Travels & Traditions: Zurich, Switzerland - #305

AIRLINE PILOTS VOICES: First of all, there were trees established. 

MAN: (Inaudible) 0-3 speed. Contact tower (Inaudible) 2-2. (Inaudible) touching down 7-5-7 is a heavy aircraft (Inaudible)

MAN: First of all, I'm on (Inaudible)

BURT WOLF: Most travelers coming to Switzerland arrive at the Zurich Airport, which has actually been designed to meet the needs of the passengers. Amazing. A flier-friendly terminal. This is Swissair's hometown. So if you're flying with them, you'll see a number of unusual services that I have never seen before.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Let's say I had just taken a flight from New York to Zurich, which, in fact, I just did. And while I was on the plane, I realized there would be no food in the apartment I'd be using in Zurich. So I told the air concierge what I wanted. And she ordered it. And when I hit the ground in Zurich, the ground concierge was there waiting with what I wanted.

GROUND CONCIERGE ON CAMERA: Hello, Mr. Wolf. Here's your chocolate and Swiss Mountain cheese.



BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: And the charge goes on my credit card. My favorite in-flight story is about a guy on a Swissair flight from New York to Zurich who spills red wine on his white shirt, and then gets stressed out because he's supposed to go directly from the airport to a very important meeting. The air concierge sees what's going on, and asks him the shirt size, the maker, and notes the color. And when he arrives in Zurich, they have the exact same shirt ... brand new ... waiting for him.

BURT WOLF: The ground concierge service is available from 5 A.M. to 11 P.M. 

They're multilingual and will try to help you with any problem you have.

They will also direct you to the Allegra Arrival Lounge, where you can take a shower.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Do you mind?!

BURT WOLF: Nap in a relaxation room. Pick up a newspaper. Have a bite to eat. And send a fax back to your office telling them that you've decided to live in the Zurich Airport and to please forward your mail. And if you're flying first or business class, or if you have a Swissair electronic ticket, they'll give you a smart car free for 24 hours. A smart car is like a Swatch on steroids. So what if it can only fit your carry-on luggage. Nothing's perfect.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: But the Swiss travel system is getting close. I purchased a Swiss pass in the United States, which allows me to use trains, buses and boats without additional charge all over Switzerland. The air-rail link between Zurich Airport and downtown Zurich takes ten minutes and runs six times an hour. You arrive in town at Zurich’s main station. This is the nation's central rail hub and trains leave at least once every hour for every part of Switzerland. All direct trains arrive during the ten minutes before the hour and depart during the ten minutes after the hour. Very structured, very dependable, very easy. 

BURT WOLF: The place to start your tour of Zurich is the place where Zurich got started. This is the Lindenhof Hill. It has an excellent view of the point where Lake Zurich narrows into the Limmat River, which is why the ancient Romans set up a fort here in 15 B.C. By 200 A.D. it was an important Roman trading post. Wine, olive oil, spices and pottery were the main commercial goods. But there also appears to have been a business based on cosmetics, jewelry and low-mileage used chariots. A few blocks up the river from Lindenhof is Fraumunster Church. It's Zurich's oldest building. Originally a Romanesque basilica, during the 800's it became a convent used by noble families from Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Often it was under the control of an imperial princess who ruled over the convent, the town of Zurich, and the state of Uri. In 1524, the last princess in charge, Katarina von Zimmern, gave the convent to the City Council who was busy supporting Zwingli, who was busy supporting the Protestant Reformation. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Central to the ideas being promoted by Zwingli and the other Swiss reformers, was a simpler lifestyle. Conservative clothing was required, especially in church. At one point, however, very wide dresses became fashionable but not with the church fathers. 

BURT WOLF: Accordingly, a narrow gate was erected just in front of the entrance to the building. A woman's dress had to pass through the arch without hitting the sides before she could enter the church. Excuse me, please step aside. Take off your excess vanity and go through the gate again. These days, many of the visitors to Fraumunster, vanity intact, come here to see the famous stain-glass windows. In 1968, 83-year-old Marc Chagall designed these works. 

I love art but I need a break. Let's go for coffee.

If you've ever wondered what it would be like to drink a cup of coffee in the center of a bouquet of flowers, you might consider some form of therapy, or just stop into the Cafe Schober. Schober opened during the 1860's as a bakery. Today it is one of Zurich's most beloved coffee houses and is always decorated with thousands of flowers. People come here throughout the day for a hot chocolate, a cup of coffee, and a slice of cake. The traditional kugelhopf is their best-seller. But the silky cheesecake runs a close second. And on the way out, you can take home a thin slab of their homemade, picture-perfect chocolate. And if the occasion demands, one of their magnificent birthday cakes. Schober is in the center of Zurich's Old Town, which is on the river's right bank. It's one of the most picturesque parts of Zurich and the perfect place for a morning walk. 

The Limmat River runs right through the center of town. If you're looking down river, the Lindenhof Hill and the Fraumunster Church are on the Left Bank. The Old Town, and the Grossmunster Church are on the Right Bank. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Felix and Regula, the patron saints of Zurich, they were members of a Roman legion but they were also Christian! Not a good thing. So in 300 A.D., they escaped to Zurich, where they were caught and beheaded on a small island in the river, at which point they got up, picked up their heads, walked up to the embankment, and sat down on a hill where they wanted to be buried. 

The Grossmunster Church was erected on top of their graves. The doors on the south side of the church illustrate the life of Zwingli. In 1519, Zwingli officially started the Protestant Reformation in Zurich and preached in this church. Eventually, he was able to abolish celibacy for priests, religious processions, and non-biblical heroes whose images he removed from the building. He was also able to put an end to the business of selling indulgences. And what a business that was, too. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: You could be a horrible person throughout your entire life, but if at the very end of it, you made a whopping donation to the Church, they would forgive you and promise to make arrangements for you to have preferential treatment in the afterlife.

Zwingli's reforms changed Zurich. The Church became more responsive to the needs of the population. The flavor of the Reformation can still be found in Zurich's culture. For centuries Zurich did not have a central market. Vendors preferred streets with shops that dealt in specific goods. Neumarkt was one of those streets. 

The most dramatic building on Neumarkt is Grimmenturm, which means sourpuss, a reference to the old owner. The original construction of its central tower began in the 1100's. For many years, the front room was a beer hall. 

In 1997, it was taken over by Thomas Sos who turned it into a fashionable restaurant. Thomas was with the Four Seasons Hotels in the United States. Zurich, however, is his hometown and he needed to come back. He also needed to feed us two dishes that are considered local specialties ... breaded veal, with hand-cut French fries, and minced veal in a cream sauce with rosti, the ultimate home-fried potatoes. You can walk off some of those calories by heading over the river and paying a visit to Bahnhofstrasse. 

Bahnhofstrasse is Zurich's big-time shopping street and considered to be one of the most fashionable in Europe. Half a mile of stores. Just off the street is Peterhofstatt, one of the oldest squares in the city and one of the most beautiful. At the center of the square is St. Peter's Church, which was built during the 800's. Until 1950, the town watchman would sit in the cornered windows beneath the pointed roof, and report on any problems. Mostly they reported on fires.

BURT WOLF: But as the centuries passed, they also considered announcements on local traffic. St. Peter's is famous for having one of the largest clock faces in Europe. It's over 28 feet in diameter. It's the only Baroque church in Zurich, but Baroque here is not very flashy. Just a few swirls here and there. St. Peter's may have the largest clock but Turler has the most complex. 

FRANZ TURLER: Here you see the clock indicating the hours, the day, the months and the years. 

BURT WOLF: In 1986, Franz Turler, the fourth generation of a Swiss watch making family, conceived the idea for the most complex clock ever made and became the financial and spiritual force behind its construction. It took nine years to build. And went into operation in the Turler shop on June 21st, 1995. The clock has five master movements. The first is the solar system showing the movements of the planets around the sun. The second displays the relationship of the Earth, sun and moon, which dictate our days, months and years. The third is the global movement. A view of the universe as we see it. The Earth at the center, then the moon revolving around us ... the sun moving around the Earth, the stars. Each point in the universe can be read in this system and it will take 25,794 years, which is called a platonic year, to complete its movement. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The manufacturer of the clock has guaranteed the parts during that time period. But let me tell you ... I know these guys. And if you have a problem after the 25,794-year guarantee runs out, you just come back with your proof of purchase and I'm sure they'll do a great job for you. 

The fourth panel shows the movement around us from a fixed point on Earth. The skyline of Zurich is etched on to the front of the clock. It's based on the actual view from the top of a building in the center of town. We can see the angle of the sun and the moon in relation to the true horizon. When the sun is at its highest point over the city, the golden orb on the clock will also be at its zenith. Because the time on our clocks and watches is a compromise with celestial time, the clock on St. Peter's only reads 11:35, even though the sun is directly overhead. The fifth face shows seconds, minutes, hours, days and months. Good to see a familiar face. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: And because I have checked the angle of Pluto, and its relationship to the Earth, incorporated that information in my new understanding of the platonic year, and checked the angle of the sun over the center of Zurich, plus I looked at my watch. I know it's time to scoot across town.

And meet up with the inventor of the modern scooter. Wim Ouboter was a banker interested in micro-mobility, which is just a techie way of saying he wanted to get around on small things. And the small thing he wanted to get around on was the first modern mini-scooter. 

WIM: The first time I had the idea of the mini-scooter was in 1991, and I showed it to my friends and they were laughing at me because they think how can you do this…you're a banker. Why you want to make scooters. So I put it into the cellar. And a few years later, some kids in the neighborhood, they have seen this first prototype, and they were riding around and my wife said there's something about it, because sometimes we have 15 kids riding around. It must be something special about this scooter. Maybe you ... you should give it a try. So at one point, we were making 80,000 pieces a day. The production was running full speed. It's really popular because it's ... it's a practical vehicle because of its portable mobility, you can take it with you.

It only takes a few step and you're on the move. 

BURT WOLF: Besides being creative, Wim is also a serious eater and it was his desire to avoid walking the 20 minutes to his favorite sausage stand that caused him to develop the original scooter. 

The place is called Vorderer Sternen and it's everyone's favorite sausage stand. And Wim was right. When you're hungry 20 minutes is too long to get to this place. It's so small that you could easily miss it were it not for the crowd of people that are always standing in front. The hot sausage here is St. Galler bratwurst, which is served on a piece of parchment paper. 

It's great. Wow.

MAN: Yes. Very good. Oops!

BURT WOLF: The burli roll is picked up separately. This is Zurich's official bread roll and shows up here as well as in the city's most formal restaurants. Mustard comes in a little cup and you can pick up a beer at the back bar. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Protocol requires you to hold the sausage in one hand. If you use mustard, you dip it in and take a bite. The other hand is used for holding the bread and you follow the bite of the sausage with the bite of the bread, and then a drink of the beer, if you're drinking beer. And you can alternate the beer and the bread with the right hand, but you must never ever let go of the sausage. That's important to know. 

For dessert, you might like to have an ice cream cone from a Movenpick stand. Movenpick is a large corporation in the hotel, restaurant and resort business. But for most Swiss, their reputation rests on their ice cream. They make over 300 different flavors, and your first taste will quickly remind you that the operative word here is cream. The butterfat content of this stuff is intense. And so's the flavor. 

A few blocks away is the restaurant Kropf. The building dates to 1444. The restaurant, which is an official landmark, came along exactly 444 years later in 1888. The paintings along the walls are there to remind you of the various gastronomic pleasures available. Drink wine ... drink beer ... eat fish ... eat meat ... try truffles ... taste tart. Party!! 

A truly unusual environment and the place to have some of the down-home traditional dishes of Zurich. Danke. My main course is farmer's ham, chunky potato salad and sauerkraut. And for dessert, sugared apple fritters with a vanilla sauce. 

For a more formal setting, stop into the Kronenhalle which started out as a beer hall. In 1920, Hulda Zumsteg and her husband bought the place and turned it into a distinguished restaurant. Hulda’s son, Gustav, collected art. And when he ran out of space at home, he started bringing it into the restaurant. There are works by Braque, Matisse, Chagall, Soutine, and Míro. Regular patrons book their table according to the art they want to be near. 

Verena Gerhartz, Hulda’s granddaughter, is the restaurant's official hostess. We had dinner together, splitting an appetizer of white asparagus with a mustard hollandaise sauce, followed by beef stroganoff. And for dessert, chocolate mousse. 

There's at least one other gastronomic landmark that should be included as you eat your way across Zurich and that's Sprungli In 1836, David Sprungli and his son Rudolf, opened their shop. They made candies, cookies, chocolates, and cakes. About 20 years later, they moved to this spot in the center of town because they heard that the new train station would be built nearby. It never happened. But the neighborhood turned out to be the center of the banking district. So they opened a cafe. It was one of the first places in Zurich where women could dine in public without being accompanied by a man. And it's still very popular.

These days they produce over 2,000 different items. The single best-seller is called Luxemburgerli. Two small rounds of meringue with a flavored buttercream in between. They go through a thousand pounds of these every day. They also have a box with their top ten chocolates, another with mini-versions of the top ten. And their packaging is fabulous. 

Some of it reflects what's going on in town each month, like their reproductions of the bench art that's being displayed in the streets. They also produce a truffle of the day, which is only made and sold on that day. They believe that certain things must be enjoyed the same day you encounter them. Let me tell you, I completely agree. 

While I was in Zurich, I stayed at a Steigenberger Hotel, which is part of a group of 80 hotels throughout Europe. The one in Zurich is called the Bellerive Au Lac. The building was put up in 1928 as a department house for the wealthier residents of the city. It's on the edge of the downtown area and right on the lake. 

BURT WOLF: During the 1990's, it was turned into a top flight hotel. The decor is based on the furniture of the 1920's, but the technology is up to the minute. As a matter of fact, that is the main theme of the hotel. Old world luxury on the outside, modern efficiency underneath. The furniture has the look of the twenties, but in each room there's a high-speed DSL computer connection.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: When I first heard about the Bellerive Au Lac, I heard that it was a great place for people traveling on business. But while I was here, I noticed a couple of families with small children. And the children had settled in and were having a great time. I realized that when a hotel is organized for ease of use and comfort, it works as well for kids as it does for corporations. It only has 51 rooms and suites, which makes it a manageable size and allows the management to give individual attention to the guests.

My suite had a beautiful view of the water and the mountains. And along with the bed, bath, dining room and living room, there was a Jacuzzi, a private sauna, and a private roof-top terrace with a 360-degree view of the city and the surrounding countryside. 

They have a bar with a piano player that will help you forget the stress of the day. And an elegant restaurant that overlooks the lake. The Bellerive Au Lac, like many European hotels, includes breakfast as part of your daily rate. It's an excellent buffet with everything from fresh fruit, cereal and yogurt, to smoked salmon, and sweet rolls. Remember from a nutritional point of view, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. So live it up! In the same way that

Americans name hurricanes, the Swiss name the great storms that cross over Europe. In 1999, a monster storm named Lothar ripped its way across Switzerland. One result was the destruction of thousands of trees. 

The government of Zurich saw the trees as a source of lumber and decided to use them in the cause of public art. The undertaking became known as the Bench Art Program. One thousand and seventy benches were created and set up throughout the city. Each was funded by a local company, or individual, and created by a local artist. Some of them are quite fantastic. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: This kind of light-hearted public art goes back to the early nineties when the shopkeepers on the main shopping street commissioned local artists to produce large lions. The lion is the symbol of the city of Zurich. In 1998, they traded the lions in for cows and the cow project was so successful that it was exported to New York and Chicago.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Well, that's all the time we have for our visit to Zurich. I hope you've enjoyed it. And I hope if you have a second, you'll watch us next time. For TRAVELS & TRADITIONS, I'm Burt Wolf.