Zürich West: From Wasteland to Promised Land

A wasteland of abandoned factories, run-down buildings and seedy late-night bars. This was Kreis 5 until the beginning of the year 2000. We are in neighbourhood number five, on the western edge of Zurich. If we could turn back time some decades ago, in Zürich-West we would find steel plants, shipbuilding factories and council flats. The latter housed thousands of foreign workers from all over Europe.

When local Löwenbräu brewery closed down in the late ’80s, the thriving area rapidly turned into a neglected neighborhood: if until then people wanted to work here, only a few years later people didn’t even want to walk through the neighborhood streets. Yet after some time Kreis 5 underwent the same fate as other similar areas in other countries: some companies had skyscrapers built here and there because the area was cheaper than the city center, and people came back to the neighborhood to work in the brand new headquarters of international corporations. Employees needed places to live at affordable prices, so old council flats were renovated.

The process of gentrification took place almost overnight.

Today, Kreis 5 is abuzz. What led the process of urban regeneration of the area was the renovation of the premises of the Löwenbräu brewery: the old redbrick factory now goes hand-in-hand with the ultra modern bright red building next door. Now it’s an artistic venue with exhibitions of contemporary art and cultural events.

The combination between old and new can be seen everywhere in Zürich-West, starting from tram stop in Limmatplatz and walking along the streets whose names bring back to the industrial past of the area: MotorenstrasseGasometerstrasseFabrikstrasse – motor street, gas meter street, factory street.

Abandoned spaces were brought to life again: this contributed to the rebirth of Kreis 5. Besides the brewery, another example of renovation is the Viadukt, the flyover on the Zürich HB–Letten railway. The line is no longer active, but the flyover was still used for local traffic. Its arches were no man’s land: rats running about, people dumped stuff they no longer wanted, drug dealing and streetwalking were commonplace.

Now the Viadukt is completely different from what it was twenty years ago. Thanks to some local shopkeepers and residents, the vaults have been cleaned up with the help of PWG, a foundation that fought against the building of yet another luxury shopping mall or a trendy nightclub. The empty spaces under the flyover have been replaced by independent shops managed by residents. Nowadays the Viadukt is home to bookstores, clothes shops and galleries. Here and there, as in any other neighbourhood with a working-class past, a wall has been covered in graffitis.

The most prominent part of the flyover is on the Limmatstrasse: this is where the Markthalle im Viadukt has been set up. Forget bigger and trendier markets such as La Boqueria in Barcelona or Borough Market in London, because the Swiss version is much smaller. Still, it is a good starting point in a city where I failed to notice a grocery store or a bakery, at least in the city center. The stalls are about a dozen, but you can find bread, meat, cheese, fish, sweets, fruits, vegetable, beers and flowers. We stop at Tritt Käse to buy some cheese to bring back home, but unfortunately we don’t have time for a drink.

We have booked a table at Restaurant Markthalle, at the opposite end of the market. Without even noticing, we walk seamlessly from the food stalls to the bright colored tables of the restaurant. It’s a bit noisy, but eating next to a farmer market in a farm-to-table restaurant is definitely worth some hubbub.

Eating under the stone arches of the viaduct is impressive. If one wanted to find a fault, one could say that the menu is somewhat lacking a definite identity: there are dishes of Italian inspiration, like the mozzarella salad or the ravioli. Yet there’s space for local recipes too with the Kalbsmilken, sweetbread with celery purée and pomegranate seeds, or with the Hacktätschli, veal and pork patties. Whatever the course, the common thread is the same: they cook and serve what’s on the market stalls.

It’s a shame that we have to leave, because I am sure that there’s still much to unveil in Kreis 5.

Bis zum nächsten Mal, Zürich!

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I live in a small town in Italy and I work in a small office on a secondary road. But I dream of living in Notting Hill, working in Williamsburg, having a glass of wine in Montmartre and dining in North Beach. And, why not, even doing some shopping in Fifth Avenue. I'm not able to cook but I love to eat, and through food and culinary traditions I explore new places and share what I found in my writings.

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