Monday, June 04, 2012

Basel: A Quarter-Century Past

I lived over a year in Switzerland back in the latter 1980s, about four months of that time in Basel, where I first had and then didn't have a Swiss girlfriend named Monika whom I'd originally met in Fribourg in 1986, a breakup that worked out for the best in the long run, though I had my doubts about its beneficial consequences during the summer of 1988. I spent a lot of time in Basel that summer at Andreasplatz drinking coffee in the Café zum Teufel -- though I think it had already been renamed Café Zum Roten Engel -- and writing in my journal (when I wasn't working on my Coptic), depicting in lead of pencils the vicissitudes of a once golden relationship.

Café Zum Roten Engel

I've never had an overwhelming desire to revisit that lovely city, though I did go again in the Fall of 1989, for I was -- courtesy of a Fulbright Grant -- living in Tübingen, not so far from Basel, and I took that opportunity to walk the city's streets and seek out old haunts. I never looked up my old girlfriend, despite strolling by the place where she probably lived, for too little time had passed to enable me to deal with that unpleasantness. Besides, as she saw me off at the train in late summer of '88, I had left her with the words, "Leb wohl," and though she found that amusing -- a marginally appropriate response -- I kept my promise implicit in the words of that farewell.

Despite my reluctance about ever again returning to Basel, I actually liked the city, and still wish the best for it. It appears to be doing well, as I see from the art and architecture pages of the International Herald Tribune in an article reprinted in the New York Times as "Basel's New Center for Design" (June 1, 2012 ), by Ratha Tep, who informs us:
On a brisk Saturday morning in April, a group of young architecture students from Bologna, Italy, walked down a white granite promenade in the St. Johann neighborhood in Basel, Switzerland, to take in 14 "starchitect"-designed buildings that have sprung up in recent years. An opaque glass structure by Yoshio Taniguchi resembled a floating box. A soaring Frank Gehry design of contorted cubes stood just beyond. And over near the large Richard Serra sculptures, a Tadao Ando building converged into a razor-sharp triangular edge.

That a group of art and design geeks would be visiting this corner of northern Basel, which hugs the Rhine River, would have been unimaginable just a decade ago, when it was a gloomy stretch dotted with nondescript office buildings and chemical factories. But the new buildings, part of an ambitious 2.2 billion Swiss franc plan by the pharmaceutical giant Novartis to turn its production facility into a gleaming corporate campus, has drawn curious onlookers to the 50-acre site, where a project by the hometown firm of Herzog and de Meuron is still on its way.

Sounds impressive. Unfortunately, the article offers only one photo, but I Googled the company Novartis and found all the necessary photos to accompany Tep's descriptions. Here's Yoshio Taniguchi's opaque glass structure like a floating box:

Here's Frank Gehry's soaring design of contorted cubes (which Tep does provide):

Here's Tadao Ando's building converging into a razor-sharp triangular edge (or so says Tep):

There are twelve other photos of architecture to look at, each of them small, unfortunately, but they will give you an impression of what you'd see if you visit the area . . . which I suppose I never again will.

"Leb wohl," Basel.

UPDATE: Go to the Novartis site and click on the camera icon under each of the tiny photos for a larger image.

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