Banking secrecy aka confidentiality, discretion
All the big Swiss banks are based in Zürich, and they all make huge profits thanks to their tradition of banking secrecy (Bankgeheimnis in German), which means that they never divulge the names of their account holders or any information about them.
In particular, they never give any information to the tax authorities of the countries where their account holders live.
This does not sit well with the governments of the neighboring countries, particularly Germany and especially now since the economic crisis has caused a sharp drop in tax receipts.
The news recently has been full of stories about CD-ROMs with stolen bank data that mysterious unknown persons have been offering for sale to the German tax authorities. After a brief (maybe ten-minute) period of soul-searching about whether it was morally acceptable to buy stolen data, the German authorities have started doing so, much to the chagrin of some of their richest citizens.
This has caused some anti-German sentiment in Switzerland, but now the whole tradition of Swiss banking secrecy seems to be crumbling.
When I got off the train at Zürich HB (main station) the first thing I saw was this advertising poster with three rural Swiss gentlemen and the slogan: Banking secrecy is faltering, but our cheese secrecy remains. (Advertising Appenzeller cheese.)
A Wallace Fountain from Paris
In the middle of Zürich there is a Wallace Fountain just like the ones in Paris, with explanatory plaques in several languages.
The explanation in English reads:
"Fountain from Paris, 1870, to initiate the 1982 World Convention of Water Experts in Zurich. The four nymphs personify simplicity, purity, sobriety and charity. They symbolize international co-operation in providing people everywhere with pure and salubrious water."
These fountains were named after the English philanthropist and art collector Sir Richard Wallace (1818-1890), who donated them to the city of Paris in 1871 and 1872 (not 1870 as it says on the plaque) to provide safe drinking water for the people of Paris after the city’s public water supply had been destroyed during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871 and the uprising of the Paris Commune.
- Arts and Culture
Luxemburgerli are Zurich traditional cake-sweets consisting of cream, butter, milk etcsourced from the Zurich region. Luxemburgerli were developed more then 50 years ago by confiserie Sprüngli. Local people are very proud of local sweet products and especially Luxemburgerli. These small cakes have different taste - vanilla, chocolate, chmpagne, etc.
- Food and Dining
Züri Fäscht: Switzerland's biggest public Festival
The "Züri Fäscht" is Switzerland's biggest public festival. It takes place every three years at the beginning of July around the Lake Zurich and throughout the city centre.
Besides numerous funfairs, food and drink stalls it offers breathtaking artistic shows, free concerts and many outdoor discos.
Highlights of the 3 days "Züri Fäscht" in 2007 were two 30 minutes long fireworks which were accompanied by classical and pop music.
The fireworks took place at the Lake Zurich and were watched by an estimated 2 Mio. spectators.
- Budget Travel
Zurich features several Christmas markets.
One famous one is located in the railway station itself on two levels and in several passage ways. It is apparently the biggest indoor Christmas market in Europe and its landmark is the big Christmas tree decorated by Swarovski.
Then you will find Christmas market stalls in the upper Bahnhofstrasse and the Pestalozziwiese (behind Globus). On Werdmuehleplatz you will find the singing Christmas tree.
In the Niederdorf, the old town, you will find another Christmas market with many stalls.
Please check with the tourist office when the markets start each year but basically they run for about a month before Christmas up to Christmas.
Check local deals before trip
I always recommend to everyone travelling to Zurich to check for local deals before they leave. Dining in restaurants is extremely expensive in Zurich (and Switzerland generally). Therefore check for local deals (such as groupon in the US) that allow you to have a "cheap" dinner. I say "cheap" because sometimes the best restaurants are promoted, which are extremely pricey and even with discounts it's not yet cheap.
There are quite a few suppliers, I have made good experiences with deindeal and groupon.
A useful overview providing all deals currently available in Zurich is http://www.dealanzeiger.ch/Zurich.html
- Food and Dining
- Family Travel
- Business Travel
National Holiday - bonfires and fireworks
Most of the districts of the city have their own celebrations in the evening of National Holiday. Sonja and her mum took me to the one in Seebach (a 10 minutes walk from my hotel). As you can see on the pictures the bonfire was a success. And so was the "chilbi" in general! It was fun to watch the locals enjoying their private fireworks as well as the tombola, the stalls sold very good food (I had a delicious veal bratwurst, thanks Sonja, and rivella) at reasonable prices.
Halfway through the party a thunderstorm came up and everyone fled to the covered area with benches and tables. Everyone had a good time despite the weather (or because of the weather?) and I am really glad I visited!
Important note: All photos were taken by VT member yumyum, also known as Sonja ;-) Thanks a lot!
Swiss National Day, 1st August
Swiss National Day is on the first of August which is a holiday. In Zurich there is an official part with a small cortège through part of Bahnhofstrasse where you may see people in traditional costumes, big cowbells etc. and then there is an official speech at Buerkliplatz.
In fact the official part starts very early in the morning around 7 am with the salute shots at Kolbenhof underneath Uetliberg. Depending on where you live, you will hear the shots across town. There are 38 of them apparently, although I didn't count that many. 26 for the number of Swiss cantons and 12 for the various parts of Zurich.
In the evening, you could for instance go to the local festivities in Seebach at the Buhnrain school. In front of the school building you will find a typical local 1st August party where families eat a Bratwurst or Cervelat, have a drink, buy raffle tickets and let their firework go off. A highlight is the big traditional bonfire which is looked after by the local fire brigade.
National Holiday - Parade
I happened to be in Zürich on August 1 - which is the Swiss National Holiday. The Swiss people are proud of their country - justified - and they show it. Thanks to my friend Sonja (yumyum) I got a leaflet with information on the several celebrations. It started with a parade down the Bahnhofstrasse to Bürkliplatz.
I arrived right in time for the parade - and what an unforgettable sight that was! Swiss from Zürich and other cantons marched, dressed in traditional garb, playing Alphorn, yodeling, singing folk songs and last but not least ringing big cow bells. I must admit I was totally overwhelmed by the sounds that you usually only hear in the mountains. Loudest were the cow bells (that's called "treicheln" if I recall correctly), a deafining sound and very impressive.
Afterwards soldiers fired some shots from ancient guns and a speech was given at Bürkliplatz. I understood most of it and thought the speech was very good, with meaning and humor.
- Arts and Culture
- Family Travel
National Holiday - Folk Festival at Bürkliplatz
After the speech was given (or, to be honest, already during the speech :-)) the parade participants mingled with the visitors, these in return congratulated them on their beautiful garbs and performances. And everyone grabbed some food and drinks from the stalls that were built on the shady Bürkliplatz. Several cantons presented their culinary specialties, like the folks from Ticino cooked risotto (delicious!) and offered red wine (yummy!).
I enjoyed the vibrant, festive atmosphere very much. Of course the sunny but not too hot weather added to the wonderful experience. While I am usually not a fan of folk music I thought they did a very good job, played and sang very well. In case you're in Switzerland on August 1 then don't miss the celebrations!
- Arts and Culture
There's a local custom that reminded me of home, at first, but when I had the chance to taste them (thank you Sonja) I found out that has nothing to do with Portuguese roasted chestnuts.
These ones are sweeter and they are quite smaller, but with an intense flavour.
In conclusion: I loved them
When living slightly outside of one of the allegedly most expensive cities of the world, one does not go that often to restaurants in town, even if Zürich has quite a choice of nice places.
Ask the outgoing and always smiling men manning the grill, and they’ll tell you that their bratwurst is for Zürich exactly what the Eiffel Tower is for Paris or the Golden Gate Bridge is for San Francisco. An icon
- Food and Dining
Zuespa is a fair which is held annually at the "Zurich Messe" in Oerlikon. In 2009 they had their 60th anniversary.
At the Zuespa which is always at the end of September/beginning of October for 10 days, you will find all sorts of things to buy and to taste. They have furniture, sporting goods, wine, household machines etc etc. Also they always have a lottery and various places to enjoy a drink and food like raclette.
One thing that you can traditionally buy there is the "Zuespa Hupf" which is sort of a muffin. In 2009 it cost CHF 3.00.
There are similiar fairs at different times of the year in various Swiss cities like e.g. the "Comptoir" in Lausanne, the "Bea" in Berne and the "Olma" in St. Gallen.
Tirggel are a typical product of Zurich. In a few shops you will find them all year round but traditionally you buy them before Christmas or generally in the winter season. They are very thinly baked bisquits made with honey and you break off a small bit and let it melt in your mouth - well more or less.
The ones from the company Suter are the best, these are sold e.g. in Coop but you can also buy Tirggel in Migros but they have their own brand. Tirggel production goes back a very long way to the 15th century. Until some time in the 19th century only bakeries in the city of Zurich were allowed to produce them.
The funny thing about them are the pictures. Some of them are riddles, others are our beautiful local sights.
They come in various shapes too. Some come even with a hole in it so that you can hang them on your Christmas tree.
Traditionally, when the Circus Knie is in town they send some elephants to the city center on a Saturday morning for a parade. This year I have seen it myself for the first time. They do a round trip starting at Bellevue where the circus is settled for one month during May/beginning of June. The parade only takes place when the weather is dry, there is usually an alternative date.
This year there were 5 elephants walking in a row and the one behind is holding onto the the one in front. A small carriage is following the parade drawn by mini-ponies and elephant droppings are picked up immediately.
So from Bellevue they make their way to Löwenplatz, where they get a healthy snack. I follwed them most of the way from there. The route from Löwenplatz is Usteristrasse - Bahnhofstrasse - Münzplatz - Bahnhofstrasse - Bürkliplatz and back to Bellevue across the Quaibrücke.
At the Münzplatz there is an old fountain where they stop for a drink.
The whole thing is good fun to watch and not too big a crowd is following them around including a lot of pushchairs. You can get really close to the elephants and even touch them if you are brave enough. The parade takes 90 minutes.
- Family Travel