Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Cafe Tour of Zurich

One of the strangest cities I have ever traveled to is Zurich, Switzerland. I went on a whim, a midway stopping point between visiting my family in Calabria, Italy and a friend in Bamberg, Germany. At first glance, Zurich is quiet and reticent, but it's reputation as Europe's prim and proper financial hub is utterly deceiving to the true characteristics of the city.

Me in Zurich. Photo credit: Ellie.

If you know me, or read my blog enough, you'll know I am an artist, a lover of art, and a Dadist through and through. The Dadist movement began in Zurich and is still well and alive today, if you know where to go and what to look for.

Photo credit: Ellie

When I went to Zurich, I met up with one of my best friends, Ellie. It was late January and on the edge of the alps, the city was an ice cube. Ellie and I often took to the cafes to escape the cold and we tried everything from hot chocolate to your casual afternoon absinthe.

1. Cabaret Voltaire
The first stop we made was, of course, to Cabaret Voltaire, the very place where Hugo Ball professed the Dada Manifesto, which begins as follows: Dada is a new tendency in art. One can tell this from the fact that until now nobody knew anything about it, and tomorrow everyone in Zurich will be talking about it. Dada comes from the dictionary. It is terribly simple. In French it means "hobby horse". In German it means "good-bye", "Get off my back", "Be seeing you sometime". In Romanian: "Yes, indeed, you are right, that's it. But of course, yes, definitely, right". And so forth.

Photo credit: Ellie

Me & Da & Da.
Photo credit: Ellie

This cafe is a Dadist's dream because it is where the movement began, where the lunatics came to preform, and where the thing to drink at one o'clock in the afternoon is a glass of absinthe. Surrounded by cheese socks, fake fire, and made-up words, Ellie and I tried our hardest to sip the absinthe that we truly abhorred - we didn't get far before I began to wish I got coffee instead. It honestly didn't matter what I drank because after I sat down I pulled out my copy of the Dada Manifesto and read. It felt like I was there in 1916 reliving the very scene. I could even picture Hugo Ball standing there dressed in silver plastic pieces resembling something between a robot and upside down ice-cream cone.

Winter berries.
Photo credit: Ellie

2. Odeon
Our next stop was Odeon, possibly Zurich's most well-known cafe. This is the place where Lenin sat with Kamenev and Trotsky discussing tactics for what would later become the Bolshevik Revolution. The history of this cafe is fascinating and if you would like to read about it, follow the link here.

Odeon was bustling with people even when everywhere else in the city was silent. When we arrived, it had just begun to snow and really was a site to behold. Crammed between tables, Ellie and I sat down to take in the setting around us and the diverse crowd that came to gather.

Now is the appropriate time to explain why I haven't written about coffee yet. Nothing serious, but I have a form of arthritis that causes bad circulation. Caffeine can bring on the condition and make it much worse, especially in a place as cold as Zurich. While I consumed no coffee I write this post because, as I explained when first starting this blog, cafe going and coffee drinking is as much about the people and place that surrounds you as the coffee itself.

3. Cafe Peclard/Cafe Schober
Ellie had to leave the city before I, so I ventured to the next cafe on my own. Still today I don't understand why this place has two names, I think it has something to do with the names of the owner and founder... but it doesn't really matter. However, what's unusual about the cafe is that it really feels like two different places.

The downstairs is small and a perfect place to come alone. Little tables are set in a white-washed back room with windows overlooking a small outdoor space away from the streets. It was quaint and gave the vibe that it was meant for people to come alone and read the day's paper.

The downstairs also houses a small pastry shop, beautifully decorated with an old fashioned cash register, twinkling lights, and heaping piles of macaroons in every color. I ordered the cappuccino flavored  macaroon (go figure) along with the elephant ear pictured below.

The upstairs of the cafe is quite different, a place for family and friends to relax for hours sipping Cafe Schober's famous hot chocolate. I ordered one myself and found it extremely mediocre, but it was nonetheless a fine supplement to a lazy afternoon before catching a train north to Bamberg. 

The ambiance of the upstairs was inviting to the moment. The dim lights, exposed wood beams, and burgundy velvet chairs provided the perfect backdrop to end my stay in Europe's most unusual city.

Please feel free to email me if you have any questions or if your planning a trip to Zurich anytime soon!

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