Let's start with a little history. Don't like history? Tough - Dottore Gianni does! Bern (in the US it's usually spelled Berne - why on earth I know not) was founded in 1191, but even before then there was probably a castle there, as it was in a strategic position, on the high ground, and nearly surrounded by the River Aare. Why the name Bern? Legend has it that the founder named the city after he went hunting in the vicinity. His first victim was a bear...so of course he thought to name the city after the Swiss/German word for bear (Bär). Dottore Gianni is chuckling at the very idea of that story, but ever since Bern's coat of arms was first in evidence, 1224, a bear is central to the design. And bears are central to Bern, as we'll soon see.
While the river below Bern accounted for 3/4 of its defenses, the fourth side was protected by a wall, some of whose towers can still be seen today. One of these is the Käfigturm, dating from 1256 - have a look:
|The Käfingturm - note its red clock - there is only one hand on it - in the old days|
it seems, people didn't require the exactitude of minutes!
|Rick Steves claims the |
pointer of the hour hand is actually shaped like a hand,
though I confess I don't quite see it
|Rudolf von Erlach statue, high above the River Aare - note that he is protected by a quartet of bears (trust Dottore Gianni, there's a fourth - out of sight here behind the statue)|
|Swiss Parliament building in Bern|
Relatively small for a capital, a prettier city could not have been chosen! It is well preserved, and there is enough of its heritage obvious in the towers, buildings and squares of the old town that the U.N. has named it a world heritage site.
I stayed at a plain but wonderful hotel called Marthahaus, between the rail station and the old town. I probably could
have walked, but being new to the city I chose the tram instead, only just up a few steps from the hotel. Bern has an excellent system of public transport. In Basel (where I'd stayed the night before) Dottore Gianni feared that every time he crossed the street he was going to be run down by a tram. Here the trams are efficient, not oppressive. That's one reason the good doctor and I are so fond of it.
I got off the tram just across the river at Kornhausplatz, first stop in the old town, and the first building I saw was the city theatre. Perfect for this drama buff! It, like other public buildings of the city, share a gray-green coloring, because they are all built from Bernese sandstone, quarried nearby, and naturally this color.
The theatre is located just next to the bridge across and high above the river.
|Looking to my left along the river|
|Looking to my right along the river - one sees less of the river here, buy you can find it|
|The nighty Kornhaus.|
The subject is Kindlifresser (also spelled Chindlifresser), an ogre who eats kids! The reasons for its existence are
|Kindlifresser, up close and all too|
Kindlifresser is, fortunately, the exception to the rule in the statuary of Bern. Most of them expound visually on civic or religious themes. While we're on the subject, let's take a look at a few more of Gieng's sixteenth century statues, focusing on those above fountains.
Have a look, for example at the Schützenbrunnen (shooter fountain) depicted just above and below. It depicts a Swiss musketeer, holding a flag that bears (no pun intended) the arms of Bern. He seems ready for action, in defense of his city. And if you look between his legs a bear cub is raising his musket!
Quick Sidebar: This and other fountains in Bern are not the kind in which water sprays spectacularly. The water in Bernese fountains comes from constantly running spigots which are literal water fountains in that you can get a drink of water here (even fill your plastic bottle). Not only is the water safe, it's said to be purer than bottled water.
Another of the statues from the sixteenth century representing justice and is named the Gerechtigkeitbrunnen (easier to type than to pronounce - "brunnen" means "fountain" the rest means "justice").
While she is somewhat backlit, if you look close you should be able to see the symbolic scales of justice. She also carries a sword, symbol of justice. She is blindfolded, representing objectivity, impartiality, as justice should be. In fact this statue is thought to be the first in which "justice" is seen with a blindfold.
Continuing with our statues, the following is a depiction of Anna Seiler, an enterprising and caring woman who in the year 1354 set up the first hospital in Bern in her own home. As you see, the statue is a stone's throw from the above-mentioned/pictured Käfigturm.
You'll observe that Anna is pouring water into a small basin, most likely in order to soothe an ailing patient.
Still another, set appropriately in Cathedral Square (on which more later) depicts Moses.
As you might be able to make out, Moses is transfigured, and is pointing directly to the second commandment.
What is the second commandment, and why is he pointing towards it as opposed to the fourth, for example? Depends on whose commandments one cites. For Roman Catholics the second commandment reads: "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in Vain." For most Protestant sects it's different: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image." The more radical figures in the Protestant Reformation, (including Switzerland's own Zwingli) which began in the early 16th century (shortly before these statues were erected) were against all the statues and images of saints and the Virgin Mary evident in Catholic church, some including Zwingli against any religious plastic art. In cases where Protestants took over Catholic churches or cathedrals (which were many in Germany and Switzerland, including Bern's cathedral), they destroyed the "graven images." I suppose that it could be argued that since the statue of Moses on Münsterplatz (or Cathedral Square) was built in 1545, after the Reformation, he is pointing to the Protestant version of the commandment, which reinforces the concept of "no graven images." But, as Dottore Gianni has pointed out to me, it's a bit ironic that a graven image should be seen damning graven images.
I've got more statues for you, but by now I'm a bit tired of them myself, and Dottore Gianni is just plain sick of them! I'm saving one or two more, of a different sort, for later, but for now, let's continue our look at Bern.
|Anotther gray-green building with a sort of turrent|
increasing its interest. Also note the arches all
|One of Bern's many arcades|
|A Bernese cafe, tables under and outside the arcades|
In 1405 a a huge conflagration destroyed much of the city, including the tower, and soon after the city and the tower were rebuilt wisely in stone. A clock was incorporated into the tower, but alas it broke down and told no time for more than 120 years. Then in 1530 a new clock was installed. It's what you see today, and nearly all of its original parts make it run today. And this clock is something! By the way, Dottore Gianni wants me to remind you that I've been borrowing from the Rough Guide here, and will continue to do so, though I can't guarantee anything else as spicy as the prostitutes and the clergy.
If you look at the photo of the Zytglogge you'll see a very large clock face with two hands (looks like since the 13th century the citizens of Bern needed more than an hour hand on their clocks. In case you can't remember, see the Käfigturm just past the beginning of the post - and pay attention!) This is not the real focal point, unless all you want is the mundanity of knowing what time it is. I'm going to quote directly now from the Rough Guide: "Below the main east face of the clock is an intricate astronomical and astrological device, which, in one small diameter, displays a 24-hour clock, the twelve hours of daylight, the position of the sun in the zodiac, the day of the week, the date and the month, the phases of the moon and the elevation of the sun above the horizon, everything kept accurate by linkage to the main clock mechanism." Is that ALL??? Okay, it's quite a lot.
The lower clock face is the dazzler, but what brings tourists to the Zytglogge is to the right of it as you face the clock. At four minutes before every hour mechanical figures pop out and offer what both the Rough Guide and Rick Steves describe as underwhelming - a show that features "a crowing cock, a parade of bears, Chronos with his hourglass and a dancing jester." (Rough Guide again.) Apparently the guided tour of the workings is much more interesting than the show, in fact after panning the show the Rough Guide calls the tour "fascinating." I believe it, but I hadn't the time to see the show or take the tour, so I cannot verify the pan or the rave.
One of the most interesting buildings in the city is its cathedral...well, its former cathedral. The first thing you'll notice, even before you get to Münsterplatz (cathedral square) is its steeple, the highest in Switzerland. As you can see from the photo just below, the steeple is encased in scaffolding, part of a major renovation project.
Once in Münsterplatz you can get a look at the cathedral proper. If you stand opposite the central door of the west front you can look to your left and see the statue of Moses, mentioned above, but let's look at the wonderful central opening of the church.
|The central door of the cathedral's west front|
But it's the right side (on the left hand of God) that is the more dramatic, and that is worth a detailed examination. The first thing you'll notice is that everyone here is naked, ashamed, perhaps even mortified. And of course many of them are being tormented by the devilish denizens of hell. It's been noted that the Protestants might well have liked the very graphic depiction of what happens to the elect, versus what happens to the damned, and so left it alone (thank the Gods of art!) While it is not the most ornate Cathedral west front in Europe, nowhere near in fact, it is one of the more colorful I've seen, and therefore attention-grabbing. At least it grabbed Dottore Gianni's attention.
The interior is. like most Protestant churches, fairly stripped of ornament. Still, I like the tracery on the ceiling of the nave, much more complex than earlier constructed cathedrals,offering quite beautiful patterns.
And the organ loft is a bit flashy, wouldn't you agree?
After my visit to the cathedral I walked down one of the streets that lead toward the river, and the Nydeggbrucke. This bridge was constructed in the nineteenth century twenty-five meters above the river and looks down on sections of the old town.
|Nydeggkirche on the left, and the medieval houses that surround it|
|The Untertorbrücke, on the left - it's a very pretty area.|
|The roofs of old Bern, from the Nydeggbrucke|
|And across the river, the old Bärengraben|
|Next to the pit there is this - not sure if the real bears can come here - |
they might get frightened by the sculpted bears!
|The Bärenpark - you can see where the bears can fish and swim|
The area at the top of the Bärenpark consists of an out-of-use tram depot turned tourist information center and a restaurant. There is also something called the Bern Show, what the Rough Guide calls "a valiant attempt to bring history to life, but...just too cheesy for its own good." Rick Steves disagrees, calling the show "excellent."
|My only bear siting|
|Great view of Bern from the park - note how the cathedral tower (the larger one in the center) dominates the city. I love the curve of the river here.|
|Renowned architect Renzo Piano's physical setting for the Klee Center|
|Senecio, by Klee - this was a favorite of mine, and in fact|
I owned a poster of it for many years in my youth.
I did not remember the title: Senecio - it means
"old man" - I think I may need that poster again!
|Zentrum Paul Klee - great sign!|
The exhibition of his work at the Klee Center that I saw is a dazzler. When I arrived and checked in at the desk - the entrance fee is waived for Swiss Pass holders, hurrah - I was told by the young woman who gave me my ticket that there is no permanent collection on show at the Center. I experienced a brief moment of panic, as I had come here to see KLEE and no one else. But she told me that there was an excellent exhibit of many of his paintings, along with video footage. She also noted that I was just in time, as it was the last weekend of the exhibit! I'm still not sure if there are times when one can go to the Klee Center and see no Klee. I really hope that's not the case, but if ever there is such a time, it would be while the curators are changing exhibits! Whew! There were two or three other exhibits that looked interesting enough, but I made a beeline to the Klee.
|Another look at the center|
The title was Paul Klee: Space Nature Architecture. I started on the right of a very large hall divided into three spaces, with architecture. Along with the many paintings on the walls were also quotations from Klee that go some way to illuminate the theme of each section. I moved to the center where the focus was on nature, and from there to the final section, on space. I have no words to explain what I saw - the viewing was all. But I loved my time there, and ended my visit with a suggested walk along the grounds of the Center. The place is in a large open area, not far from a residential district, beyond which lie in the far distance, the Alps. So while I walked I was experiencing a mix of architecture, nature, and space. Aaaaahhh...the perfect end to a perfect visit.
|Part of the "nature" aspect of my walk at the Center - my first glimpse of the cloud-beshrouded Alps, where I'd be heading the next morning!|
A confession: I fancy myself a good traveler, but one area in which I fall down is choosing restaurants. I keep reading menus but it takes forever to make up my mind! Time can be wasted in this manner, but fortunately in this case there were sights along the way of my restaurant search.
I headed to a very busy part of the center, because I'd only glimpsed at it before and had seen many restaurants. On my way I came across a few statues NOT attached to fountains, very bright and unusual. I discovered that they represent the medieval craft guilds - the guilds are long gone but if you look up as you stroll down Kramgasse you'll see several, including...
|This apish creature represents the stone mason and bricklayer guild|
To say that this column cum flora was not popular at its unveiling is an understatement. In fact many citizens hated it and wanted it torn down, but the city fathers stood their ground and still it stands. It is said that it symbolizes life and growth. Hmmm... You know, Parisians hated the Eiffel Tower at first...but I'm not sure they'll ever get used to this.
The building behind it is a former gymnasium (school) now I believe a bank. And to the right just off the above photo is the building below:
|The Meret Oppenheim statue and Police Headquarters|
On I went towards Spitalgasse, where I'd noticed the restaurants. Near them I spotted another ancient tower, this one the Holländerturm (Dutch Tower). Its origin is unclear - an inscription dates it back to the year 1230, but it it out of place with the line of the former town walls, and it is not depicted visually until 1623. Old enough for me, at any rate!
|the Holländerturm is the white building in the upper right -|
look below it and you'll see the first of several restaurants
I passed up
I ended up back near the river. I noticed a landmark I'd missed earlier in the day - the Casino. This casino, however is not for gambling (at least no longer) - it is a venue for among other things, Bern's symphony orchestra.
|Finally my restaurant! Well, why not follow a pretty woman while searching for food?|
|My cheese plate at Bella Vista|
It was a lovely day, but there was no shade in the outdoor area, so I sat, almost alone, inside. I received great service and then to my shame I forgot to tip the friendly server.
After I ate I strolled just a few feet to the palisades above the river. THIS is why they call it the Bella Vista!
Not only that, but the Alps!
A great way to end my day in Bern, and to end this post - hope you liked it...Cheers all!