Flashback pianist Nik Bärtsch about green city Zürich

In the Flashback section we look back on an old story that we remember with nostalgia. In 2018, pianist Nik Bärtsch took us on a tour through the compact Swiss boutique city of Zurich, where culture and nature merge.

Text: Angelique van Os | Photography: Henk Bothof

For a moment I struggle to contain my laughter. There I am in Zurich, with pianist Nik Bärtsch standing opposite me. And with three other people in a circle and a ball on my head. I concentrate. That has to be the case, because I’m trying to keep another ball in the air with my arm. I look for balance. Nik Bärtsch’s voice quietly echoes through the small hall. I close my eyes. The rhythm continues. Takakakakakatak…. There is an accent difference with the feet. The exercise becomes more complicated. Especially when we add and complete each other’s figures out loud. I almost fall into a trance. “Okay, relax again and find your instrument. Now try to convert those different layers into music.”

Zen funk with Nik Bärtsch

The pianist and composer Nik Bärtsch, born and raised in Zurich, settles behind a drum kit. He started as a percussionist. That explains why his ingenious music is so rhythmically composed. The sympathetic musician has been known for his minimalist, ritualistic Zen funk for years with his bands Ronin and Mobile, with which he performs worldwide. Every Monday the pianist gives a concert in Exil (see box).

Coherence

Prior to the concerts, interested parties can drop in for the workshop. And that is a special experience. Everything is about coherence, about shifting patterns and coordination; elements that Nik works out to perfection with his band. Because the challenge lies mainly in the organization of time signatures and patterns that must flow together with harmony. The music is easy to listen to, but beneath the surface are complex structures.

Japanese Aikido

The exercises that support this are mainly based on Japanese Aikido and gyro kinesis (a modern form of balance exercises). “I try to loosen the muscles during the workshops with groove and meditative exercises. By making contact with the body and sharpening the senses from a relaxed mode, so that musicians complement each other better. There comes a moment of consciousness in our music where everything comes together.

Nik Bärtsch’ Awase

The title of his sixth album, Awase refers to the latter aspect. It is a term used in material arts and in the non-violent martial discipline Akido. “When you play live you don’t have time to think. You do that with body language,” says Bärtsch. Aikido is all about approaching the attacker harmoniously. Moving together, without a leader. That is also essential in our music. It is a kinetic dynamic connection, where everything revolves around respect and connection.”

Nik Bärtsch worked with Ronin for six years on the album Awase(2018). The Band consists of Kaspar Rast (drums), Thomy Jordi (bass) and Sha (sax/bass clarinet). Perfecting their sound is central. In addition, everything revolves around making the complex, layered patterns and rhythms flow into each other. To make the group sound like a collective, Ronin gives a concert every Monday at the Zurich club Exil, of which Nik is co-owner. If the band is on tour, an act from Nik’s own label will fill in: Ronin Rhythm Records.  

Awase, Nik Bärtsch’s last album.

nik-bartsch-awase-ecm-records

Exil

That connection is clearly visible during Ronin concerts. There is a relaxed atmosphere, which alternates with supreme concentration. The Monday evening concerts (Montags) have been a regular occurrence since 2004. Nik has been organizing this in Exil since 2009. Although it remains a weekly challenge to provide high playing quality and reach an audience, Ronin has made quite a name for itself internationally. To such an extent that they attract a lot of (curious) foreign and loyal audiences in Exil. This also provides peace and security for Nik, who likes to spend a lot of time with his family.

He lives in the green heart of the city. The quality of life in Zurich, with approximately 450,000 inhabitants, is pleasant because of all the greenery, the lakes and the compactness. There is little stress, but you do need a big wallet because everything is expensive. 

Two rivers in Zurich

The pianist takes us to one of his favorite places. Near the central station and around the corner from the National Museum, the two rivers, the Limmat and the Sihl, meet. Zurich is more than 400 meters away. above sea level. The city center is surrounded by water; where the Limmat River leaves Lake Zurich. It is not without reason that the name is derived from the Celtic wordwater. The Limmat extends another 36 kilometers from the metropolis to its mouth in the Aare and belongs to the Rhine basin. In the Baden suburb, just 25 kilometers away, water of 47 degrees Celsius springs up from 19 sulfur springs. Furthermore, the hip, idyllic city is surrounded by wooded hills such as Zurich and Uetliberg.

Natural water bath

Back to Nik. We walk along the Platzspitz ParkIn the 80s and 90s it was a notorious area and was nicknamed ‘needle park’ because of the many drug addicts. Now it is a popular place among locals, where people eat their lunch break or meet up with friends and family. We continue walking across the bridge. Nik stops and says: “You’ll soon see that this place is filling up with people.” And indeed, half an hour later, locals are looking for a spot on the quay and the terraces are quickly full. Swimwear comes out and people jump into the water from the bridge. In no time the clear green-blue water is filled with swimmers.

Free natural pool

A little further on, downstream, you will find several beach bars and people sunbathing. The scene exudes a particularly relaxed atmosphere. And this is just one of those special water locations that Zurich has and is not yet known to the masses. “It’s never really too busy, there is plenty of space. People have a free natural pool here, where they can get a good workout by swimming against the current,” says the pianist.

Tip from Nik

Nik has another tip. Past the station, in the west of Zurich city center, you can go down an inconspicuous staircase at the intersection of Usteribrücke and Gessnerallee. This is where the branch of the Sihl starts, which meanders far beyond the city. We walk between old city walls, trendy buildings and walk under medieval bridges. It is remarkably quiet; the city sounds seem far away. We follow the clear water for a few kilometers to the compact  old Botanical garden. Between the centuries-old trees we see a beautiful outdoor river swimming pool with wooden decking, which also appears to be a mooring place for rowers and/or canoeists.

Gessnergarten

Gradually the park fills up with business people and shopkeepers. It’s lunch time. We walk to the top of the park, the Gessnergarten. This herb and flower garden has a beautiful view over the modern classical center and is a tribute to Conrad Gessner, an influential Swiss botanist, naturalist and physician. What a silence. Not surprising that the locals are so relaxed and friendly.

 

Green marathonroute in Zürich

Before we walk back up to Gessnerallee, we go straight ahead and arrive at theRio Bar. This is the start and end point of theGreen Marathon Zurich Route. The course is suitable for runners of all levels and there is no time pressure. You can start walking whenever you want and even cover the total length of 42 kilometers in sections over several days. The run runs from the center to the lake, through to the green hills and back again. If you only want to walk part of the way, you can stop and shower along the way and accessible public transport will take you back to your starting point. 

Shipyard

Unfortunately, we do not have the time or fitness to run a marathon. We return briefly to the Exil square in Zürich West. Previously this was an industrial area. It has been developing as a hip city district for ten years. By tram it is only a ten-minute ride to the center. There are many restaurants and high (light) towers. The University of the Arts is also located here and you will find a (pricey) culinary market hall in the arch complex Im Viadukt.

Jazzclub Moods

Adjacent to the same square of Exil is also Moods, the largest (subsidized) jazz club in Switzerland. Moods has been around since 1992 and was completely renovated in 2016. It exudes the atmosphere of a music venue, with standing areas and a long bar. Since 2000, the club has been part of a former impressive shipyard (Schiffbau), which also houses a theater, restaurant and bar. We say goodbye to the cordial Nik Bärtsch, who arrives at the club by bike.

After four days we understand very well that Zurich is his home base. “Hopefully we’ll see each other again soon? And don’t forget your swimwear,” jokes Nik. “Of course!” we shout in unison. Because the ‘vibrant’ introduction to this water city requires a new rendezvous without any effort.

Zürich practical

Snel

We flew with Swiss International Airlines | in just an hour and a half swiss.com

Responsible travel

By car or train. Approximately 8 hours from Utrecht.

Public transportation

Zürich Cards (city travel pass); also gives access to various museums and boat trips. From approximately €23-45.  

Meer info: zuerich.com

Podia & tips Nik Bärtsch

Moods

Broad programme | moodsclub.ch

Exil

(Montags)| hele zomer geopend | exil.cl en nikbaertsch.com

Musea

Zürich has more than 50 museums and 100 galleries. Our favorite: the Rietberg Museum, surrounded by a hilly, spacious park. Exhibitions mainly consist of Oriental and African art. 

Winkel 

Foifi – Zero WasteLadencafé| Shiffbaustrasse 9B (pal achter Exil)| Foifi.ch

Foifi is a store with a mission: they offer waste-free, sustainable and healthy nutritious products, packaged in recyclable bottles. In addition to delicious food, tea, soap, detergents, doppers and homemade bags, t-shirts and cuddly toys, you can also enjoy a delicious breakfast and lunch. Naturally home-made rolls from organic origin. 

This trip was made possible by Zürich Tourismus, Swiss Air and Maarten Visser. Special thanks to Nik Bärtsch.  

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