Once a seedy neighbourhood with an air of debauchery, Zürich’s Kreis 4 is now a shiny hub of creativity. But the clean-up that began in 1995 didn’t involve a clear-out: a glimmer of the red-light district remains as neon proof of a seductive locale.
Outside Zürich’s Zeughaushof community garden a small green sign reading “No alcohol, no drugs, no dogs” provides a gentle reminder of an insalubrious past. During the 1980s and early 1990s, the area was notorious for nefarious goings-on. After pressure from residents an aggressive clean-up began in 1995, followed by the Langstrasse Plus project six years later, which launched with the goal of improving the quality of life in the quarter.
While an almost ineffable hint of the area’s bawdy past remains, Langstrasse and its surroundings are now “more orange-light than red-light,” says Jonas Ullmann, manager at cocktail bar Dante. Pockets of vice are next to invisible and sit alongside parks filled with families and well-dressed 20-somethings on bikes. The markets of Helvetiaplatz host friends enjoying drinks under the illuminated signs of restaurants. As the area’s pull intensified after the clean-up, architects, shops and cafés were quick to put down roots.
“The vibe is very special here: there’s a crazy mix of red-light district and creativity. We probably moved in a bit early but now we are right on time,” says Johan Olzon, who together with Karl Westbom forms part of the creative collective behind Soeder, a well-appointed shop that makes and sells sustainably produced essentials and homeware. Since opening in 2013, Olzon and Westbom have seen the area flourish. It’s an observation shared by product designer Isabell Gatzen, who moved into her nearby apartment five years ago when rents were low and the area fairly undeveloped. “Since then it has been up-and-coming,” she says. “Every weekend I think, ‘Where has this lovely shop come from?’”
Walking through the streets you can see every face of this multifaceted and multicultural neighbourhood: once-infamous nightclubs rest easy next to residential buildings crested by verdant balconies, while Asian supermarkets occupy the ground floors of dubious building developments. When MONOCLE visits, crowds on Langstrasse are enjoying music from street-food stall Palestine Grill, bathed in the warm neon glow of the sign hanging over the entrance to Roland erotic cinema. This vibrant mix coupled with the central location attracted Florian Fleischmann to Kreis 4. “We have everything,” says the yoga teacher and designer who lives near Stauffacher. “This is the heart of Zürich.”
Just moments away on the number three tram, which hugs the district’s perimeter, is the new Europaallee complex. A product of increased investment and interest in the area, it incorporates apartments, businesses, shops and restaurants. Its glossy corporate façade is a stark contrast to the quarter’s smaller traditional trades, including Gregory Clan’s carpentry workshop. Despite the increased affluence, some such businesses are now fighting to survive as rents creep up.
A healthy suspicion of gentrification pervades and some factory halls once used as ateliers for young designers are now apartments. But many, such as George Küng, are less worried about the changes. His vintage-furniture shop Elastique has been a fixture on Grüngasse since 2000 and he is confident that the underlying character of the quarter remains. “Kreis 4 was always trendy,” he says. “Therefore it was never trendy.”
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Lively neighbourhood restaurant with a garden courtyard for the summer and a cosy lounge for cooler months.
Run by the same team as Zürich favourites Grande and Bovelli, Dante is a cocktail bar with an underground fumoir (smoking area).
An airy shop that sells sustainably produced basics and homeware. The products they don’t make are well sourced.
Shop, design studio and gallery showcasing handmade stationery and tools. The display units are made with glass from nearby supplier Mäder.
One of the first vintage-furniture shops in Zürich. It supplies furniture to nearby corner bar Kanonengasse and is a few doors down from Viu eyewear.
Built in 1910, this space hosts cultural events. There’s a bar, bookshop and restaurant.