Fountains of Bahnhofstrasse

Bahnhofstrasse is home to many beautiful fountains.

Bahnhofstrasse could perhaps be perceived as the “Main Street” of Zürich, leading directly out from the main train station HauptBahnhof to the lakefront, passing the most luxurious shops on the most expensive commercial real estate in town. It begins at the Escher fountain in Bahnhofplatz and passes the Wallace fountain in Pestalozzianlage, and very close to the courtyard with the ornate fountain that began my fountain tour.

There are three other wonderful fountains along this strasse. First is a rather heroic male figure atop a pillar at the corner of Rennweg, who I always thinks looks rather silly with pidgeon spikes on his shoulders; the fountain, though, has a lovely flower planter above its pool.

A major fountain at Bahnhofstrasse and Rennweg.

Next is a female figure atop a pillar in Zughusplatz, with her peacock, next to the Hérmes store.

A pretty fountain in Zughusplatz along Bahnhofstrasse in Zürich.

Finally, near the end of the road at Berkliplatz, is an elaborate fountain; here is a close-up of its spout.

One of many public fountains in Zürich.

I encourage you to visit the gallery here to see a few more shots of each of these fountains, especially the last. It has an inscription: “DA LIEF IHR DER KNECHT ENTGEGEN, UND SPRACH: LASS MICH EIN WENIG WASSER AUS DEINEM KRUGE TRINKEN. UND SIE SPRACH: TRINKE. MEIN HERR: UND EILEND LIESS SIE DEN KRUG HERNIEDER AUF IHRE HAND UND GAB IHM ZU TRINKEN.” Google Translate says that is, roughly, “Then the servant ran towards her and said: let me drink a little water from your pitcher. and she said: drink. my lord: and hurriedly she dropped the jug on her hand and gave it to drink.”

Unfortunately I do not know the story (if any) behind these fountains.

Münsterhof fountain

This two-spout, two-bowl contemporary design turns out to have two uses.

The large fountain anchoring the west corner of the Münsterhof plaza – in the shadow of Fraumünster church – is one of the most elegant contemporary fountains I have found in Zürich, and one of the largest. Its elegant spout arcs high over a large bowl to create a pool that refreshes one’s spirit – and a side spout pours into a smaller bowl to quench one’s thirst. I’ve visited this fountain many times; the gallery contains a few of my favorite shots from three very different settings.

The elegant fountain of Münsterhof plaza on Easter morning.

I stopped by early on Easter morning, when the sun was still rising over Zürichberg to the east, and explored different ways to capture the sunlight as it played with this fountain. The first shot in the gallery may be the most fun.

I visited again on a warm spring evening, with a tripod, to capture another view when the church was illuminated. This plaza is tricky because there is a bright light suspended in the middle of the square – here placed just behind the arc of the fountain.

The elegant fountain of Münsterhof plaza, with Fraumünster behind, on a spring evening.

Yesterday, now that restaurants have re-opened and all the plazas like Münsterhof are scattered with tables and happy couples dining in the late-spring sunshine, we went for lunch at a restaurant near the fountain. Suddenly, a woman and her dog approached the fountain, and the dog decided to get a drink from the middle of the large pool! He spent about 20 minutes walking around the rim of the pool, walking through the pool, drinking from the falling water, and very nearly shaking off his coat as he passed some neighboring diners. More photos in the gallery.

A dog enjoys the large fountain in Münsterhof plaza, as his owner tries to protect neighboring diners.
A dog enjoys a drink from the middle of the large fountain in Münsterhof plaza, Zürich.

Robot fountains

Some fountains remind me of a robot.

I’ve encountered this model in four places. At first I saw it as just a pillar with some geometric carvings. But I’ve come to see it as a face, which somehow makes me think of a stereotypical robot. The particular example below is only two blocks from our flat, and has grown a crown of thorns thanks to the neighbor’s rose bush. The others in the gallery give you a clearer look at the carvings.

Fountain quest

I still need to find another 1,000 fountains.

I discovered a web page claiming that Zürich has over 1,200 public water fountains, which means my quest to find them all will take quite a bit longer than I anticipated 🤭.

Today I’m just going to note that – despite the claims of the tourist-oriented page above – not all of Zurich’s fountains have an interesting story or sculpture. Some are rather straightforwardly practical, like the three below. All of them welcome a thirsty pedestrian, and most have a doggy fountain at their base! More photos in the gallery.

One of many public fountains in Zürich; note the little doggy fountain at its base.
This fountain is stainless steel and has a birdbath motive.
A rather functional, simple, modern, metal fountain.

Mystery solved

The story behind my “four muses”.

No new posting today… instead, a quick note about an update to last week’s post about the fountain I called the “four muses”. It turns out to have a fascinating story behind it, about a Paris philanthropist who funded the placement of hundreds of public fountains to ensure access to clean water for the poor and homeless. This “Wallace Fountain”, one of only two in Switzerland, is pretty special.

A decorative fountain on the corner of Pestalozzianlage square, in central Zurich.

Morning on Neumarkt

A pretty square on Neumarkt.

I strolled the narrow streets of Altstadt (old town) last week, visiting new nooks and crannies of this ever-interesting section of Zürich where no street is quite the same as another, and came across this lovely little square along Neumarkt street. Under the imposing presence of a nearby clocktower, in the tiny triangle of space spared by an intersection of this small street with two even smaller lanes, was a curious fountain and a cozy sidewalk café. I found the fountain to be somewhat curious because it had rather traditional water spouts – with ornate brackets, and with a support framework for any heavy pots you might wish to fill with water – but it also had a more modern-looking, abtract winged figure atop its pillar. Behind the fountain’s streams I spied an older man enjoying his morning paper with coffee, while around me delivery people scootered by to drop off the morning mail or produce to the neighborhood grocer on the opposite streetcorner.

Three photos below, added to the gallery.

A pretty fountain and cafe in a small square along Neumarkt in Altstadt, Zürich.
A pretty fountain and cafe in a small square along Neumarkt in Altstadt, Zürich.
A pretty fountain and cafe in a small square along Neumarkt in Altstadt, Zürich.

Fountain in a nook

Some fountains are mid-street.

When I began this series, I said that I’d only seen fountains in plazas or at intersections – meaning I could find all fountains by ensuring I visited every plaza or intersection, rather than traveling the length of every street. In short, I needed to solve the Hamiltonian Path problem, not the Eulerian Path problem. (Interestingly, Euler was inspired by the famous Seven Bridges of Königsberg problem: to devise a walk through the city that would cross each of its seven bridges once and only once. So you might say I am following in Euler’s footsteps. Sort of.)

This week I found two exceptions to my ‘intersection’ theory, including this lovely little fountain in a nook on a tiny back street in Altstadt.

One of the few fountains I found along a street – not at an intersection.

Four muses

A pretty fountain in central Zürich.

This small but ornate fountain sits on the corner of Pestolazzianlage square in central Zürich, right along Bahnhofstrasse.  It’s just over 2m high.  Unlike other fountains, it is not a drinking fountain from which to sip, nor a place to fill your kitchen pot, but its downward stream of water is perfect for filling your water bottle if you reach behind the four women holding the fountain’s cap.  I don’t know the story or symbolism behind this fountain, so I’m dubbing it the four muses. Two more photos at the gallery here.


update 27 May: a reader tipped me off to the fascinating story behind this fountain. It is one of only two Wallace Fountains in Switzerland. The original series of these fountains were funded by Sir Richard Wallace in Paris in the late 19th century, as a means of providing free, safe water to the poor and homeless of the city. The four figures are “caryatids representing kindness, simplicity, charity and sobriety” [Wikipedia]. Another page (in German) provides some info about this specific fountain in Zurich. Switzerland’s only other Wallace Fountain is located in Geneva.

“Fountain from Paris, 1870, to initiate the 1982 World Convention of Water Experts in Zurich. The four nymphs personify simplicity, purity, sobriety and charity. They symbolize international co-operation in providing people everywhere with pure and salubrious water.”

There is eternal vitality in good

The fountain I visit most often.

Although rather plain, this fountain is one of my favorites because I take a drink every time I pass by; it rests along the Zürichberg ridgetop, near the top of my daily walk and with a spectacular view of the lake and the Alps.  It commemorates a notable local, H.C. Susanna Orelli-Rinderknecht M.D., 1845–1939, “sponsor of the people’s well-being,” according to Google Translate.  “There is eternal vitality in good.”


I did not give the inscription much thought until now, but it’s striking for several reasons. First, I imagine there were few women MDs in the late 19th century, and even fewer who used a hyphenated last name.  Second, I’ve found a Wikipedia page (Deutsch) for this impressive woman.  (See English translation.)  Again with help from Google translate, it says she was born “in Oberstrass” (this neighborhood) and “was a representative of the Swiss abstinence movement and founder of the Zurich Women’s Association.”  She ended up running ten massively popular (alcohol-free) restaurants, and received many honors: “In 1919 Orelli-Rinderknecht was the first woman to receive an honorary medical doctorate from the University of Zurich. In 1945 Orelli-Rinderknecht was the first woman on a Swiss stamp.”  Indeed, the street on which this fountain sits, now called Orelliweg, is one of the most beautiful in the city.  (Ironic, though, that Orelli was the name of her husband of four years, her maiden name being Rinderknecht.)  Next time I pass by, I’ll tip my hat to this impressive woman.

One of many public fountains in Zürich.

Escher fountain

A statue of Alfred Escher is a pivot point at the heart of Zürich.

As noted in my earlier post, Zürich is a city of fountains – decorative, commemorative, and functional.  I’ve found very few that commemorate a particular person, or event – unlike what I’ve seen in other cities across the US and Europe.

One of many public fountains in Zürich.One notable exception is the statue of Alfred Escher in front of the main train station (Hauptbahnhof) and facing down the city’s central boulevard, Bahnhofstrasse.  Escher, according to Wikipedia, “had an unmatched influence on Switzerland’s political and economic development in the 19th century.”  He had a major role in the establishment of the rail system in Switzerland, as well as the formation of the university now known as ETH, in which I now am a visiting member of the faculty.  Not to mention establishing the banking powerhouse now known as Credit Suisse.  I can certainly understand why he stands at this prominent location in the heart of Zürich!

I photographed this impressive and elaborate statue/fountain in the quiet early hours of Easter morning, with the tulips blooming in the adjacent garden.  Unfortunately, extensive construction on the Hauptbahnhof building behind him, and some of the buildings on the opposite side of the square, make for a cluttered background and limited options for viewing angles.  I hope I’ve captured some of its essence, and its fascinating collection of heroic figures and gargoyles; more photos are in the Zürich fountains’ gallery beginning here.

One of many public fountains in Zürich.