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.
We're still getting to know the local way of life but it's fair to say that the Swiss have a reputation for being sticklers for the rules. Going back to our very first day, this became apparent after being here for only 5 minutes. Having literally just got through the door to the new flat where Zoe, having already arrived a couple of days prior, was directing the removal men's activities, the doorbell rang.
Now, my German is a bit rusty, and the Swiss accent is likely to baffle me forever, but when I picked out the word 'Polizei' among the garbled speech that came through the intercom I realised we had better open the door.
Fearing I'd made an immigration related admin error that was about to see me sent back to Blighty, I was relieved when the two stern officers at the door asked if I owned a truck. Filled with relief I declared that I do not own a truck, nor any vehicle for that matter, and explained as best I could 'auf Deutsch' that I'd literally just arrived and that we were only now moving in.
Putting two and two together more quickly than I did (I did have a 4:30am start that day to be fair) the policeman asked whether moving in required a giant truck. Yes, I replied, pondering for a moment - I supposed it probably did.
So, as you've probably already got there quicker than I did that morning, I can confirm the removal men had a giant van that had brought all of our possessions to the continent and that they had parked it where they shouldn't. Big no-no in der Schweiz.
So the police told the driver where to move his van and he did just that. But we weren't finished there, unfortunately, oh no. As I began to commence some bleary eyed unpacking my attention was drawn to some squawking from outside. Some local birdlife, I presumed, making a mental note to get a bird feeder for the balcony I'm so excited about.
Unfortunately it turned out to be a gaggle of elderly Swiss ladies who were up in arms and pointing at a parked car. It looked like this was the most excitement they'd seen in Oerlikon in some time. Just a few minutes later, as the removal men were saying their goodbyes, the Police arrived again, this time stating that a parked car had been knocked by their juggernaut.
What unfurled then was like something from an epidsode of CSI. Two riot vans arrived on scene in addition to the car that was already there. One young officer then began taking pictures of the car that had been bumped and the removal chaps were taken away for questioning. As they had done all their work in the flat we never actually saw them again, though as the truck was gone the next day I assume they were released and made it on their way (I don't want to ask too many questions until my visa has been processed).
So, a bit of excitement on day one that probably demonstrates the serious approach of the Swiss. They don't seem to do things by halves and I reckon that's a good thing. It certainly bodes well if we are ever in need of Police support here I suppose - I'm not sure you'd get that sort of attention for a murder in the UK, never mind a dented bumper.
Mike and Zoe's new home - top floor flat
On Saturday 2nd February 2012 I joined Zoe and all of our wordly possesions at our new home in Zurich.
Situated in the suburb of Oerlikon, our new flat is - as the map below shows - just north of the main hustle and bustle of Zurich City Centre. Equidistant between the airport and the Hauptbahnhof (main railway station) and just a ten minute tram ride to Zoe's office, the location is perfect.
Zoe's employer General motors has made the relocation process very straightforward and, thanks to our bubbly American adviser Stacie, we have been able to move into the new pad and get sorted very quickly. We even had TV and wifi up and running on day one despite not having a bank accont to link the payments to. Such faith in people paying their debts when they are due is common in Switzerland apparently (but a bit of an alien concept to a scouser like me!).
Actually bigger than our old abode in Hitchin, it's a nice spacious flat on the top (second) floor of the building (pic above).
As you can see, we have ourselves a little balcony - a bit of a novelty having not had one before. As it's south facing it will be the perfect place to sit and sip coffee or a beer once the weather starts to warm up (with temperatures hovering around -10 celcius I didn't last long on my first attempt to have a cuppa 'al fresco').
Our landlady doesn't speak any English but we've been understanding each other fine thanks to my bit of Deutsch and her way of considerately toning down her Swiss accent when she talks to me (we'll come on to Swiss German, or 'Schwiizertüütsch' in another post). In line with the efficiency for which the Swiss are famous she has already been great at sorting things out for us promptly, from patching up evidence of the previous tenant to fixing the heating when it broke (at -10 that's quite important!).
With a nice guest bedroom we're looking forward to hosting visitors to stave off our longing for blighty. We're pleased to see the calendar filling up with requests already so better make your bookings sharpish if you haven't already :)
Mike Stuart moved to Switzerland in 2013 when his better half Zoë landed a job in Zurich.