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Zurich, Switzerland's international financial hub, has a reputation for seriousness. But a vibrant lifestyle plays an important role in the country's biggest city.

This content was published on March 14, 2008 - 09:55

The "gnomes of Zurich" was an expression coined in 1956 by Harold Wilson, then British Shadow Chancellor, in response to secretive Swiss bankers whose speculating, he said, had pushed the pound down on the foreign exchange markets.

The name has stuck – even if gnomes are few and far between on Zurich's financial epicentre, the Paradeplatz.

"The city is Protestant, fairly plain," says Romansh specialist Chasper Pult. "But Protestantism brought capitalism – banks – so you feel that it is dominated by money, both foreign and local."

Zurich might well be a financial magnet, but it also attracts people from other parts of Switzerland. Italian speakers have always been ready to head to the big smoke.

"Ticino sees Zurich as its big sister," points out Steve Lee, singer for the rock group Gotthard. "We've always felt that if you headed to Zurich and finished your studies there, you were sure to go places."

For ethnologist Jacques Hainard, Zurich is a city that can seem aggressive, a place where everything moves at great speed and which can be unnerving for new arrivals.

"It's a place that is demanding. You have to be in the trend to keep up," he adds. "But it's also a city that gives you some of its energy, that makes you think and move forward."

Soul

For many Swiss, Zurich is perceived as arrogant. The locals tend to make people feel that way just by using certain names: Unique airport, Science City at the Federal Institute of Technology, or simply Downtown Switzerland.

But not everyone sees this in a bad light. "We need part of the population to think about business," says comedian Emil Steinberger. "We couldn't survive without business, so I think we can put up with that [arrogance]."

So is Zurich only about business and money? Yes, but not only. Lee reckons the city still has a soul.

"It's a big hub, but there are parts of it that are magnificent. When you head to the River Limmat, there are beautiful houses, very typical for the area," he says.

"The locals are considered to be loudmouths, a bit rustic... but their hearts and traditions are all in the right place."

For Emil, Zurich has always been a cultural centre. "I'm from Lucerne, so it was important for me that Zurich existed. I used to go there a lot to see plays, and the cultural life is interesting," he says.

"People often forget that if 45,000 people work in the finance sector, there are another 36,000 holding down creative jobs."

Night life

Zurich is obviously not just about straight-laced banks. "The city lives as much at night as it does during the day," says Lee.

There is plenty to choose from, with bars, concerts, opera and theatre. Alternative culture is also present at the famous Rote Fabrik (Red Factory).

So has Zurich got more colours to display than people realise? "It could be because the number of inhabitants is growing that you might get the impression that the city is becoming more multicultural," according to Pult.

"But that's the same as everywhere else, and it's a positive development for Swiss towns to have outsiders coming in with a different view of the world. But Zurich is not multicultural like Geneva."

For Hainard, Zurich will always struggle to shed the shackles of its Swissness. "Even with its cultural and financial clout and relations with the entire world, it is still more Swiss than Geneva."

swissinfo

Zurich

Zurich is situated in German-speaking northeastern Switzerland.

It is the country's biggest city, with around 412,000 inhabitants. If the metropolitan area is included, this rises to 1.2 million.

It is Switzerland's economic, financial and trade hub. Forty of the country's 100 biggest companies have their headquarters there.

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Euro 08 in Zurich

The new Letzigrund stadium was opened in September and can hold 30,000 spectators.
It will host three first-round matches:
Romania-France on June 9
Italy-Romania on June 13
France-Italy on June 17

A fan zone will be set up near the Bellevue place and will extend along the lakeshore.

Zurich is home to two of Switzerland's leading football clubs: FC Zurich and Grasshoppers Zurich.

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