, made with an 85-year-old Sicilian pasta machine!

Plus, 70 percent of his clientele is female, which he claims has nothing to do with him. “It’s because we’re authentic and treat our guests informally. If we’re out of sorts, we show it,” he says, turning to his customers and flashing a smile.

25hours

Pfingstweidstrasse 102
8005 Zürich
Schweiz
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The Gerold Chuchi gives onto the 126-meter-high Prime Tower. Through the full-length windows of its top-floor bar, the old town and lake, and beyond them the glorious Alps, seem close enough to touch. Annette Gigon designed the tower with fellow architect Mike Guyer. Is she proud of having built Switzerland’s tallest building? Not this modest, soft-spoken architect. Somewhat sheepishly, she admits having been a little bit nervous at first, wondering what it would look like up close – and from a distance? Today, she knows that most people in Zurich like it.

Thousands of office staff work in the shimmering green glass building and fill the neighborhood in the evening. Is Zurich West in danger of being overrun with offices? Gigon thinks it’s possible but counters that “Zurich isn’t growing anywhere near as fast as Asian cities.” Even so, investors are busily tracking down prime plots. The site currently occupied by Frau Gerolds Garten is slated for redevelopment for which the project will one day have to make way. Luckily, the lease has been extended through 2019. The attraction of Zurich West lies in its juxtaposition of old and new. As Annette Gigon says: “We should enjoy it while it lasts.”

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