Saturday, April 4, 2009

Switzerland: The Platzspitz, or "Needle Park" 2

Before reading this post please read the one posted immediately before...

I took a walk in the "The Platzspitz" today, and as my previous post mentions it is a relatively "normal" park in the centre of Zurich.... to be honest though, it did seem a little eerie. It was very quiet and tucked away behind the Landesmuseum...

Not many people and a couple of relatively shady characters hanging around... on the surface though, it looked pretty ok.... maybe I had some pre-concieved ideas here...

Click on the smaller pictures for a better view!

Grafitti near the entrance to the park...

I know it has been 15 years but there was nothing other than the Grafitti on the sign near the entrance which gave away what "The Platzspitz" was "Needle Park". It is merely a memory to some, but substantially more than that to those who came here...

For R&R, on the 13th October, 1989, I hope that it was forever... and I hope forever was everything they had hoped it would be....

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Switzerland: The Platzspitz, or "Needle Park" 1

There are two posts relating to Needle Park. This one on the history and then another on what it looks like today... see the link at the end of this post...

The Platzspitz is a park area in Zurich on the edge of the Limmat River. Relatively non descript as far as Zurich goes.

I have found it interesting for one reason. That being about five years or so from the late 80’s to the early 1990’s.

The Platzspitz was an area designated by Zurich officials where the purchase and sale of drugs was legalised and obviously consequently the usage. It earned the name of “Needle Park”.

The park was closed in February 4, 1992, when Zurich police move into the Platzspitz and cleared away the addicts. It seems that the Swiss (public) at the time were not prepared to both see the problem head and deal with the negative publicity (government and public) that this idea generated.

Needle Park was a “well intentioned” idea in an attempt to try and prevent the spread of disease (through the provision of clean syringes) and to try and bring usage into the open to deal with the problem better. At any one time there around 25% of all “inhabitants” were foreign, and the ratio was a lot higher for dealers.

Here is an excerpt from an article which appeared in the “New York Times” September 27th, 1990.

“The strange scene has been a fixture in Zurich for several years, tolerated by city officials who are convinced that drug use should be regarded as a sickness rather than a crime. Social and medical workers estimate that about 300 to 400 heavy drug users live in the park without shelter, toilets or showers, and that as many as 3,000 others pass through daily to buy and use drugs………..the midway of the grotesque carnival is a concrete path along the edge of the Limmat River, lined with makeshift counters covered with neatly arranged spoons, bottles of water and paper cups bristling with slender, disposable syringes. The crowd thickens as night falls and drug hustlers work their way through the sea of bodies clogging the path, calling out ''Sugar, sugar, fine sugar!'' when they mean heroin, and ''Cokay, cokay!'' for cocaine……..the other night, three men crouched under a park lamppost, dividing a white powdery pancake of heroin with a Swiss Army knife. Next to them, a woman lay in the dirt in a stupor. Four or five men were intensely working needles into their arms. A woman in a striped sweater probed for veins in one hand, blood streaming down her fingers, as a woman in leather pants and stained blouse wobbled past, a bloody syringe dangling from her neck.”

Most of the Swiss that I have asked about it seem a little embarrassed by the project. I have seen varied reports on the “success” of Needle Park. I imagine it really depends on whom you speak to or your current situation in terms of experience.

I have been unable to find many pictures of an “inhabited” Needle Park, and have posted here what I could find.

My feelings are not really clear to me at the moment and I think it will depend on my on personal circumstances. There may be no right or wrong answer, but this weekend I will walk through The Platzspitz, I will enjoy the trees, the grass, and the clean benches and will only try for a minute or two to imagine what those people were going through in this very same spot 15 years ago. Because anything longer may mean that I will have to confront the fact that this problem exists. For me, like most others, that would be too hard.

I wonder what they were feeling, what got them to this point…I also wonder where they are now, what they are doing and how many of them died from their addiction. How many of them sacrificed themselves for drugs and how many of them will continue to do so...

Switzerland currently has one of the most “progressive” drug policies in Europe and the world. They have what they call a series of harm reduction measures for drug addicts which supposedly tries to “prevent, treat, reduce harm and enforce legislation.” Needle exchanges are available where addicts can swap used needles for clean ones. Injection rooms are available where heroin users can inject their drug away from the streets, and under the supervision of trained medical staff. Currently Switzerland is the only country in the world to operate a widespread, government funded programme of heroin prescription. It should be stated that Switzerland is believed to be making progress on this "new" approach to combating drugs...

Until I have the answer to the true success of Switzerland’s policy, since, like many things it dependant on to whom you speak, I will continue to be confused about this success or faliure. I wonder if anyone knows the answers to solving drug enforcement and I wonder if we will ever know how to cure addiction.

Here are some photographs of Needle Park. Credit should be given to Please go and visit and see their account of how the pics were taken... it is a pretty interesting train of events!

James Joyce was an Irish author who moved to Zurich when World War 1 broke out in June 1915.

One of Joyce’s favourite areas was the industrial quarter around the Platzspitz Park in Zurich.. clearly he did not see these views...


The noon’s greygolden meshes make
All night a veil,
The shorelamps in the sleeping lake
Laburnum tendrils trail.
The sly reeds whisper to the night
A name—her name—
And all my soul is a delight,
A swoon of shame.

James Joyce