Very special city tours

The social city tours from Surprise give you a different view of the major Swiss cities. See Zurich, Bern and Basel through the eyes of people living in poverty. Moving, impressive and special.

Everyone has to have visited the three Swiss metropolises of Zurich, Bern and Basel at some point. There are many impressive sights to discover – the Fraumünster in the heart of Zurich, the world-famous Zytgloggen Tower in Bern and the Tinguely Fountain in Basel. But far away from the plastered façades you will find poverty. Those affected will show you what this looks like in Switzerland on the city tours organised by the Surprise association.

Poverty-stricken and homeless people have been organising social city tours in the three cities for several years. The tours focus on various topics such as addiction, homelessness and survival on the streets. The tour guides tell impressive stories of how they manage their daily lives under the toughest conditions and let you see the cities from their own eyes.

City tour with Surprise in the federal capital Bern. ©Ruben Hollinger

We take a city tour of Zurich with Hans Peter

Numerous team members from our Marketing and Booking Center decide to take part in one of the city tours in Zurich. No sooner said than done! Hans Peter Meier is our guide. He greets us after work at Werdplatz in Zurich.

Following a brief welcome, he tells us about his life in an unadorned way: He had a good job in the IT industry before the new economy bubble burst and Hans Peter lost his job as a result. His comfort? The alcohol that gradually becomes his undoing.

Next, Hans Peter, who has successfully overcome his addiction, explains which offices and support centres the city of Zurich offers for homeless people. «One major challenge when you become homeless is getting to know the wide range of offers in the first place,» he reflects. There are a number of support centres: Emergency accommodation and free catering facilities. But you just have to be aware of them in the first place.

Hans-Peter from the Surprise association. ©Marc Bachmann

Team Marketing & Booking Center. ©Nina Wild

From the life of a homeless person

At the next stop at the Protestant St. Jakob Church, Hans Peter explains why homeless people spend the night in hidden places, why they never eat in the same place as they sleep or why they still prefer to spend weeks on the balcony despite having an apartment. Why is that? We’re not going to reveal the answers here – it’s best to ask Hans Peter himself on a city tour.

Before we round off our experiences at the regional Surprise office with snacks and drinks, we make a brief stop at the Kanzleischulhaus at Helvetiaplatz. «In the particularly cold winter of 2013, an emergency sleeping area was set up here for people who live on the streets,» explains Hans Peter. Otherwise, the people would probably have frozen to death. The cold months are particularly hard. 

Did you already know?

As a member of Swiss Youth Hostels, you can take part in the city tours at a reduced price. Find out more!

Surprise gives people a perspective

The non-profit organisation not only organises the interesting walking tours. Financially disadvantaged people have the opportunity to sell «Surprise» magazine on the streets to earn money. Hans Peter has been doing this for many years.

Café Surprise is a wonderful project across Switzerland: Guests at participating restaurants have the option of paying for a second coffee, which a person in need can drink free of charge. This means that poor people are not only able to enjoy a hot drink in a cosy place, but can also take part in public life.

Break in the cosy Café Surprise. ©Ole Hopp

Another highlight is the Surprise street choir, which is professionally conducted. Public concerts are held at different venues throughout the year. Be sure to give them a listen!

Insight into the rehearsal of the Surprise Choir. ©Klaus Petrus

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