Observed: The Rote Fabrik in Zurich

Observed: die Rote Fabrik in Zurich

During the last week of my stay in Zurich I decided to visit a place near the house called Rote Fabrik (Red Factory) with no idea of what I would find in it. What an awesome surprise that was.

What It Is

Located in Wollishofen, Zurich, Rote Fabrik was built in 1892 as a silk mill and it’s management swapped hands a couple times until the city adquired the building in 1972.

In 1974, the Social Democratic Party of Switzerland made a proposal to turn the factory into a cultural center and thus avoid the original plan to demolish it and expand the street near Zurich Lake. After a vote, the proposal saved the place and in 1980 history began to be made.

The place owes its name to the fact that it’s an actual factory made out of red brick, but also because red is the color usually associated with communism and left-wing political parties.

Today, Rote Fabrik is a cultural centre and venue for musical events where all kinds of spectacular acts have walked on stage, from Isaac hayes and Raphael Saadiq to Mos Def, Patti Smith and Cansei de Ser Sexy. Walking down the factory feels like traveling through the cultural and political past of several generations, and the weirdest thing about it is that the place is merely 5 minutes away from the house I was in, by bus.

The factory’s influence can be felt even in the locales nearby, where you need only observe your surroundings to find a some really cooky things.

How It Was

Right after I started walking inside the place, it turned out the administration of the venue was coming back from lunch and they saw me taking pictures of everything with my phone. So they invited me to go up to see the inside of their offices. That’s when I was able to see the flyers for previous events, which turned my visit into a kind of improv art exhibit.

Once I got out of the administration building, I went on towards the lake and noticed that the place has a bike rental, a restaurant, lots of graffiti and a corridor by the lakeside where mothers walk their babies. I even stumbled upon a guy putting the final touches on a wall.

I’m very happy I made the choice to visit this place, in spite of not knowing what I would find. Sometimes walking around Zurich I see a lot of restraint and conservative thinking, but Rote Fabrik shatters that with ease, just because its creative and original voice screams at you anywhere you look.

Another proof of how cool exploring can be when you’re backpacking on your own. Make sure to visit the place and see their upcoming events if you’re ever in Zurich.


 Observed is a column about activities, places and events that caught my attention and stood out as good memories in my travels.

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