From Basel to Bern: Explore the creativity of Switzerland's cities
Switzerland has always been a fertile hub for craftsmanship, whether it’s in the traditional manufacture of its superior cuckoo clocks and chocolate, or the cutting-edge design ethic of its watch industry. But the picturesque country’s many towns and cities all have their own individual part to play in this creativity.
There are many reasons for falling in love with Lucerne, but its eponymous festival is a major one. This series of classical musical events attracts more than 100,000 visitors every year to see some of the world’s leading orchestras, conductors and soloists. Many events are held at the KKL Culture and Convention Centre, designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, and the festival is a chance to experience the striking views of the medieval Old Town, of placid Lake Lucerne and its surrounding peaks.
The Swiss capital of Bern is much more than Switzerland’s city of politics. The quality of its art and culture is estimable, and its legacy is particularly marked by the work of lauded painter Paul Klee, who was born here. The city’s Old Town recalls Klee at every turn. Several streets are named after his pictures, and he famously recorded the Zytglogge Tower within his abstract paintings. The city’s Zentrum Paul Klee – designed by Renzo Piano – houses more than 4,000 of the nearly 10,000 works Klee produced in his lifetime.
Lugano, a city of artistic innovation located in Switzerland’s Italian-speaking region of Ticino, is home to two major museums: the Lugano Arte e Cultura (LAC) centre, inaugurated in 2015, and the Museo d’Arte della Svizzera Italiana (MASI). An annual exhibition held here, called ‘Artificio: A Window on Design’, sees the windows of shops, boutiques, galleries, independent cultural venues and even a hothouse given over to works by local and visiting artists.
Situated on the shores of Lake Geneva, Lausanne’s recent history is intertwined with its love of dance. In 1987, French-born dancer Maurice Béjart transferred his company here, renaming it Béjart Ballet Lausanne, in honour of the city he was so fond of; meanwhile, Philippe Saire, one of the greatest exponents of Swiss contemporary dance, founded his company in Lausanne exactly a year before the arrival of Béjart. The recent establishment of the Swiss Dance Collection in Lausanne further proliferates this legacy.
The city of Basel lives and breathes art, boasting the highest concentration of museums in Switzerland, not to mention playing host to the leading international fair Art Basel. The city’s love of art is a longstanding one, as demonstrated by the zealous public campaign in 1967 to save the Kunstmuseum Basel’s two Picassos from being sold. The Kunstmuseum, which also holds works by the likes of Henri Matisse, Joan Miró and Paul Klee, has recently had a magnificent new extension, designed by local architects Christ & Gantenbein.
When one thinks of Geneva, banks, luxury watches and NGOs spring to mind. However, the city is now creating a buzz for a very different reason. It’s home to the progressive Quartier des Bains, an industrial neighbourhood now repurposed as an innovative arts districts. Here, visitors will find not only the Musée d'Art Moderne et Contemporain (MAMCO), Switzerland’s largest museum for contemporary art, but also countless galleries, fashionable bars and attractive cafes.
Once Switzerland’s industrial capital, today Winterthur boasts a magnificent legacy of museums and art collections, and a flourishing culture that nods to the city’s working past. The former factories are hives of creativity; boutiques, set among the disused railway lines, sell everything from fashion to vinyl records; former technical display cases present cutting-edge art; and you can even bunk up for the night in a former wood factory. An ideal way to explore this fascinating heritage is with a cycle tour – the Industrial Culture Trail is about 13km long and snakes across the entire city.
Zurich may be best known for its Old Town, lake and glamorous Bahnhofstrasse, but in recent years, a former industrial district in the west of the city has found new life as a home for culture and creativity. The arches of a railway viaduct built in 1894 are now home to a colourful mix of delicatessens, studios, galleries and fashion labels. From there, visitors should head to the Museum für Gestaltung to see its startling collection of industrial and graphic design, architectural ephemera and craft.
From cutting-edge art and modern design to contemporary dance, classical music and refined nightlife, Switzerland’s rich urban culture holds much for its people to treasure. For the rest of us, it’s just waiting to be discovered.