Reformation by the River and the Railroad Tracks

Zürich, 30 December 2015

Last night (29 December), supper at a Mexican restaurant, followed by the film Carol at an arthouse cinema.

Ute (my wife) introduced me to a spot that advertises itself as “the most exciting street to shop in Zürich”, Im Viadukt Markthalle.

The railway company had a substantial influence on the city’s urban development in the 19th century.

In Zurich’s industrial quarter district, the trains rolled over railway embankments which posed insurmountable obstacles for the expansion of the district until they were replaced by viaducts in 1894.

Even then, businesses settled in the viaducts.

Up to 200 stonemasons conducted their trade, initially outdoors and later in shed-like constructions, which were built where the Markthalle stands today.

Right next door to granite stonemason Stacchi’s arch, stood what was referred to by locals as the “banana headquarters”, a thriving business conducted with tropical fruit and roasted peanuts.

Later automobile mechanic Dittgen also set up shop there.

At the end of the 1980s, the SBB (Swiss National Railways) made plans to expand the viaduct eastward under the project name “Fil Rouge”, in order to increase the capacity of the Zurich Main Station -Oerlikon line.

The new tracks would have been two to three meters higher than those already laid.

The tunnel that followed would have still only had two tracks.

Trains would have passed the windows of the homes next to the tracks as closely as three meters.

Two plans for alternative detour routes were discarded in 1990 because they were too expensive.

Public outrage reached its peak in the spring of 1998, when 220 formal objections were filed against the project and an association called “Verrückt das Viadükt” (Crazy Viaduct) collected signatures for a petition against “Fil Rouge”.

In 1999, the association, together with the Viadukt Conservation Society, submitted to the Canton a popular initiative demanding the construction of a new underground through station.

The results of their initiative are today’s through station Löwenstrasse and the Weinbergtunnel.

Particularly since the 1990s, not only craftsmen or private persons have set up shop at the Im Viadukt location, but also tenants, who have made a great contribution to revitalizing the district with their great innovations.

Bananen + Frucht, Bogen 13, the Velowerkstatt, Calleri, and Greek Comestibles are probably the best-known examples.

Whether a restaurant, cultural venue or specialty shop:

The dedicated business people were not bothered by the sparse facilities under the damp arches.

End of March 2003, however, they had to vacate their niches, because the SBB had plans to renovate the viaduct and would have to remove the constructions to do so.

This led to further protest in the district.

The City and the SBB were up against the suspicion that they wanted to create an upper-class shopping area.

The result is a kind of compromise between the old mercantile traders and upper class gentrification.

Mind you, it´s a great neighbourhood:

The Prime Tower, Zürich´s highest building at a height of 126 metres:

…as well Zürich´s melting pot for contemporary art, with such sites as the Kunsthalle Zürich (art museum), the Migros Museum of Contemporary Art, and galleries presenting the works of Swiss and international artists.

Also here is the art bookshop Kunstgriff and art publishing companies Parkett and Edition Patrick Frey.

One can swim in a nearby pool, rest and relax in the cozy shade or go for a casual walk along the Limmat River.

Have a picnic, play beach volleyball or petanque, then visit a nearby bar or restaurant.

Famous for its lively nightlife, nearby Geroldstrasse is also a street with several concept stores, design shops such as Bogen 33 and artist studios.

Whether the rockabilly vintage dresses of Schiff Ahoi, Le Tom ‘s accessories made of straw, or the timeless fashion selection of Townhouse –

Geroldstrasse has a very wide variety to choose from.

Right next door to the Friday Flagship Store, which is made of 19 recycled freight containers, is the very cozy Frau Gerolds Garten.

The area is a modular city garden with small shops, fresh menus and a generous sun-drenched terrace.

Im Viadukt is very well connected to the public transportation system and is within walking distance from most places.

And not a whisper of this is in any of the English language guidebooks…

After an evening of great food and a good movie, this morning finds me in the middle of a religious war.

In a previous blog post, City of Spirits, I wrote about the Wasserkirche Church where the patron saints Felix and Regula were martyed and where a statue of the reformer Ulrich Zwingli (1484 – 1531) stands.


I mentioned the Grossmünster Cathedral where Ulrich, calling himself “Huldrych”, preached the Bible and criticized the religious abuse of his time.

His sermons, writing and influence succeeded in having Zürich remove treasures and statues from churches.

Even singing and organ music were banned from church services for many years, even though Zwingli enjoyed music and could play several instruments, including the violin, harp, flute, dulcimer and hunting horn.

Zwingli, however, eliminated instrumental music from worship in the church, stating that God had not commanded it in worship.

Where the liturgy of the hours was practiced and mass celebrated, Zwingli introduced the “Prophezey”, where every day students and scholars would meet in the choir of the Cathedral to translate the Bible and preach to the people.

This Prophezey would lead to the development of a school of theology which in turn would lead to the establishment of the University of Zürich.

And here is where the first complete German translation of the Scriptures was finished.

The southern portal of the Cathedral is a door depicting scenes of Zwingli´s life:

  • 14 year old Zwingli plays his lute as a pupil of the Dominicans in Bern.
  • 1515: Military chaplain Zwingli preaches to the soldiers before the Battle of Marignano.
  • The first celebration of the Lord´s Supper after mass had been abolished
  • Zwingli is seen with his family after the obligation of celibacy had been lifted
  • Grants asylum to the knight Ulrich von Hutten to save him from persecution by the German Empire
  • Zwingli feeds the poor with a large pot of mush next to the neighbourhood Predigerkirche (Preacher´s Church)
  • 1529: Zwingli and Martin Luther haggle over the meaning of the Lord´s Supper but unable to reach common ground
  • His death on 11 October 1531, defending Zürich against Catholics at the Battle of Kappel

According to Zwingli, the cornerstone of theology is the Bible.

Zwingli appealed to Scripture constantly in his writings.

He placed its authority above all other sources.

This challenge to Ecumenical Councils and the very Papacy itself was quite popular with the Swiss population both in the city and in the countryside for it appealed to their desire for a more independent democratic control over their own lives.

The Church possessed wealth and property throughout the land.

Tributes for church upkeep, as well as monastery upkeep, was a heavy burden upon the populace, with regular rebuilding and modifications, costly relics, precious altars, insignia and liturgical vestments, on top of the regular tithing of a percentage of their meagre-by-comparison incomes.

Who wouldn´t embrace a Reformation, a revolution in religious practices?


Some of the followers of Zwingli demanded a quicker and more radical Reformation.

These followers rejected child baptism as a sign of entry into the community of Christ.

They refused to utter oaths of allegiance to local government authorities and would only respect the law when its actions were supported by Scripture.

Some wanted to gather in small, pacifist congregations of the faithful.

Others sympathized with the insurrectionary peasants up in wartorn Germany.

The City feared that this “Anabaptist” movement could lead to widespread revolution.

The Anabaptists started to be threatened with increasingly harsh sanctions.

Between the Lindenhof hill and the left bank of the Limmat is a charming huddle of old houses, a neighbourhood called the Schipfe.

“Schipfe” is Swiss German for “a little push or shove”, since it was here that fishing boats were once launched into the River.

Attached to a wall on the riverbank opposite Schipfe 43 is an inscribed stone all too easy to miss.

It is a memorial to Felix Manz (1498 – 1527), the first martyr of the Radical Reformation, executed for his beliefs.

Manz, the illegitimate son of a canon in Zwingli´s Grossmünster Cathedral, quickly became a follower of Zwingli´s Protestant ideas and friends with the Great Reformer himself.

But this friendship proved divisive, however as Manz, and his friend Conrad Grebel, began independently questioning the Mass, the nature of the relationship between Church and State, and the controversial replacement of infant baptism with adult baptism.

Manz and Grebel grew impatient with the slowness at which the Swiss Reformation was unfolding.

They believed that Zwingli was making too many concessions to Zürich´s City Council.

In 1525 Zwingli and the Council decided that anyone refusing to have their children baptised would be forced to leave Zürich.

The radicals ignored Zwingli.

On 21 January 1525, they met at the home of Manz´s mother, where Grebel baptised a third radical, George Blaurock, who in turn baptised the others.

Following this earliest case of adult re-baptism, the first Anabaptist church of the Radical Reformation was born.

The break with Zwingli was complete.

It was not long before Manz and Blaurock were arrested.

On 5 January 1527, Felix Manz became the first victim of an edict passed by the City Council making adult baptism punishable by…


Manz was taken out into the River by boat.

His hands were bound and pulled behind his knees and a pole placed between them.

He was thrown overboard.

Manz was the first Swiss Anabaptist to be martyred at the hands of other Protestants.

Zwingli would die seven years later, dying not for Christ nor for the Swiss Confederation, but for Zürich, in a battle that lasted less than an hour, with Zwingli amongst the 500 casualties in the Zürich army.

Later that morning, I leave behind the “holy” waters of the Limmat and find myself in a tiny chapel in the largest railway station in Switzerland, the Zürich Hauptbahnhof (Main Station).

In this dimlit room, away from the daily rush of 350,000 passengers, away from the basement shops of ShopVille RailCity, members from five world religions (Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism) are welcome to worship in peace.

On the floor a metal plate indicates to Mohammed´s faithful where to face Mecca and a prayer mat is provided.

Though a Christmas tree and manger scene occupy a corner of the room, and though the shelves to the side have only Bibles, only in German, still the symbols above a mantelpiece represent the five faiths.

Spiritual councillors are regularly on duty should one need them.

(One of them is named Roman Angst, which brings a smile to my face.)

It is not the greatest accommodation of faiths that could be shown, but at least efforts toward  reconcilation of religions is being made.

And in a world of people hellbent on destroying those who do not believe as they do…

In a world where deities and religion are invoked to defend acts of violence…

In a world where a Southern Baptist Church is split asunder over the issue of whether the biblical Adam had a navel or not…

In a world where history is never learned but is often repeated in different forms…

Even this tiniest of concessions, this miniature chapel of five faiths, ignored and invisible inside a great transport hub station, nonetheless, gives me hope.

Imagine a world where one can believe what one wants without fear or condemnation.

Now that is a Reformation I can get behind.

(Sources: Im Viadukt website, Reformed Churches of the Canton of Zürich, Duncan Smith: Only in Zürich, Wikipedia)




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