Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Dinner at the Volkshaus

As the academic year draws to a close last night a small group of teachers from my department decided to have dinner together. As the historians numbered three and economists only one, we decided to dine somewhere that offers good food and a sense of history (as opposed to the stock exchange). We picked Zurich’s recently renovated Volkshaus (People’s House) Restaurant. Founded over a hundred years ago to provide organized labour with a place to gather, during World War One it played host to a number of meetings involving Lenin, Kamenev, Zinoviev and other Bolshevik revolutionaries, as well as the Menshevik Trotsky (with a great feeling for timing, Trotsky switched to the Bolsheviks during the summer of 1917).  The Volkshaus is featured in Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s novel Lenin in Zurich.

Volkshaus Restaurant in Zurich: Did Lenin Eat Here?

Originally the restaurant was alcohol free (the philanthropic financiers of the project had decided that alcohol was bad for the workers), and served wholesome but cheap food.  These days the food is rather good, and anything but cheap. The building still hosts May Day meetings every year, and the square outside the building witnesses the occasional riot when the world's very concerned and very rich jet in for World Economic Forum in nearby Davos; but these days most people come for rock and jazz concerts, the disco, the sauna, the bookstore and the excellent food. From my observations of the well heeled clientele last night, the restaurant is no longer so popular with communist revolutionaries.


  1. Hello:
    But how very splendid. It is always interesting to eat in a place which, in addition to good food, also carries within its walls a sense of history, which clearly the Volkshaus does.

    You may know too of The New York here in Budapest which was, for many years, the meeting place of dissidents. Although superbly restored, with lavish amounts of gold leaf, since the regime change, and now serving delicious and expensive food, it has, rather sadly, lost much of its original atmosphere.

  2. No, I don't know The New York. I was in Budapest in 1982 - a different time then. I remember that some cafes looked grand, but the coffee wasn't the best.