01.05.2019 – Stories & Specials | Final stop

Werdhölzli – recycling, shopping and skating

The number 17 is a relatively new tram line as it was only built in 2011. Lots of people know the Werdhölzli terminus by name because it is home to a recycling centre, sewage treatment plant and a freestyle skateboarding centre. But why wasn’t Justin Bieber allowed in?

In 2011, the 17 was the first new tram line to be built in eighty years. The number 16 was skipped because – according to the VBZ – it has been reserved for another tram line.

The tram starts at Albisgütli, passes Escher-Wyss-Platz, the Hardhof sports complex and Zurich water board and carries on to the Grünau district.

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The terminus is sandwiched between council-owned housing for the elderly and the Werdhölzli recycling centre – one of two municipal recycling centres. Further over towards Limmat you’ll find the Werdhölzli sewage treatment plant, the biggest in Switzerland. It purifies all the wastewater from Zurich and other municipalities. Next to the sewage treatment plant is the composting plant, where compost and fertiliser are produced from the city’s garden waste.

Sometimes the sewage plant gives off vapours that drift around the nearby houses. ‘It’s both a curse and a blessing.’

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These council facilities mean the area around the terminus is not exactly idyllic. Sometimes the sewage plant gives off vapours that drift around the nearby houses. ‘It’s both a curse and a blessing,’ says a man who works in a nearby shop. He thinks the emissions are the reason why the city hasn’t tried to gentrify this outlying district, which would result in current residents being priced out.

A small hill conceals a cluster of caravans, known locally as the ‘showmen’s site’. It is home to stallholders and artists who tout their wares at Sechseläuten, Züri-Fäscht and Zurich’s other major festivals.


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In the 1970s, Bändlistrasse was where the police tracked down an anarchist group that came to be known as the ‘Bändlistrasse Group’.

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But Bändlistrasse is where everything happens in Werdhölzli, with its seniors’ accommodation and centres, housing estates, schools and nurseries. In the 1970s, Bändlistrasse was where the police tracked down an anarchist group that came to be known as the ‘Bändlistrasse Group’. They were even featured in Spiegel magazine.

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For many years, Willy’s home has been a caravan close to the recycling centre.

The shopworker tells us that if we want to know more about the area we should ask Willy. ‘Willy knows best,’ he says with a laugh – round here everyone is on first-name terms. For many years, Willy’s home has been a caravan close to the recycling centre. He recalls one of his childhood memories: there was a Hungarian who used to keep goats in his trailer. The fence around the field was quite low, so the goats would regularly leap over it and block the tram terminus.

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Willy worked on the site of the former Meier-Imhof bedspring factory for many years. He tells us about the huge two-storey caravans on the showmen’s site and a massive water wheel that would have reached up to the factory’s fourth floor. It was powered by the Hauser Canal – a canal that most Zurich residents have probably never heard of – and was propelled by a worm drive and V belt. He claims that the council concreted over the canal one night under cover of darkness in order to avoid a preservation order.

The site of the former factory is now home to the Vertigo Association, which helps young people in Zurich who have special needs. It provides them with special apprenticeships in the Association’s own companies.

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These include a car repair workshop and a nice store selling clothes and furniture – part of its Onkel Emma project. Daniel Buchschacher, who heads up the Vertigo Association, explains that it provides a place to shop at a more relaxed pace away from the city’s busy shopping streets.

The freestyle skateboarding centre is next door to the Vertigo premises. For more than ten years, this has been a popular gathering place for skaters of all ages, particularly in winter. 
One time when Justin Bieber was staying in Zurich he decided he wanted to rent the centre so that he could skate in private. But the Canadian superstar’s pleas fell on deaf ears.

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Even skate legend Tony Hawk was almost given the brush-off by staff at the centre when he turned up outside of opening hours. They didn’t recognise him at first and wouldn’t let him in.
One of the directors of the freestyle centre is Romano Mondini, a 92-year-old local who surely has a few great stories to tell about Werdhölzli.

Address

Werdhölzli

8064 Zürich

Info

All day long, the number 17 tram trundles between the main railway station and Werdhölzli. During rush hour it goes as far as Albisgütli, a journey that takes around 43 minutes. For the timetable click here.