Category Archives: Zurich Living

Schmutzli – The Bad Santa

 Samichlaus and Schmutzli


Every country has its traditions and rituals and one of the more quirky and oddly satisfying of the Swiss Christmas season is Schmutzli.


Just like Venom to Spiderman, Dr. Moriarty to Sherlock Holmes and Magneto to Dr. Xavier, Schmutzli is a more sinister counter point to the good that Santa represents.

The answer to how this tradition came about is once again representative of another classic battle between Christianity and paganism. Originally it was a pagan ritual called Perchten which involved good spirits driving out the bad old spirits. With Samichlaus taking the Christian “good” role Schmutzli some how managed to evolve into the dark figure.

Samichlaus is not Santa Claus however and the celebration of “St Nicolas Day”is on the 6th of December, while both Christmas and St Nicolas Day both have the same origins they take on different forms, with the latter having much more in common with its original tradition of paganism than its commercialised American brother.

What is personally appealing about this tradition is the fact that it actually give children something to fear at Christmas. No longer is the classic taunt “Santas’ watching” applicable, the phrase “Schmutzli is watching” has far more fear behind it, and only rightly so, the black faced nemesis is associated with stealing children, carries a broom of sticks with which to hit misbehaving children and is even called  Père Fouettard or Father ‘Whip’ in the French speaking part of Switzerland.


Local teenagers have even been known to dress up as groups of Schmutzli’s and go around implementing their own style of vigilante Christmas justice on younger children.

All Christmas songs now have a new tune

You better watch out

You better not cry

Better not pout

I’m telling you why

Schmutzli is coming to town


He’s got a stick, And he’ll whip you twice;

It doesn’t matter if you’re naughty or nice Schmutzli is coming to town

He’ll steal when you’re sleeping, He’ll whip you when you’re awake He knows if you’ve been bad or good, So run for goodness sake!

O! You better watch out! You better not cry Better not pout, I’m telling you why

Schmutzli is coming to town Sounds like excellent incentive for good behaviour from children to me.

Don’t Get On A Train Without A Ticket


On the train this morning, Samichlaus (Santa Claus) and his friend Schmutzli were on the train giving out promotional cakes to remind travellers that from 11th December 2011, you cannot legally board a train in Switzerland without a valid ticket.

This has been the case in Zurich for some time but is now also the case on inter city trains, where you could previously buy a ticket on board.


Furnishing Your New Home On A Budget In Zurich

Zurich Furniture


So many of us expats will have arrived here by plane, and what does that mean? Well it means we pay for excess luggage by the kilo as opposed to having the luxury of arriving with a van full of possessions.

Contrary to all the places I have previously lived, my new room in Zurich has NO furniture included. So with a limited budget how can you get the most bang for your buck?

Many new expats in a rush to furnish their new home, will however overlook the possibility of buying furniture second hand or even being given furniture, and just go straight to Ikea.

Very few apartments in Zurich are furnished and as a result it is common for people to give away, or sell cheaply their old furniture when they move. Most of this furniture will be Ikea but at a knock down price and maybe with a few bumps and scratches, but easily worth it, especially if you are only here for a limited time.

Here are some of the options I recommend for cheap or free furniture:


People with a larger budget can just go to Ikea, but beware, some of the larger items (leather couches) have a lead in time, however the short term value for money is clear especially when there is a sense of urgency to certain items, for example a bed.

Delivery: There can sometimes be a long delivery wait for large amounts of furniture ordered on-line. Also there is a delivery charge or you can hire a van from them directly (depending on availability -avoid weekends) Their help line speaks English though so make sure to ask them what options are best for you.


Expats on a tight budget with little German will find themselves at ease here. While the availability of suitable furniture here is sporadic it is helpful that all the wheeling and dealing is done through English. If you have the opportunity to get your furniture over a week or so, there are serious deals to be had.

However you must be vigilant and patient as good cheap furniture will be bought up quickly. If you spot the post early enough though sometimes you are lucky enough to get free or very cheap furniture, also try to haggle with the sellers if the costs are still too high for your budget, especially if you are buying multiple items as they will often be under pressure to get rid of the items quickly or will sympathise with your situation.

Delivery: this can be one of the biggest draw backs of buying cheap furniture second hand, the main reason people are selling it so cheaply is because they need to get rid of it and don’t want to move it personally. This means you must arrange to collect and deliver it yourself. See delivery headings below for more info.


This is a great website used by a lot of local people in Zurich and other main cities in Switzerland, the good news for Zurich users is that there is a special English speaking Zurich part, so things are easy to understand. However the main drawbacks to the English speaking site is that not many local German speaking Swiss people use it and it has few bargains to be had compared to its German speaking counter part (see below).

Delivery: Same deal as the English Forum (see above)


While all the adverts here are posted in German, it should be noted that there are thousands compared to the hundreds  in the English site. But finding the item that you are looking for will be slightly more difficult for the non German speaker, for this I recommend opening up google translate in a separate tab and just “google translate” everything, so while this may sound long and tedious you will find far more items of cheap or free furniture, and maybe pick up some new German vocabulary.

The furniture is in the “Allerlei, Mode & Schönheit “ section and then the “Wohnen” subsection, there are further subsections, but at this point it depends what you are looking for. Before google translating every add, try opening then and looking at  the picture and then finding the cost in the article, if the two items match what you are looking for then it is worth translating the add.

Delivery: Same deal as the English Forum (see above)


Another website, but this one is only dedicated to free furniture and is available in English too. The downside is that it is for all of Switzerland and sometimes there are not many items available in Zurich

Delivery: Same deal as the English Forum (see above)


This website is not very well frequented by the Zurich population, but sometimes there are still rare deals to be had in the sale section. Craigslist is notorious for scams though so tread with caution.

Delivery: Same deal as the English Forum (see above)

BROCKENHAUS – AKA the second-hand shops

There are several of these located in Zurich and some of the smaller ones in your area might be worth a visit for bric-a-brac, but the biggest and most popular one is located just on the North side of the Hauptbahnhoff train tracks, with 3 floors of stuff and loads of furniture it is definitely worth checking out. While the prices may not be as cheap as the charity shops you might be used to, it is still cheapER by Zurich standards. The shop itself is actually generally quite cool and has a great vintage feel about it. There is loads of stuff and it is all very well laid out and not cluttered. Also there are plenty of kitchen crockery and accessories if you just need a few bits and pieces as well as a modest English book section. Worth checking out, even if you don’t need anything.

Delivery: Apparently they do deliver, not sure exactly how much, but it depends on the size and cost of the item, they also do assembly.


There are a couple of really cool flea markets in Zurich. The one I am most familiar with is at Helvetiaplatz at the end of the Langstrasse 8-2.30 on a Saturday. Just to be warned, this is not a high class flea market but has more of a people just trying to sell their old stuff kinda feel. Still though there are some home gems to be had, but not so much furniture as it tends to be what people fit in their car. I probably wouldn’t recommend buying electronics there though, but you can always haggle which is fun, just make sure to brush up on your numbers in German as the majority of vendors speak no/very poor English.There is a good range of bicycles though if you are interested in a cheap and healthy way of getting around.

Delivery Options:

With most of the cheap and free furniture delivery is not an option. So keeping this in mind there are a number of options to get your stuff home safe.

Hiring a van for the day – only if you can arrange it so that you can pick up all your stuff at around the same time, still going to be a couple of hundred CHF. there are many different company’s so shopping around is recommended depending on your needs.

Man with a van– Great for larger items like beds and couches, paid by the hour though so long distances can become an issue. Cost and quality varies greatly, so it is definitely worth shopping around.

Public transport – works best in pairs for smaller single items. Make sure you travel off peak times.

Waren taxi – this is a third party service, kind of like a taxi for your furniture. Great for moves or pick ups from furniture shops where you have multiple items and don’t want to wait for long delivery times. They provide a large variety of moving services, again there are multiple company’s so shop around.

Mobility car sharing – this is like a public car sharing scheme. You subscribe to the service and then you have cheap access to cars all across Switzerland. A very good option for short collections trips as you pay per hour and kilometre. There is a sign up fee, and their website is available in English

Collection with friends – Friends, especially local friends are the best way to move stuff. So ask around amongst the people you know, even if they don’t have their own car maybe they have another sympathetic friend, a subscription to the mobility car scheme or can help you carry stuff on the bus. The value of this help should never be underestimated.

Always make sure to thank all  the people that helped you move or gave you furniture, this can be as simple nice box of chocolates or a dinner at your new place once you have settled in. You should always make sure to offer your friends similar help if they are moving too, as what goes around comes around.


Long Night of the Museums – A Somewhat Different Saturday Night Out in Zurich

‘Autumn’, by Franz Gertsch – Displayed as part of the ‘Seasons’ exhibition at the Museum for Modern Art in Zurich


On Saturday 3rd September 2011 Zurich hosted the Long Night of the Museums once again. With Zurich’s first long night having taken place in 1999, this cultural event reoccurs on an annual basis and is proving more popular than ever. This year’s theme ’wild!’, attracted hundreds of visitors.


The Long Night of the Museums invites people of all ages to indulge into Zurich’s cultural (night) life. For CHF 25.- visitors can purchase a ticket granting them entrance to all of the 36 open museums. Organised shuttle busses in addition to regular public transport allow smooth and comfortable transfers from one museum to the next. Visitors who feel more active also have the possibility to hire bicycles free of charge from the various hiring stations throughout Zurich.


First step of this year’s long night visit was to purchase the ticket. Riding into town on the Forchbahn meant that the Tram Museum in Burgwies was closest – so why not make the most of it and start at 19:00 on the dot (we are in Switzerland after all…). After purchasing the ticket (which can be pre-ordered or bought at the door at any of the 36 museums) we were ready to travel back in time. On exhibition: A variety of old trams used in Zurich over the last century. Some older, some ancient! The complete wooden tram interiors and lack of cushioning or state-of-the-art facilities may cause confusion as to whether you are in a tram or in a carved out tree… The plaque of the 50 Rappen fine – as opposed to today’s sticker of the 80 Franc fine – for travelling without a valid ticket may cause one to calculate the savings potential one may have had when travelling without a valid ticket. Everybody using public transport in the Zurich region must have come across the famous rules sticker featuring dubious characters smoking in fellow commuters’ faces, chain saw vandals and the all so prominent (formerly Mexican) guitar player. To my surprise one of the trams in the museum still featured the edition with the controversial Mexican hat guitar player. At that stage I considered phoning the Mexican Embassy to report racism but decided to move on instead… As we leave the museum after almost an hour, we leave behind the smell of the 1950s and return into the world of inflation – where the price of an import pint must have increased to CHF 9.50 by now.


Next on the list was the Muhlerama. The museum features an almost 100-year-old mill factory. The highlight of this visit had to be the old wooden slide. After spiralling down on a grain sack from the top of the factory, we moved on to the Zoological and the Paleontological Museum where we were met by creatures of all sorts. The rain decided to join us, making the Zurich Toy Museum – our next stop – a very welcome one. Located close to Rennweg between Bahnhofstrasse and the Limmatquai, we found this museum at the very top of one of Zurich’s oldest buildings. Featuring European toys from the beginning of the 18th and up to the 20th century, steam engine locomotives and teddy bears seemed to be what children of that time enjoyed playing with most. A presentation of the history of a toy company rounded our stay at the Zurich Toy Museum off. Midnight. Time to move on.


Since the weather was not on our side we opted to stop at the Museum of Design Zurich next. The High Rise – Idea and Reality exhibition on the ground floor featured various works of today’s highest monuments and buildings around the globe. Almost half of the world’s tallest buildings were erected over the past decade – a truly fascinating exhibition. Swiss artist Francois Berthoud featured his work in the upper floor of the museum. Trying to understand his fascination for shoes I warmed more towards his fascination for beautiful women.


It got well past midnight and our final stop was the all so prominent Museum for Modern Art in Zurich (German: Kunsthaus). The exhibition ’Seasons’ by Swiss contemporary artist Franz Gertsch offered a retrospective of Gertsch’s works between 1983 and 2011. The works ’Spring’, ’Summer’, ’Autumn’ and ’Winter’ were painted off photographs. Nonetheless they leave you stunning and contemplating, to which season you relate most to.


And so it got 03:00 – just in time to catch the night train home. The Long Night of the Museums offers an enjoyable and quality night out, packed with culture and difference to the conventional Saturday night in town. And even with this year’s British-like weather, good company and a list of 36 museums to work through means there’s never a dull moment at the Long Night of the Museums.