The area of Zurich we reside in is called Oerlikon (pronounced Ur-lee-kon). It was by chance that we ended up here. A little out of town (about 20 mins from the centre, such is the compact nature of Zurich) it is one of the less expensive areas of the city to live in and, being just a ten minute tram ride from Zoe's office, the location seemed ideal when we started looking for a flat here.
It's actually worked out brilliantly. I've just gone and got myself a job as Editorial Manager for a company that makes dental implants (well, I wanted a role I could get my teeth into) and my office is just 15 minutes away on the tram, a couple of stops past Zoe's. This makes it an hour less than my previous commute from Hitchin to London. On a cleaner, more punctual and cheaper transport system. It's simply wunderbar.
However, there is more to Oerlikon than just great transport connections and I haven't even gone into half of them! - Direct (and on time!) trains to Luzern and other places, plus they're extending the train stations for even more links, which, for a Brit used to getting soaked on a crowded platform, is pretty exciting. I appreciate, however, train ranting might not make for the best blog post. So enough of that...
Apparently, the name Oerlikon goes back to the alemannic settlement founder Orilo. Oerlikon was mentioned for the first time on record in the year 946. At that time the town consisted of no more than one dozen houses and was part of the municipality Schwamendingen, where the inhabitants of Oerlikon went to school and attended church. Zoe and I actually live just off 'Schwamedigenstrasse' now, though we're still not sure how to pronounce it.
In 1855 a railway (last mention I promise) that connected southern Germany with Zurich was built. As a result Oerlikon expanded and became a hub for industry and trade. One of Switzerland's biggest industrial firms bears the name 'Oerlikon' to this day and ABB are among the engineering companies that have big offices here. In 1872 Oerlikon was separated from Schwamendingen and became its own municipality. In 1897 a tramway (my previous promise referred only to trains!) from Zurich to Oerlikon was built and the suburb has been a busy part of Zurich ever since.
The town's industrial heritage is still very prominent today. One well know example is the recent moving of an entire building to make way for the expansion of the train station I mentioned. Yes that's right, here, you don't demolish buildings of historical significance to make way for progress - you move them. Even if, like the old headquarters of engineering firm Maschinenfabrik Oerlikon (MFO), they weigh 6,200 tonnes.
You can see a time lapse video of this feat of Swiss precision here. It's a very nice building and fantastic that it has been preserved. It actually now has a bar in it which I visited with my new work colleagues the other day. I imagine the bar wasn't there when the builders were moving it or they'd never have got the thing 60 metres down the street, well, not in a straight line at least.
Next to the old MFO building is the MFO park. Created on the site of the old MFO factory, it's now an award winning bit of urban landscaping with platforms, stairs and scented plants, all on a frame which stands where the old factory walls used to be.
The building above dates from the industrial age and is now the heating plant for the surrounding residential buildings. The repeated number two on the side is a bit of left wing artwork that stands for 'community and the divisible', presumably in a nod to the common man / trade unions that used to operate in the area in its factory filled heyday.
Back in the old part of town there is another interesting piece of 'Kunst' (art). Aptly entitled 'The Walker', the bronze statue (below) of a naked chap going for a stroll actually has nothing to do with the Swiss passion for naked hiking, though it has caused just as much controversy.
When I read in the poorly translated guidebook blurb that the statue's erection had caused a stir I was a left feeling a bit sorry for the poor chap, but it turns out that they meant his mere installation triggered uproar. Installed in 1934 next to a school (I sense local sculptor Franz Fischer was looking to ruffle a few feathers) the locals protested vehemently against it and local writer Albin Zollinger called it "pornographic". They must have found something else to complain about, however, as it actually won a gold medal as Switzerland's entry at the World Fair in New York five years later and it stands next to the changing rooms of the local school to this day.
Attitudes must certainly have become more liberal in recent years otherwise the town would never have allowed the bright orange 'Dorflinde' to be built. Roughly translating as 'Linden Tree Village', this complex of bright orange blocks sits pretty much opposite our flat and contains, amongst other things, some local authority offices. The name refers to the village that was on the site until 1799 when it was burnt down in a battle with the French and the Austrians (and you thought the Swiss didn't get involved in wars!).
I thought the orange colour of the buildings might be a tribute of dubious taste to this blaze but my dodgy guide book (provided by the state I hasten to add) explains that it is "painted in the colours of the 1970s". That this is written in an almost boastful way causes me a great deal of concern. It may also help explain why the clothes shops here often seem to be in a time warp. If you want anything from C&A just let us know - still going strong in der Schweiz!
All in all, we love where we live. Equidistant from the airport and the city centre, Oerlikon is great for transport, has a few nice bars and restaurants and also, as we've seen, a few stories to tell too. Hopefully we'll be hosting a few more of you soon so that we can show you its delights in person.
When people find out I spent my student placement year in Bavaria they invariably ask me if I went to Oktoberfest, wanting to know what it's like as they've always wanted to go. It is the world's most famous beer festival after all.
Well, I did make that pilgrimage to Munich. And I did have a good time. But am I in a hurry to go back? No. And I will tell you for why.
Biggest does not mean best. I went to Oktoberfest that September some years back (yes, it's confusingly held in September) wanting a traditional German experience, good fun, great food and big beers. And I got all of that with the exception of the typical German bit. In fact, I think Germans at Oktoberfest are outnumbered by tourists. Which means that everything is made super expensive. Even getting in one of the big tents requires a hefty payout. Many of these tourists were from India and Japan and didn't look like they were used to binge-drinking on beer. Especially beer that is over 7% ABV. And is sold by the litre.
The result was carnage. I spent most of my time there tripping over collapsed asians, relieved when I saw they were vomiting because it at least meant they weren't dead. It was messy to say the least.
I fell very lucky in my placement year, however, as it turned out that the town of Erlangen I had been posted to happened to host the second largest beer fest in Bavaria, and in my opinion, the best.
Bergkirchweih (or Berg for short) is everything I wanted from a German beer fest. For a start, there were Germans! Tens of thousands of them, mostly locals, flock every day during the celebration to the hill at the end of the town in which beer was kept back in the olden days. For a couple of weeks in May the cellar doors along the hill are opened and each Keller (cellar) serves its own strong beer, brewed especially for the occasion, to thirsty punters lining the hill in their lederhosen and Dirndls (the traditional dress for the ladies).
Being mostly Germans they have a pretty good constitution for their beer, thus avoiding the casualties that were strewn about in Munich. The food is great, the oompa music pumps out and everyone has an awesome time, whether having a chilled drink on a bench under the trees or dancing on the tables, it's brilliant.
So, when Zoe and I ended up on the continent I promised I would make an overdue return to 'Berg' some 6 years after it had rocked my little world the first time.
After a 5 hour drive across the border, with an unexpected detour through Austria (thanks TomTom) we made it to Erlangen where we met up with my old pal Norm.
Norm is the uber German. Having helped me make the most of my year in Germany by introducing me to Bundesliga football, his huge group of friends and the beer fest culture, we've stayed in regular touch ever since. There could be no better chaperone for my return to Berg and Zoe's inaugural beer fest.
We kicked things off with a traditional 'Frankonian' feast - Franconia being the county within Bavaria in which Erlangen lies, just north of Nuremberg. We met up with my friend Andy, who used to be my boss during my placement internship at Siemens, in the village he lives in on the outskirts of Erlangen. A dish of Schaeufele (slow cooked pork shoulder) and a Kloss (dumpling) was the perfect stomach lining fare before tackling the fest.
We started our festival experience with the 'Anstich' - the grand opening of the event by the town's mayor, the head of the local brewery 'Kitzmann' and, amongst other dignitaries, the beer festival queen!
The ceremony began with a speech in which we were advised to savour the first sip of beer at the festival as it would be the best. This proved correct. The same gentleman also advised caution and to know your drinking limits. This is also very sound advice. I sensed this man was a veteran of many festivals. He had earned his stripes and with it the right to open the fest. As he tapped the first barrel to huge cheers from the assembled masses I asked Norm if one day he will be the nobe townsman giving beer fest advice and opening the party. He assures me he's working on it.
As the pic at the top of this post shows, the beer from the first barrel is given out free by the beer queen and her army of associates. This causes young strapping lads in lederhosen to fight over each other for each jug, most of which they just seem to end up pouring on each other's heads in the melee. Each to their own I suppose, but we decided that rather than get half filled jugs of beer that people had stuck their fingers in, we'd pay the 7.5 Euros it costs for a 'Mass' (litre sized Krug). You can barely get half a pint for that much in Switzerland so we were in our element.
Before the first beer we ventured onto the 'RiesenRad' (giant ferris wheel) which afforded us a beautiful few of the town. It also nearly provided a second viewing of my stodgy lunch too, as our basket (for want of a better term) rocked and spun in a less than convincing way for the whole ride. As our jelly legs stepped off at the end we were all in need of a stiff drink. Thankfully, with festival beer strong enough to put hairs on your chest, we were in the right place.
We met up with some of Norm's friends and had an absolutely brilliant time. It was nice for me to hear German I could understand without too much trouble so I got to practice my Deutsch. Just as my foreign language skills seem to improve when I drink beer from litre sized receptacles, so did the Germans' willingness to speak English so Zoe could join in with the chatter. This was just as well as Zoe loves to chat, even without litres of booze!
The Keller we were at had a live band and soon enough everyone was dancing on the tables and singing along to a mix of modern hits, golden oldies and beer fest classics. I even got to astound some of our drinking buddies with my knowledge of FC Nuremberg football chants (if only Norman had actually taught me something useful!).
As the beer fest came to an end for the night around 11pm we headed back with the huge hoardes into town to the English pub. Alas this is not the same one I frequented in my placement days - that is now a latin bar - but a new equivalent with a few familiar faces. Erlangen also has an awesome kebab shop, crucial if you are to be in a state to tackle the beer fest again the next day, which of course we did! However, the rain the following day was unfortunately as strong as the beer so we didnt last long before we took shelter in the pub again, though we still had a cracking time.
All in all it was a great weekend, it was great to show Zoe the beautiful little corner of Germany that was home for me whilst she was completing her placement in Luton (which has a slightly different vibe!). In the day time I was able to show her the town's beautiful botanic gardens and the pavement cafes in the town's squares which I used to frequent. Now we're within driving distance I'm sure we'll be back to see Norm and co soon, and we won't need the beer fest as an excuse.
Well, all that furious typing has made me thirsty - just as well I bought a little bit of the festival home with me. Prost!
Mike Stuart moved to Switzerland in 2013 when his better half Zoë landed a job in Zurich.