Day in the Life of Zurich’s Legendary Langstrasse

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While Zurich is synonymous with glamour, banking and expensive shops, as one of my fave singers, Kelly Clarkson might say: “Everybody’s got a dark side,” and so too does Zurich. This “Day in the Life of the Legendary Langstrasse” is Dominik’s description of a trip on the 32 bus on Langstrasse. This feature is funny: very funny. The only issue I have it, is that is funnier than anything I write. But I am okay with that. Honest. Nualan, Editor.

Thoughts on the 32 Bus

by Dominik

Wipkingen is a lovely little part of Zürich. It is notable for losing more and more significance as time goes by. Before Hardbrücke was built, it had two tram lines going through it. Nowadays, only one sort of half touches a bit of Wipkingen. It still has a train station, but the locals talk about that being shut down soon enough. There’s very little that makes Wipkingen stand out. Except for one thing: The 32-Bus goes through it. This is where a tale of violence, horror, outrage and, ultimately, the thing that makes Zürich such a wonderful city takes place.

The #32-Bus is somewhat known among the residents of Zürich as it is the line that connects Holzerhurd and the Strassenverkehrsamt. But that’s not what it’s infamous for. It’s infamous for being the one bus line that goes all the way down the Langstrasse. For all those new to the city, or if you’re not from around here, this might not mean anything to you. Thus: Interlude.

The Legendary Langstrasse

The Langstrasse is a road that is about 1.1km long. Its name literally translates as ‘Long Street’. In the 1970’s, it was known as the red light district of Zürich and it still retains some of that reputation.

The Cinema in the Langstrasse: the red-light (ish) district of Zurich

The Cinema in the Langstrasse: the red-light (ish) district of Zurich

There’s still one of the few porn cinemas on the Langstrasse. Quartier Langstrasse also has the second-highest percentage of foreigners in any part of Zürich. The buildings are old and often run down. The people living in them are generally young – with very few children and old people. While all this doesn’t sound so bad, it’s also the place where the so-called ‘Randständige’ meet. This is a very Swiss expression and is short for “People who have fallen through the social net and are now either completely hopeless, homeless, drug-addicted or just mentally ill and without supervision or any combination of these factors”. These days, there are still junkies, nutters and other assorted derelicts around, but nowhere near the numbers that there were in years gone by.

The Langstrasse is a wonderful part of town. Seriously. Go visit it. Don’t talk to the people who look mad, ignore the prostitutes – and go see it. Eat something at the Happy Beck at the Militärstrasse. This is one of the places all Zürcher agree on. The food is so weird, it is glorious (who came up with the idea of making a spicy mozzarella croissant?) It is open 24/7 and when you’ve had a drink or several, it’s the best place to get a bite to eat.

The Langstrasse is perfectly safe as long as you stay away from the very obvious nutters.

Back on the Bus

Needless to say, the 32-Bus carries all these weird people from their homes – or wherever they were – to the Langstrasse and back home. Therefore, you meet all the Randständige on that bus at one time or another.

Upon entering, the first thing you’ll notice is the pungent smell. An eclectic mix of vomit, stale beer, sweat and other unspeakable things. Depending on the time of the day, the smell can be better or worse. Don’t sit down. This is where today’s story takes place. It’s about 7pm: the Smell is about at medium strength and the bus ambles from Wipkingen in the general direction of the Limmatplatz. A man in his 20’s sits in the seat behind the big and comfortable four-seat compartment. In said compartment, there are two women and a child of about twelve. The kid carries a scooter, one of the women has a heavy bag.

In Wipkingen, a woman enters. It’s immediately clear that she’s not quite right in the head. She walks on crutches, carries a big backpack that seems to be empty. Her clothes look ratty and she generally makes an impression of having questionable hygiene. But the 20’s guy doesn’t notice this. He’s listening to music on his iPod and appears to be writing a text message. She steers towards the empty seat. Scooterkid tries to move his accessory out of the way so that Crutcheslady can sit down. This doesn’t work and Crutcheslady is somewhat miffed about this. After all, she can’t stand for longer periods of time and she simply must insist on sitting down.

Here’s where the crucial factor of her being one of the Randständige comes in. Because Randständige are perfectly pleasant as long as they get ignored. However, there being a scooter in the way of the desired seat is nothing short of an outrage. She feels as if she must do something about this. So she does what she’s probably done dozens of times before. She hits the scooter with her crutches.

This gets the attention of everyone around, even 20’s guy. He sees that Crutcheslady probably needs his seat more than he does and does the polite thing. You see, the Swiss are very polite when it comes to this stuff. So while the other two women are getting all huffed up because Crutcheslady dared to hit the kid’s scooter with her crutches. This is also a thing the Swiss do very well. They don’t get outright angry, but they drop snide remarks. So while 20’s guy gets up and lets Crutcheslady sits down, the woman with the large bag says something that obviously enrages Crutcheslady. So Crutcheslady does what she’s probably done dozens of times before. She hits the bag lady on her leg with her crutches.

Now, it’s on. The Swiss abandon their strict neutrality. Sides are being taken, the beaten woman finds an ally in her neighbour. But still, no additional violence. What happens is that a person complains loudly about another person that is clearly within earshot. But they would never hit each other. Instead this sentence escapes the beaten woman’s mouth:

«You deserve whatever happened to you!»

Big mistake. Because if there’s one thing you do, you do not tell the Randständige that they deserved whatever psychological, physical or drug-related issues they got. While they’re ready and willing to wallow in self-pity at any given time and tell their stories, this is a big no-go. Some of these stories are prime examples of how the country of Switzerland – priding itself on taking care of all the people living there – simply fails some people. They’re sad, they’re horrible, they’re realistic. But, you do not tell them that they deserved it. Obviously, Crutcheslady is furious by now. So she does what she’s probably done dozens of times before. She hits the woman with her crutches. Again.

«You need to learn respect», yells the beaten woman.

«No, you need to learn respect», screeches Crutcheslady.

Crutcheslady does what she’s probably done dozens of times before. She hits the woman with her crutches. Once again.

Usually, everyone aggressively ignores the quarrel that happens not a meter away from them. Because in Switzerland, it is entirely possible to miss people being beaten up while screaming only centimetres away from you. Neutrality, this is called. But every now and then, a marvellous thing happens. Suddenly, 20’s guy has had enough of the squabble that he helped start:

«Why don’t we all learn some respect and shut the hell up?»

The True Villain of the Story

Silence. Crutcheslady and her victim are quiet for a moment. It is highly unusual for people to just butt in and take part of someone else’s fight. This is Switzerland after all where you can claim that you must be left alone even when you’re in public – as evidenced by naked people running around chasing pigeons in Solothurn lately. In fact, this seems to have dealt with the fighting on the bus. Crutcheslady hohums a bit and quiets down. The beaten woman also quiets down, because someone just dared to mess with their respective issues.

But, deep down in their warring souls, both Crutcheslady and the Beaten Woman know: 20’s Guy. Scum of the Earth. Worst generation ever. No respect. Because he dared invade their privacy, violent as it may be.

So how does this tale end? Very anticlimactically, I’m afraid. Everyone got off the bus and those few rounds of whacking people over the head with crutches or being whacked over the head with the same crutches was probably the most exciting thing that happened to these people that day.

The most amazing thing about all this is that there’s nothing learned from this. Nobody learned anything. Crutcheslady will continue to hit people with her crutches. The Beaten Woman will keep on thinking that she can go and insult everyone’s cruel fate when being whacked over the head with crutches and 20’s Guy… well, we all know who the true villain of this story is, don’t we? How dare he.


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