Wednesday, 14 June 2017

The Swiss love of sport (and a beer)

I love how much enthusiasm the Swiss have for their sports stars and teams, whether the sport is hockey, football or tennis. And they love to enjoy a beer at the same time. So you will find them propping up the bar in the pub cheering for Federer at Wimbledon as often as you will find them cheering on the Swiss Hockey or football team in the World Cup. I find this extremely refreshing. My only experience of sport in pubs in the UK was of football.

And so it was last Friday, hubbie and I found ourselves in the pub - making the most of a rare opportunity to enjoy a beer while both daughters attended a birthday party – enjoying the match between Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray in the semi-final of the French Open.

I should have been cheering for Murray but I wasn’t. Murray annoys me somehow. I enjoy watching his skill but I don’t enjoy watching his character. He’s so serious and he gurns. And he’s Scottish of course (having a very good Scottish friend I greatly enjoy the friendly animosity these two nationalities have for each other – my friend would never cheer for an English player at Wimbledon) And for me, Wawrinka is far more watchable, in every way ;) He was rampant on Friday, trading blows with Murray and digging in his heels until the bitter end. What a game it was. He served with more potency than Murray, seven aces to one, and his defensive game has greatly improved.

I cheered along with my Swiss companions, and was over the moon when Wawrinka won, over five sets in four and a half hours. Murray heads immediately for home to prepare to defend his titles at Queen’s and Wimbledon, as well as the points that leave him unchallenged for a little while yet at the top of the world rankings.

Unfortunately the 32-year-old couldn’t grab a French Open victory by maintaining the same assault against the incredible  Rafael Nadal. He was demolished at the last post in a brutal one-sided final on Sunday – the score: 6-2, 6-3, 6-1.

The triumph gave Rafael Nadal his tenth French Open title which also earned the Spaniard a 15th Grand Slam crown. His collection of Slams now stands just three behind his great Swiss rival Roger Federer.

Ever the gentleman, Wawrinka honourably praised his opponent: "There is nothing to say about today, you were too good," he admitted.
"What you are doing in tennis is unbelievable.It's always been an honour to play against you, two Grand Slam finals now, congratulations to you for your career and your team."

Monday, 15 May 2017

Swiss to vote on 'Energy Strategy 2050'

Swiss voters will have their say this Sunday (May 21st) on the government’s ‘energy strategy 2050’.

Spearheaded by Swiss president and energy minister Doris Leuthard and drawn up partly in reaction to the 2011 nuclear reactor disaster in Fukushima, Japan, the energy strategy 2050 aims to gradually withdraw Switzerland from nuclear power and increase its use of renewable energy sources.

Under the plans no new nuclear power plants will be built in Switzerland and the five that do exist – including the world's oldest operating reactor, Beznau I – will be decommissioned at the end of their technically safe operating life.

The strategy will focus on exploiting hydropower and other renewable resources such as wind and solar power, as well as increasing energy efficiency by offering tax incentives for energy-efficient building works and tightening emissions rules for passenger vehicles.

These measures require changes to the existing energy law and the first set were approved by the Swiss parliament last September.

Swiss canton of Valais launches new local currency

From now on you can pay for purchases in Valais not only in Swiss francs but in farinets, the new ‘local currency’ of the canton. The farinet was launched at the weekend in the city of Sion. It comes in eight denominations – 1,2, 5, 10, 13, 20, 50 and 100 – and has the same value as the Swiss franc.

So far around 100 shops and businesses in the canton have agreed to accept the farinet for payment, including cafes and restaurants, small businesses and independent traders. Shoppers can exchange their francs for farinets in various official bureaux de change including at the tourist office in Sion and the markets of Sion, Sierre and Martigny.

Participating businesses – listed on an interactive map – will accept either full or partial payment in farinets.

The concept of a local currency has existed since the 1980s. By restricting its use to a limited geographical area it encourages shoppers to spend locally, so boosting the local economy and favouring small businesses and artisans.

The farinet is the Switzerland’s second local currency after the léman launched in Geneva in 2015. The léman is equivalent in value to the euro and can be used in more than 200 participating businesses in the Lac Léman region including Lausanne and neighbouring France.

Around 5,000 local currencies exist worldwide, including the Brixton pound and the Bristol pound in the UK and the eusko in the Basque country.

Guardian article about the popularity of the local currency in the UK.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Zurich: most expensive city for a date

I’m so glad I’m not ‘on the market’ here in Switzerland as its banking hub has been ranked the most expensive location to date the girl or guy of your dreams.

For at least the second year running, Zurich has taken top place for the most expensive city for a date – cab rides, dinner for two at a pub, soft drinks, two movie tickets and a couple of beers  – according to Deutsche Bank’s special report ‘Mapping the World’s Prices 2017’.

In the city home to both UBS and Credit Suisse, an average night out costs the equivalent of £151.40 – 147% more than seventh-ranked New York.

The aim of the research is to provide insight into whether or not exchange rates do actually adjust to correct large price differentials across countries and time, as conventional economic theory suggests they should – all else being equal. 

However, what this research ignores is the fact that everyone gets paid so much more than they do in other countries – and this leads me onto the blindingly obvious point that the best place to bag your prince charming is in Zurich – a heaving wallet (and usually very respectful outlooks) should suggest a substantial amount of future happiness.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Swiss Solidarity fundraising for famine victims in Africa

The UN reports that the largest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War is unfolding in Africa. Swiss Solidarity and its partner relief organizations has launched an appeal for donations and 1m Swiss francs has already been raised. Today (11th March) Swiss Solidarity and the Swiss Broadcasting Company (SRG SSR) has organised a major fundraising 24 hour campaign to help the victims of famine in Africa.

The national fundraising day is being organized by Swiss Solidarity and the Swiss Broadcasting Company (SRG SSR) and is supported by Swiss Solidarity’s partner relief organizations, an association of private radio stations (‘Privatradios pro Glückskette’), and other private media outlets. Numerous fundraising events have also been organized by the public.

From 6am this morning until midnight, more than 300 volunteers in four SRG SSR studios in Zurich, Chur, Lugano and Geneva will receive donation pledges via telephone.

Swiss Solidarity's partner relief organizations are already operating in Africa, but there is not enough money to continue their work in helping the local population. In South Sudan, where access to the worst hit regions is severely restricted, HEKS, Medair, Caritas Switzerland, the Swiss Red Cross and Terre des hommes – helping children worldwide are providing emergency relief to several thousand people, distributing food, water and medical aid. In Somalia, where the situation has deteriorated recently owing to a cholera epidemic, Save the Children, ADRA and Medair are providing relief. In Nigeria, Save the Children is helping large groups of refugees, using individual sums given by Swiss Solidarity.

Ways to make a donation:
  • Online at
  • Via your mobile with the Swiss Solidarity app
  • With post office account 10-15000-6 (with the text “Famine”) 
  • With Swiss Solidarity payment also available at all post offices. 
  • On Twitter you can also raise money simply by retweeting #SwissSolidarityForAfrica with a photograph.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Join Zurich Children's Libraries for free

@PBZ Sihlcity
My 10-year-old daughter is a prolific reader, in English and German, which I am keen to encourage for as long as I can. However, she much prefers to read in English so we are constantly hunting down ways to get hold of new books she can devour. We love libraries, which thankfully still seem to be very popular here in Switzerland. Poppy has read her way through the local village library and the library at Winterthur so we needed to head somewhere new.

I thought, where will the biggest collection of books be? Surely Zurich’s main library. Boy, was I wrong. Yesterday, we visited said library – on Muhlegasse, just off Neiderdorfstrasse – which was in a beautiful old building. As we made our way in we were stopped at the door by a security lady (who was really sweet and apologetic) and told we had to put our bags in a locker downstairs, which you needed a 2fr for (fortunately there was a change machine) Then my daughters decided they needed the toilet. So after half an hour of faffing around we eventually got inside the library – to find there were no books - immediately evident anyway. There were lots of people reading and studying but the books seemed to be an afterthought. We hunted around a little, climbing many stairs up to the top floor – where we eventually found some books. However by then I felt far too conspicuous with the only two children in the library alongside me and by now we were getting a few slightly irritated looks, so I gave up and sheepishly slinked out again, with two very fed up daughters in tow, muttering about a completely wasted hour. Fortunately I spotted the information desk and asked about children’s books, to be met with an amused smile and told that perhaps the ‘Pestalozzi Bibliothek’ 200 metres down the road would be more suitable.  

So we began another half-hearted hunt – and then up popped the Pestalozzi – formally the PBZ - which is actually a library dedicated to children! And get this - it’s free to join for all children up to the age of 16. (I think there is also an adult section and adults can join for 40fr) The library was down some gorgeous wooden stairs tucked away in a corner, making it feel very secret – and then you arrive in a brightly lit, spacious underground grotto full of books, comics, CDs and films. My daughters LOVE this place. There were books galore – and if there is a particular item that you would like to borrow, you can make a purchase suggestion and the library will consider buying the item - double whammy. There are lots of events taking place throughout the year, including those I have mentioned below.

And best of all – it is one of 14 dotted around the city, including at Sihlcity and Oerlikon – and you can return your books to any one of them. This works out nicely for us as we often visit the cinema at Sihlcity. I highly recommend this place – the English language book section was small but had a good, diverse selection – and of course there are plenty of other libraries we are now able to explore. Happy reading!

Up and coming events at PBZ libraries:

Easter Story, PBZ Sihlcity Mall, Erdgeschoss
For children from 4 years
Date: 15.04.2017
Time: 14.30 und 15.30

Reading in Riesbachs Garten, PBZ Riesbach
12 – to 16 authors can present their own short stories.
Date: 24.06.2017
Time: 2 pm

Parent-Child Coding Course, PBZ Affoltern
Children, together with an adult companion can playfully discover the digital world, creating their own computer or programming a dance figure.
Date: 06.05.2017 to 10.06.2017 (on five Saturdays)
Time: 9am until 10.30am

PBZ library website

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Am Römerholz: A treasure trove of art

I’ve been to some amazing art galleries around the world – The Uffizi in Florence, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, The Picasso Museum in Barcelona, The Prado in Madrid, to name but a few. But nothing prepared me for my visit to a certain art gallery in Winterthur yesterday.

Am Römerholz is the former residence of  Oskar Reinhart (1885-1965) who was born into an old family of Winterthur merchants. Inheriting his father Theodor’s devotion to art, he became a dedicated art collector once his duties to the family firm were relaxed at the age of 39 in 1924. Oskar also bought Am Romerholz at this time to house his expanding collection. He then lived in this villa until his death in 1965, surrounded by his beloved works of art. However, it was always his intention that the collection should ultimately benefit the community and in 1940 he donated his holdings of Austrian, German and Swiss art to the town of Winterthur, which has been housed since 1951 in the Museum Oskar Reinhart in the centre of town. In 1958, seven years before his death, he bequeathed the remaining part, together with the Am Römerholz villa, to the Swiss Confederation, which opened it to the public in 1970 - and it was this particular collection I went to see.

Hermann Hubacher Daphne and Chloe 1940-43
The sun was shining as I set out with my two daughters from Winterthur Bahnhof to walk to Am Römerholz, a 20 minute journey which actually took more like an hour, as we made a few wrong turns. The last five minute walk up a pretty steep hill is however signposted and the gates of the villa (signalled by three posters of paintings set in among the trees) are in a wooded place which feels quite mysterious and magical.

It all feels very understated as you pass through the gates which I love. Poppy actually asked if we’d made a mistake and were entering someone’s house. I said we were but it was no mistake, smiling at the idea that someone would leave their home and all in it that they loved for future generations like me to enjoy. Before we entered, we caught sight of gorgeous little sculptures of bears decorating an old stairway up to a now unused terrace. I made my way gingerly up the stairs and as I surveyed the little steps which now descended on either side into an overgrown wood, with a shiver I experienced an immediate sense of life 100 years ago and the sheer pleasure this little terrace would have brought to its users.

Renoir After the Bath 1913
We then opened a door into the little foyer where two smiles received us. I paid my 15fr (children go free) and the very nice lady behind the desk gave the girls audio guides (again free for children but adults must pay) and gave a comprehensive demonstration on how to use them. The girls were immediately intrigued and felt very important. A good start for an art-loving mum hoping for a couple of hours in a gallery with children of short-lived attention spans.

We spent three hours (!) making our way around this beautiful villa and its grounds. And I was spellbound at the sheer abundance of artistic treasures on show there. It was as if Oskar Reinhart could see into my art loving soul and had purchased each and every piece to please me! On entering you are greeted by the most gorgeous Renoir painting of a woman drying herself (I think his wife) After the Bath (1913) To the right of this, placed in all it's gorgeous chunky glory - Artiside Mailol’s The Mediterranean - oozing sensuality. Such a breath of fresh air in contrast to our thin-obsessed society of today.

Renoir Mother and Child 1916
I could talk like this about each and every piece in the exhibition, featuring a wealth of delights from Picasso, Van Gogh, Courbet, Toulouse Lautrec, Daumier, and glorious Renoir after Renoir after Renoir (I do love Renoir) But there were pieces by Courbet, so sensual and erotic, that I had never before witnessed, as well as beautifully vibrant pieces by Van Gogh which he painted while in hospital in Arles. I was very aware that many of these masterpieces are little known treasures, as Oskar was very firm that these pieces should never go out on loan.

And then, the absolute climax of my journey of awe and wonder around this gallery was a little bronze by Renoir – I didn’t even know Renoir worked in bronze – of a lady in a hat and coat breastfeeding, entitled Mother and Child. This little piece I later found out followed on from a painting Renoir had made of his wife breastfeeding their first child. Many years later, after his wife had died, he again came across this painting and decided to use it as the theme for a sculpture to commemorate his beloved wife. And with the help of Richard Guido, he did – and that very sculpture was right there in front of me. Wow. Moments like this I truly treasure.

We strolled around the lovely little formal garden and ate our sandwiches in a shady corner, played games on the lawn and then enjoyed chocolate cake ‘afters’ at the café (with a little glass of Pinot Noir for mummy) The café atmosphere was wonderful, with a large party of seniors enjoying a table full of food and wine outside in the sunshine. It didn’t take much imagination to see a young Oskar Reinhart doing the same with his art loving friends in the distant past. I took a few covert photos of the merry making in the dappled sunshine, hoping to recreate a Renoir-esque painting of the scene at a later date (I can but dream…)

We went home, trotting down the hill, chatting and giggling after our visit to Am Römerholz. The No.10 bus picked us up several minutes into our walk and deposited us outside the Oskar Reinhart Museum in Stadthausstrasse five minutes later. Thank you Stadtbus Winterthur. Thank you Oskar Reinhart. What a guy.

Am Romerholz website.