Creative Circle

Home of the secound 25hours Hotel in Zurich.

Once a shady neighborhood, Zurich’s District 4 – known as Kreis 4, which means “circle” in German – has blossomed into a mecca of creativity. Regina Schibli lives and works in the area around the 25hours Hotel Langstrasse as a store manager and curator. For COMPANION, Regina is our tour guide, showing us “her” District 4.

Regina Schibli is good at assuming different roles. Currently, her main occupation is to serve as business manager of Fabrikat, a store that opened in 2014 specializing in quality office products, fine stationery and arts and crafts supplies. With a business degree in hand, she chose to make Zurich her home and has been living in this city on the Limmat River ever since. Besides managing Fabrikat, she is also co-curator at the neighboring Trace Gallery and a partner at Designers’ Club, a graphics design agency housed in the back of the building. In a nutshell, Regina Schibli is part of – as she puts it – “a creative construct that’s a whole lot of fun,” and located a skip hop and a jump away from the district’s vibrant main drag – the famously infamous Langstrasse. “If someone’s looking for me, they can find me Mondays through Saturdays from morning till night either at the store, the gallery or the agency,” the fabulously networked multi-talent, who knows her home turf like a seasoned scout, banters good-naturedly – and yet she means it.

A Short Walk to Langstrasse
Just a minute’s walk from Fabrikat and Trace Gallery, and we come upon two fixtures of Zurich nightlife: Olé Olé Bar and Club Gonzo. “Olé Olé Bar is a noteworthy institution in District 4, full of history. Nowadays it’s managed by three girlfriends who know how to get things done. It’s the perfect spot for grabbing a drink before going across the street to Gonzo’s to hunker down until night turns back into day. What’s extra cool are the John Doe parties every other Friday. That’s when you can dance to techno-free music until the wee hours of the morning.” But alas, noon’s too early for these two to be open so we keep moving.
Instead, we pay a visit to Gregory Clan, a carpenter’s workshop located in an alley off Langstrasse that specializes in wooden products that are crafted traditionally. Master carpenter and interior designer Dylan Gregory shares with Regina Schibli his passion for “designing environments that allow people to enjoy their working hours.” Besides producing bespoke solid wood furniture based on customers’ designs, he also manufactures his own creations, such as an adjustable stool made from walnut wood. “The fact that we can still find these enclaves of craftsmen's workshops in the city’s backyards is what’s magical for me,” says Regina Schibli, whose take on the district’s upgrade in recent years is tempered by a measure of critical scrutiny. Ten years ago, the effects of the district’s junky and user denizens were still visible and a part of daily experience. Nowadays, though, the area’s tradesmen and craftspeople are fighting against the excesses of the party scene.

  • Fabrikat & Trace Gallery, Militärstrasse 76
  • Olé Olé Bar, Langstrasse 138
  • Club Gonzo, Langstrasse 135
  • Gregory Clan, Langstrasse 115

Don’t Be Square, Helvetia!
We’ve barely arrived at Helvetiaplatz (a square!), in the center of District 4, when Regina Schibli steers us towards a staple of city-wide fame, the Kanzlei Flea Market, open year-round every Saturday. “To go home after visiting the flea market without buying anything, that’s a challenge for me. I always find some rare and beautiful thing.” Factory-fresh furniture does nothing for her. She prefers objects with patina that reveal their origin in traditional craftsmanship. Right next to the “Flohmi,” which is what Zurichers call the flea market, there’s the time-honored Volkshaus, an excellent venue for having a little aperitif – or in Swiss German: Apéro. Just a stone’s throw further and we arrive at Soeder, a store that “ought not to be missed.” Co-owner Johan Olzon is a bird of the same feather – and that’s why you can find products here that are sustainably produced by European manufacturers, from little sand shovels for the kids, to shaving brushes.

  • Kanzlei-Flohmarkt, Kanzlei Areal/Kanzleistrasse 56
  • Volkshaus, Stauffacherstrasse 60
  • Soeder, Ankerstrasse 124

Neo-Boulevard
“Those who get into the mood for shopping while at Soeder’s should stop off at Badenerstrasse (take the tram to Bezirksgericht or Kalkbreite and walk from there),” recommends our district scout. Zurich’s newest shopping mile features Making Things and Street-Files, two trendy fashion boutiques favoring urban-casual chic. People who prefer a more relaxed style might want to drop in at Visitor, a store that translates California-style surfer gear into urban fashion fit for city navigation. Real surfers can go down to the basement and find a selection of suitable surfboards.
The multipurpose development called Kalkbreite is an ideal spot for a pit stop. Recently remodeled, the complex features an interior courtyard open to the public as well as access roof decks inviting visitors to enjoy the view of Zurich’s local mountain, the Uetliberg. Right next door, there’s Arthouse Uto Cinema where we can watch international auteur films while sitting snugly in theater seats padded with red upholstery.

  • Making Things, Badenerstrasse 177
  • Street-Files, Badenerstrasse 129
  • Visitor, Badenerstrasse 123
  • Arthouse Uto Cinema, Kalkbreitestrasse 3

Green Pavement
What’s a neighborhood without parks? The Bäckeranlage in District 4 is the ideal spot to stretch out on the grass and catch some rays. “I like to come here for lunch. The park restaurant has fresh quiches and salads and it’s nice to relax on the lawn and ruminate.” Plus, it’s a good reason to get on the bike and do some quick noontime cycling. If there’s not enough time for a longer lunch break, there’s the Hot Pasta restaurant right next door to Fabrikat, which is a first choice option for Regina Schibli.
They also often have lunch with neighborhood designers and artists at the large table in the gallery. “In Zurich you don’t get the feeling of constantly missing out on something, the way you feel in a lot of big cities,” she explains. “Change happens slowly here, taking its time, and residents can be an active part of it. Lots of big ideas get implemented in small ways, that’s especially true for District 4 and lays a groundwork that’s ideal for fostering a vibrant creative scene.”

  • Bäckeranlage, Hohlstrasse 67
  • Hot Pasta, Universitätsstrasse 15

Coffee to Stay, Furniture to Go
If you need a coffee or a shot of espresso, Regina Schibli fervently commends two of her favorite coffee spots: Café Z at Fritschiwiese and Café du Bonheur at Bullingerplatz. Both are excellent for an opulent brunch or a simple order of “coffee and croissants” (called “Gipfeli” in Swiss German) – an all-time favorite combo order in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. If the outside tables at Café du Bonheur are all taken, the waitstaff simply moves the inside décor out onto the sidewalk – flowers included. Café Z goes even further. Its patrons can even take the furniture home, provided they’ve bid on a chair in the regularly scheduled “Take a seat” auctions and won a repurposed classic. If the hammer falls at the right moment, winners best acknowledge their winning bid by saying “thank you” in proper Zurichese German, or Züritüütsch, which is “Merci,” stressed on the first syllable, of course.
Enjoying her latte macchiato, Regina Schibli sums up her opinion of District 4. “This neighborhood is deep into a process of transformation and right now it’s absorbing all kinds of influences like a sponge,” – that’s when her hair stylist, Sead Bayhan (“The best in the city!”), walks past balancing four cups of coffee. He’s the one who organizes the “John Doe” parties at Gonzo. And this is where our tour ends where it began: at Fabrikat. Long live the Circle!

  • Café Z, Zurlindenstrasse 275
  • Café du Bonheur, Zypressenstrasse 115

Fabrikat
It took 16 months to build the interior of Fabrikat, but the effort was worth it: The store has become one of Zurich’s most original and convincing retail concepts. If for no other reason, it’s worth a visit just to admire the uniquely renovated interior, which combines art deco with futuristic elements and Bauhaus citations.
The store retails crafts people's tools and writing utensils of superior workmanship – objects created not only for flawless function but also for inspiration: Handmade Swiss brushes, fountain pens for traveling by Kaweco, a wide selection of specialty scissors by William Whiteley of Sheffield, notebooks from Postalco in Japan: Every product has its own history, and Regina Schibli as well as her team are eager to share these stories – out of love for pre-digital craftsmanship!

District 4 in 5 Sentences
The city of Zurich is administratively subdivided into 12 districts – called “Kreise,” “Circles” in English. District 4 is the one most talked about these days. This is where the city’s most exciting developments currently clash and converge, in a crucible that’s both spaciously small and densely populated. Century redevelopment projects like the Europaallee, as well as the opening of the Kalkbreite Complex and the nearby Toni-Areal in the neighboring district, have worked to upgrade the neighborhood in a way that’s sustainable. Today, District 4 is a dynamic melting pot of creativity, commerce and Kryptonite bike locks.

This article is part of a collaboration with online magazine Freunde von Freunden.

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