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By Robin Dorman (

When Zurich plunged into creating its stock exchange in 1877 to jump-start its lofty financial status, the citys unassailable constant has been this: Influence. Influence is power and money. And Gold is the armature on which Zurich, one of the worlds centers of finance and the fourth largest stock exchange, is sculptured: the headquarters of five major banks are on Bahnhofstrasse, with its rows of elite European designers, in the heart of the city, and below which many of the banks store mountains of gold in underground vaults. You literally walk on gold on Bahnhofstrasse (the dark side to this is Switzerlands past storing of Nazi gold bars, often with swastikas emblazoned on them. The gold was then used to buy war materials, allowing World War II to continue. To atone for its rather ignominious and less than neutral wartime dealings, the Swiss government, banks, and some big business interests have belatedly established a humanitarian fund for victims of the Holocaust). But the history of Zurich is much more than glittering gold and the muse of money: it is the allure of the luminously new and modernist conflagrations flaming in the streets, transfiguring a rather once conservative and staid metropolis into a city of daring, vivacity, and experiment. James Joyce moved to Zurich during the First World War (1915-1919), where he wrote much of Ulysses (inspired by the Limmatquai and Bahnhofstrasse and its gray way), his novel of magisterial illuminations, shaking words loose from their attachments and applying new meanings to them. It is here that Carl Jung, a student and colleague of Freuds, broke with Freuds doctrine to found his own school of what he called analytical psychology, based upon the relation of the individual to what he called the collective unconscious, where all humans share an inborn unconscious life that is expressed through archetypal symbols in dreams, fantasies, and myths. At Cabaret Voltaire in 1916 the international visual arts and literary movement Dada burst upon the scene when some young artists randomly struck upon Dada, meaning hobbyhorse in French, in a French-German dictionary as the label for their shockingly playful ponderings and practice of art. Artists Jean Arp and Tristan Tzara were two of the creators who believed that art cannot remain in one place--there must be a certain amount of movement, up, down, across, even a trot toward the future and against logical patterns or forms--an art that at once invites and resists interpretation (their use of junk and trash in modern artworks, as well as their exuberance for revolt helped to define their practice). At Zurichs Cafe Odeon, Russian exile Vladimir Illyich Lenin sat out most of World War 1, sipping coffee, reading the papers, and dreaming up the Russian Revolution, while declaring The neutrality of Switzerland is a bourgeois fraud and means submission to the imperialist war. Mati Hari danced her revolutionary dance at the same cafe. Marc Chagall was eighty-three years old when he completed the exquisite five stained-glass windows in Fraumunster church, founded by Emperor Ludwig, grandson of Charlemagne, who founded Grossmunster, the austere Romanesque and Gothic cathedral (the sublime deep-red and cobalt-blue stained-glass windows designed by Augusto Giacometti save the building from its otherwise bleak appearance), which was once the parish of Protestant Huldrych Zwingli, the anti-Catholic firebrand and impassioned leader of the Reformation, who preached sermons about idle hands and the devils playground. He also stressed the evanescent nature of wealth, which Zurichers have taken to heart in their modesty, thrift, and innate caution. Also ingrained in the Zuricher soul is their dedication to hard work and drive which has led them to such tremendous affluence.


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