THE FASTEST WAY / TYLER BURNT
A year and a half ago, I decided to swap living in the Seefeld district of Zürich (which is home to our headquarters, beautiful apartments, sunny residents and a good sense of community) for a more village-like installation. (dare I say suburban?) a few miles down the lake. It took me a little getting used to but I’ve now found my rhythm and a 9 minute drive, 12 minute train and tram ride or 15 minute bike ride isn’t too disconnected from the ‘big’ city . As far as train stops, there’s not much to get excited about when you pull up to my little train station, other than an unloved hut that screams “retail opportunity”. I’ve often thought that the vintage wooden structure, which serves little function other than perhaps providing shelter from a blizzard, might make a really nice Monocle kiosk for information and caffeine-hungry commuters. I even went so far as to ask SBB if it would allow an operator to take over the shack but was told the station was not considered a redevelopment priority at the time and pointed to other opportunities .
As I moved to the area at the height of the pandemic and most of my neighbors seem to work for banks or multinationals, who seem all too happy to have their staff working from home, I don’t know what is a normal Tuesday morning at 7:30 looks and feels like. Most mornings, I walk the four minutes from my front door to the train platform, greet fellow commuters, pick up and discard masks that have fallen out of pockets, and board an SBB S-Bahn train. generally punctual for the two stop journey to my tram connection. A few Sundays ago my routine was interrupted when I rounded the corner of the platform and was confronted by a station that had been attacked by a sprayer (or pack) representing Football Club Zürich (FCZ) and armed with paint markers, spray cans and stickers. Over an area of 300 yards, nearly every surface had been marred by zigzagging FCZ labels, the tunnel under the platforms sprayed with an inconsistent blue mess, and various signs obscured by thick pen marks.
If you’re reading this in Switzerland or spending much time there, you’ll know that the country has a strange relationship with graffiti – some celebrated, most tolerated, and few effective steps taken to stop it. In the absence of a lot of violent crime or juvenile mischief, I think lawmakers condone graffiti because it’s generally considered harmless and the only people likely to get hurt are little assholes who might fall in front of a train while covering a concrete wall near a main interchange. And concrete plays an important role in the country’s spraying culture, as no country loves pouring swathes of gleaming concrete as part of its infrastructure and architecture quite like Switzerland. While one could say that some graffiti is graphically and culturally interesting, the mindless marking and destruction of public and private property is rather different.
For a brief moment, my belief that I live in a functioning society returned and I was proud that the damage could not linger.
While waiting for my train to arrive, I decided to document this attack on my small defenseless station and send it to the railway company. It’s important to stress ‘helpless’ because Switzerland also has a curious relationship with surveillance and that means you’re just as unlikely to see video footage of an unwitting commuter being followed by a night train by his attacker that you are images of little hoodlums spraying a train station in the wee hours of Sunday morning. By the time I boarded the train, I had found the security contact, uploaded my photos, and received an automated response with a case number and a promise to be contacted. Within 30 minutes I received a note offering me a number to call for faster service, the name of someone to speak to and another promise that the train operator is taking this matter seriously. Two days later, to my amazement, the station was spotless – panels replaced, glass scrubbed, surfaces sanded and cleaned.
For a brief moment, my belief that I live in a functioning society returned and I was proud that the damage could not linger. On Tuesday, it happened again, but this time the sprayers wanted to inflict more damage: defaced ATMs, profanity mixed into their FCZ tags and a message that they wouldn’t back down. By Wednesday morning, to my amazement, the station was back to how it was with new signs placed on the ticket machines and even the chain-link fence cleaned. How? ‘Or’ What? And at what cost for SBB and ultimately for the taxpayer? I fully applaud the property damage strategy with quick repairs, but when I look around Zürich, with all its property-damaging football club labels, I’d like to ask: what contribution are the clubs making cleaning operations or education the little assholes who do nothing for their teams or the Zürich brand?