“Welcome, welcome to the heart of the criminal syndicate,” joked our guide as he began the tour.
The crowd laugh politely, but few had any idea what he was talking about. Sensing that he was losing his audience before he even engaged them, he continued, “we are standing now at Paradeplatz the heart of the financial centre in Zurich which houses the headquarters of a few of the biggests banks in the world here – UBS, Credit Suisse…”
So here we were, the place that gave Zurich its financial hub reputation. Honestly, it was underwhelming. When I think of global financial capitals I think of cities like London, Shanghai, New York and Tokyo and in them districts blooming with skyscrapers. Perhaps I too was stuck in the mindset that skyscrapers represent modernity, or perhaps this is just the effect of growing up in a city.
At the centre of the square was a tram station serving every single tram line in the city. The road was decorated overhead with tram cables and criss crossing in every direction. Radiating out from the tram station. were buildings on all corners. These German brick-gothic inspired buildings were clearly built in a previous era, but retained their understated grandness and elegance. Across the road was one of the most fancy hotels in town the Savoy Baur en Ville and on another side the luxury confectionery manufacturer Confiserie Sprüngli.
And so here we were also, in the most expensive postcode in Zurich. I had already described in the previous posts how Zurich was a extremely expensive and the city basically priced out anyone except the upper middle class. But this square was even more exclusive. How so?
The good times in world economics stopped in 2008 when the global economy fell into a tailspin. The world was living large, most people were living far beyond their means. The crisis had threatened to bring the world economy to its knees, akin to the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Most global banks were affected including a Swiss giant called Credit Suisse.
But it dealt with the issue a lot better. The 2008 credit crisis caused the bankruptcy of major institutions such as Lehman Brothers and the folding of investment firm Bear Stearns into the arms of JP Morgan Chase. In comparison, Credit Suisse as an organisation fared much better. It still had large debts to pay off though and part of Credit Suisse’s strategy was to sell the property that it owned to decrease operating cost and use the income from the sale to fund its debt. One of the main properties that it sold to help pay off its debts was a building just opposite its headquarters.
Just think if selling property in the most popular postal code could form part of a strategy to pay off huge debts how much must the building have been worth?
You get the point.
While fancy and shiny as it is today, Paradeplatz’s original name was a lot more unfortunate. The square used to be a place for the sale of pigs, and therefore had the name of Säumärt (pig market). In an atmosphere where financiers and bankers do not have the most popular public perception that name would have lent itself to a lot of creative descriptions and depictions. It only changed its name to Paradeplatz in 1865 after the marching of a military parade that used to march down from a nearby camp.
Paradeplatz in its predecessor form was also the site of a coup d’etat just prior to the formation of the Federal State. In an event called the Züriputsch on the 6th of Septermber 1839 the rural population near the city descended upon the square to try to claim power from the power brokers in the city hall. The fuel for the conflict was religious the Zuirch government was considered extremely liberal, while the people from the rural areas were a lot more conservative and saw their world being changed rapidly. In a move to enhance the reputation of theological school on Zuirch a well-known German theorlogican David Strauss was appointed a professor. Strauss’ research topic focused on the historical Jesus and had denied the divinity of Jesus, a position that most Trinitarian Christians would denouce as heretical. Strauss work is controversial even today, but even extreme works can sometimes bear forth some positives. In Strauss’ case, his work was a pioneering effort in the study of the Historical Jesus.
The guide carried on, but I was already lost. So I turned left while the rest turned right, and carried on up Bahnhofstrasse, towards the train station.
ON THE MAP