Zurich’s main railway station is not only Switzerland’s biggest, it’s also a major shopping hub.
Its collection of small and large commercial surfaces makes the station the country’s fourth-largest shopping centre.
“Around 350,000 people pass through here each day,” said Hans Baumann, who manages Zurich station.
Baumann, who knows all the ins and outs of this huge site, says his station was once the focal point of Switzerland’s railway system.
“Zurich was used to work out the price of tickets in the early years of Swiss railways,” he told swissinfo.
The station was opened in 1871, and extended for the 1939 national exhibition. The alterations carried out in 1930s were intended to be temporary, but have endured 65 years.
A new development was the addition during the 1990s of an underground area containing passages for pedestrians and goods, a regional train station, and most of all, a shopping zone.
Zurich’s RailCity, as it is known, is home to over 120 shops. The fourth-largest shopping centre in the country, it is open every day of the week until nine in the evening.
The station building itself was renovated in 1997 for the 150th anniversary of the railways in Switzerland.
The main hall, which is the size of a football field, has hosted all kinds of events, such as beach volleyball tournaments, Christmas markets and fashion shows. It has even been used as a cinema with space for 1,400 filmgoers.
“The hall must stay free for half of the year,” said Baumann, “that’s the deal we have with the Swiss Heritage Society.” The building has been protected since 1976.
Floating above the hall is one of Niki de Saint Phalle’s giant “Nana” sculptures. The colourful work of art, which was hung there in 1997, is meant to represent an angel who protects travellers.
Further along, a 134-metre-long Mario Merz mobile symbolises the hustle and bustle of the station.
Tucked under the 22-metre high roof are a variety of offices housing the railways’ staff cafeteria, surveillance centre, training rooms as well as the police.
“The station also extends four floors underground,” added Baumann.
This area includes the kitchens for the 16 restaurants and take-away food shops. No matter where you eat, the food is prepared in the same spot.
Luggage is also sorted out in the lower floors, before being carted straight to one of the station’s many platforms.
Halim Barja is one of the baggage handlers. “It’s a good job,” said the 32-year-old from Kosovo.
“You only have be careful in the mornings and at the end of the day when people are running all over the place.”
The station also serves up spiritual nourishment for travellers. An ecumenical chapel was opened three years ago, a place to pray, meditate, think or simply sit quietly.
The chapel is on the services level of the station, nestled among 1,400 lockers, telephone booths, a laundromat and waiting rooms.
The thousands of passengers who pass through the station every day are also the target of marketing campaigns. The high number of travellers guarantees an impact unknown elsewhere in Switzerland.
“In four hours, we can hand out up to 40,000 samples,” said Patrick Elmer, coordinator of one of these campaigns.
Passengers and employees aren’t the only visitors to Zurich’s main station. Pigeons are a problem for the management, according to Baumann, with the birds causing corrosion of electric cables and spreading germs.
All attempts to chase away the pigeons have so far been unsuccessful. The only solution has been to call in the city veterinary services to capture the birds.
Only 40 tagged pigeons are allowed to remain within the station’s confines. And it’s curtains for any intruders, says Baumann.
“The unwanted pigeons end up as dinner for the animals at the zoo.”
swissinfo, Philippe Kropf in Zurich
350,000 people use Zurich station every day.
There are 1,600 departures and arrivals every day.
The station has 22 platforms.
Two underground stations serve the city and region.
There are over 2,000 federal railway employees.
Zurich’s main station, which was opened in 1871, is the biggest in Switzerland.
The station buildings have been protected since 1976.
The underground portion of the station houses Switzerland’s fourth-biggest shopping centre.