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 skatepunk.com. 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...

SEE MY NEXT POST FOR WHAT I FOUND WHEN VISITING "NEEDLE PARK" EARLIER THIS YEAR (2009) - LINK BELOW

Alone
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

18 comments:

Jiggy said...

Sheesh, I've just finished reading an auto biography written by a 15 year old girl in 1983, she was addicted to heroin by the age of 12 and lost innumerable friends to the drug.

She turned to prostitution shortly after becoming addicted and eventually became “clean” after having to testify at the trial of one of her customers who was tried for soliciting underage girls and boys.

She made a significant amount of money out of the book and the subsequent movie and has not needed to work since. Once finished with the book, I decided to google this girl to see how she made out over the last 25years.

Unfortunately, having moved around Europe, living almost everywhere, she now has a teenage child and frequently relapses back into addiction of one drug or another, this, over 35 years after she first tried and became addicted to drugs. Many would consider her lucky to have survived this long

Obviously assisting the addicts to “safely” use their drug of choice is not a working solution. I’m not sure what is, but it just feels like the type of assistance that the Swiss government is offering is just shy of legalizing the use of these drugs.

Wasn’t there a referendum on this just last year?

Shaun said...

There was a vote on the legalising of Marajuana. It did not go through with most Swiss voting to keep it illegal. Drugs are still illegal in Switzerland however the "treatment" of addicts is not strict.

Anonymous said...

It is believed that the "rooms" are assisting addicts though, since the new addition rate has dropped substantially. So it may be that "some" for of tolerance is ok, but interestingly enough, around the same time as Needle Park, Switzerland had one of the highest HIV infection rates in Europe and Heroin addition rates. PS: Around 25000 addicts live in Switzerland...

richard said...

The "Needle Park" in Zurich, although an almost spectacular piece of social history needs to be taken in context. It gets a lot of publicity and it can appear that it was emblematic of a permissive approach that went badly wrong. However Swiss policy towards combating drugs and related effects does appear to always have been many-sided and pragmatic in it's goals and expectations. As well as ever-evolving.

This report commissioned by the Canadian government goes into some depth, only up until 2000 but including the "Needle Park" episode. At least it also cites its sources unlike many other internet articles that just reproduce various snippets

http://www.parl.gc.ca/37/1/parlbus/commbus/senate/Com-e/ille-e/library-e/collin1-e.htm

Shaun said...

Richard, I agree with you in terms of the Swiss approach and I guess regardless of one or two percieved glitches I believe they are pro active in combating it and therein is something to be rewarded. On reading the article you cite I am still of the view that this was something that they perhaps didnt plan on and it did go wrong. Further to this though, they are making progress and I acknowledge that they are definitely trying to tackle the problem from all sides...

Shaun said...

Richard... Since my blog is more of thoughts than factual articles, I am not in a position nor do I wish to quote sources or cross reference these "snippets" of thoughts. I am still of the opinion that Needle Park was a faliure, and was never thought out. The fact that currently it is managed better is indicative of a learning process, and this happens to be one of the mistakes in my opinion...

richard said...

Sorry - I didn't mean your article - just the many others you get when you do a google search. Yours is original. The others copy wholesale, mostly as far as I can see without attribution. The first part of that article for example you can find all over the place

Shaun said...

No offence taken...

Anonymous said...

I went to school in Zurich when the Needle Park was open and legal. We use to go and score dope, a week end thing, and I remember that we always had a fresh pair of shoes in our bags or back packs. Once you walked trough the park it was impossible not to step on human waste, needles, cottons full of blood and vomit. In the summer the smell of old blood, human waste and urine was so strong that by the end of our tour it was impossible not to spit until we had no saliva on our mouths. Sad but true.

Sean said...

Anonymous.... any pictures?

Anonymous said...

i lived in zuerich around this time and became addicted to heroin and platzspitz unfortunatly became my home for years to come . platzspitz was an apocalyptic version, unbelieveable. the smells and sighs are beyond description and anything i ever experienced , the masses of people showing and shouting -crazy . rats crawling over your feet and again as wide as your eyes can see- a sea of people. the images are festered in my mind forever and sometime still come up in my dreams .i lost a lot of friends to heroin and i- somebody with a lot of promises for the future, lost everything at one point. i am grateful , so grateful, that i am here to today . healthy and with some emotional tear and wear that hopefully will get less and less over the years.

Sean said...

Anonymous... you have given me more than something to think about. Thank you for commenting and visiting. Are you still living in Zeurich?

Anonymous said...

I lived in Sankt Gallen, a town nearby. It was during 1992-93 that I began to frequent the Drogenszene in St. Gallen- which was near the OLMA Halle 7. I started merely to pickup the "StrassenMaedchen" for cheap sex in my car. But then I got curious, and started going into Platzspitz to start snorting cocaine. They called me the "Staubsauger" as I knew no limits to what went up my nose. Eventually, I experienced Platzspitz- and I smoked heroin- what a downer! I've been clean for about 4 years now. I now live in the USA, and still have memories of my Swiss times. Tchuess...

Anonymous said...

I don't know whether I read all of your posts, but I think that you got the context of the Platzspitz completely wrong. I am Swiss and remeber the time, when the needle park was at its bloom. The needle park was not an intentional thing, built up to control the diseases. It was steadily growing and unexplainably tolerated for a long time by the city authorities. The discussion here should focus on the controlled drug programs that followed the tragedy at Platzspitz and Letten and improved the situation of many addicts.

Sean said...

The intention was not to focus on drugs or programmes, but on Needle Park itself. I dont think I got the context wrong. Needle Park itself was an admitted faliure, whichever way you look at it. What happened thereafter admittedly Switzerland has gone a long way to decreasing and controlling the use of drugs. I would hope that you would not look too far into the posts rather than on Needle Park itself. Drug policy etc and the bigger picture is something I am not only not qualified to comment on but did not want to go into more than the park itself. It is a place which fascinated me and the history of it. You are quite welcome to comment on the bigger drug picture here...

Cara said...

I remember as a young child reading article in Reader's Digest on Needle Park. Twenty plus years later through Google I found your article. Interesting history of photo's of the park. I do recall in the article it mentioned ," a young child asleep under a blanket next to his/hers parents in the early morning," Did this frequently happen?

paluHELL said...

io ho passato 12 anni della mia vita andando su e giù dal canton Ticino a Zurigo.
Ne ho viste di tutti i tipi in quel posto, topi,spacciatori, acquirenti,kg e kg di eroina e cocaina, hashish ecc....
la mia impressione è che in quel periodo noi eravamo delle cavie per esperimenti, droghe nuove e sintetiche messe sul mercato dallo stato svizzero, si sa che in svizzera le industrie farmaceutiche hanno un potere immenso.

Anonymous said...

Das problem ist das selbe geblieben......es spielt sich nun in wohnungen und per natel ab. Nocht zu vergessen die fixerräume