Relaxing in Berne, Switzerland, 6-2014

The Aare river glimmered emerald green in the afternoon sun as it wound around the medieval capital city of Bern Switzerland. Quiet laughter and animated conversation flowed from a group of young people as they floated down the swift moving currents. Lovely bridges arched over the waterway and on the shores there were a few fisherman lazing away the warm weekday. The Bernese alps loomed invitingly in the background making for a picture postcard setting. Franz and I recently visited the capital of Switzerland and it certainly deserves the accolades that have been lavished on this “City of Fountains.” Since 1983 it has been a UNESCO World Heritage site and its medieval buildings and cobblestone streets thronged with a diversity of people. The inner city is a potpourri of different cultures, impeccably dressed residents, camera toting tourists, and fresh faced university students. And this melange makes for a vibrant vibe to this riverside town that’s been in existence since 1191. But there’s also a leisurely pace to the place as well with numerous sidewalk cafes, public gardens, and ornate fountains that are everywhere. I remarked repeatedly just how desirable a place Bern would be to live in. The homeowners take obvious pride in maintaining the beauty of their gardens and homes and it was wonderful to walk along the river admiring the roses and manicured lawns. The natural beauty and high quality of life is evident on this locale on the Aare.

We had decided to give Airbnb another try. The first time we used their service, we were not too impressed. But since we were staying for only a few days we booked a room in an apartment in the center of the old city near the Zytglogge clock tower. Since 1530 this famous clock has clanged away and its nearby residents are accustomed to it, but for the unfamiliar visitor it takes some getting used to. We found the apartment quite easily and the situation was ideal. The apartment was brightly decorated with architecture themed photographs and our room was tidy and furnished with a comfortable bed that overlooked the old city. We had access to a small rooftop garden to relax after the day. We were happy with our choice, the couple were friendly and helpful, their small child was cute and well behaved, the price reasonable, and it was a great location to explore the environs.

After settling in our room we set out on our exploration. We began our tour at the neighboring Zytglogge clock tower. In earlier times this elaborate astronomical clock with its moving figures was used to measure travel times in conjunction with stone markers along the cantonal roads. Quite ingenious. We strolled the arched corridors lining the streets that house shops of every incarnation and desire. Bern is a mecca for the avid shopper. Although we’re not big shoppers we admired the artistic display windows and enjoyed the spectacle. Our wanderings brought us to the House of Parliament with its green patina dome and elegant gardens. The building dates from 1852 and represents the “idea of Switzerland” and is composed of three main parts and 38 important Swiss artists have contributed their work to honor the glories of the Swiss past.

Our exploration lead us along the river until we reached a kiosk that housed a bocce ball court. We’re not familiar with the fine points of bocce ball and it was interesting to watch the rival teams play a competitive yet quiet and friendly match. We spent the rest of the day strolling about the city and found a delightful bar in the center of a small park to relax our feet and indulge in people watching. I find it so interesting to observe the locals during their leisure hours and I get insight into the culture of a place. The bar was busy on an early Friday evening with animated but a low level of conversation. As soon as we sat down a loud voice shouted and pierced the relaxed scene. A disturbed man with disheveled clothing and long hair and beard made his way through the park and restaurant yelling words and phases to the effect of being saved by Christ the savior. The reaction of the people was telling. The people looked up to see what the disturbance was, assessed that he posed no real threat, and went back to their own business. No one really reacted or became agitated, and everyone just let him be and they continued on as if nothing had happened. The locals calmly allowed the crazy guy to continue on his way.

As for our evening meal we happened upon an informal yet creative restaurant specializing in organic vegetarian food. The restaurant name is Tidbits and it was busy and we soon realized why. The selections were numerous and tantalizingly displayed and the price was very reasonable, especially for Switzerland. After our healthy and tasty supper we retired for the evening.

The following day we woke up early eager to continue our explorations. After a modest breakfast of croissants and coffee we resumed our wanderings and came upon a grittier section of town where graffiti art adorned the concrete faces of the roadway underpasses. A small building housed a cultural venue that features cutting edge art exhibitions, concerts, and theatre. I spoke briefly with one of the organizers about the venue and the challenges they face in keeping such a space open so that the young people of Bern have a place to exhibit and express their art that was often at odds with the prevailing conservative bent of the city.
The young man told me that during the eighties this place used to be a place for some known anarchists and prevalent drug users but this was in the past and today unfortunately its former reputation is still associated with the place. I walked away quite impressed with their perseverance and desire to keep their venue open despite the difficult political hurdles in making it possible to have such a place to express their culture and alternative vision of Bern.

After viewing the cutting edge in modern Bern we turned our sights to the Alpinum Botanic Garden that offers the visitor a vast array of alpine plants including plants from other parts of the world as well set in groupings reflecting the areas where they are found. After admiring the well tended landscapes we continued on our river stroll until we reached the Bear Park with its grassy slopes, shady trees, and natural swimming pools specially designed for the living symbols of Bern, the resident bears Björk and Finn. After admiring the furry creatures we boarded a bus and made our way to the countryside outside of Bern. Our destination was the Paul Klee Museum. Despite it being located near the noisy freeway the museum itself is spectacular. The center opened in 2005 and was designed by the famed Italian architect Renzo Piano. The structure occupies a site on the rolling grassy landscape and its forms blends into the prairie like setting. The rhythmic steel curved roof rises above the three buildings that house 4000 of Klee’s works in the collection. The exhibition was titled Journey to Tunisia, 1914: Paul Klee, August Macke, and Louis Moilliet. The exhibition followed the trip of the then unknown young artists as they travelled to North Africa by rail. This journey to Tunisia was to influence the direction of their respective work but the greater art world as well and went down in the annals of art history as a testament to early modernism. The innovative architecture of the complex and the exhibition was a true artistic journey and was well worth the bus ride.

We boarded the bus back to the city to seek out a relaxing place for our lunch. And we found just a spot located right on the river with a spectacular view. The Casa Novo outdoor terrace is perched right above the Aare and we lunched at the riverside restaurant where we had a tasty salad with crunchy baguette that we enjoyed with fruity prosecco to celebrate our wedding anniversary. Life doesn’t get much better. But it did. In the evening we enjoyed an intimate meal in the old town that was recommended to us by a friend. The restaurant’s name is the Metzgerstuebli and the food was excellent and our waitress welcoming. We began our meal with a glass of prosecco (of course) followed by a lemon soup and a delicious warm goat cheese salad. For our entree we chose succulent young lamb infused with rosemary and a red wine sauce, mashed sweet potatoes, fresh asparagus, green onions, and we paired our fare with a full bodied red Languedoc wine. For dessert we had a refreshing homemade sorbet. A wonderful meal, with a wonderful husband, in a wonderful city. Life is good.

We woke to another glorious summer day. After breakfasting in the old city center we ventured out into the open market bustling with the local folks. The main street was lined with stalls laden with home made goods, handcrafted items, and tasty food stalls. It was a delight for the eyes and for the tummy as we worked our way through the booths that ended at the plaza of the impressive Cathedral of Bern that dates from 1421. The majestic Gothic 100 meter tower graces the skyline of Bern and we admired the intricate Last Judgement sculptures that the church is famous for. The Gothic design is impressive with its elegant arches, restrained decoration, and towering interior space. There was a wedding that was taking place that day and it was wonderful to see all of the preparations, the lovely flowers, and the beautifully clad wedding party. We said our goodbyes to our gracious hosts and bid the city adieu and set off for our next destination: the City of Lucern.

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