Thursday, February 2, 2012

Visit to Bern, Switzerland

We traveled to Bern on Sunday, January 29th.  Bern is the capital city of Switzerland and it is located north and a little east of Vevey.  It took us about an hour and half by train.  When we arrived in Bern, there was a light snow fall and it was very cold.  Because of the weather, the pictures we took, probably did not do justice to Bern.  

When we arrive in a new town, the first thing we do is find the TI (Tourist Information) Office.  They will provide maps of the area and tell you about things that you should not miss.  In Bern, the TI, is located just outside the train station.  The young lady at the TI was charming an very informative.  You could just tell by her demeanor, how very proud she was of Bern.

Bern was founded in 1191and avoided war damage.  However, in 1405 the city was destroyed by fire.  After the fire, wooden buildings were no longer allowed.  All new constructions had to be of the gray-green sandstone prevalent in the area.  

In 1848 Bern become the Swiss capital.  Today, the German-speaking city has about 130,000 people (two-thirds Protestant and one-third Catholic).  Compare to the capital city of Oregon, little Salem at 143,000 residents-it's interesting. Its pointy towers, sandstone buildings and colorful fountains make Bern one of Europe's finest surviving medieval towns.

Arriving in Bern.  The multistory train station is hugh.  There are many retail shops located on the train level.  Unlike in Vevey, most of the shops in the train station and the town are open on Sunday.

The TI Office.

Leaving the train station and entering a big square called Bahnhofplatz.  One of the things you notice is that Bern has a lot of big squares and most car traffic is not allowed.  This makes it really nice for sight-seeing.  However, because they have replaced cars with street cars, you need to watch out for them.  At the edge of this square stands the Heiliggeistkirche (Holy Ghost Church).

One of the things you will notice, on the sandstone buildings on either side of this fountain, are the over-sized eves.  Because sandstone is so porous, the large eves are required to keep the buildings from being eroded by water.  This fountain, called the Bagpiper, is one of Bern's 11 historic fountains that were created in the 16th century.  The fountains were commissioned by the city to brighten up the city-scape of gray sandstone buildings.  It also gave local artists something to work on after the Reformation deprived them of their most important patron, the Catholic Church.

Jim freezing in front of the Bagpiper fountain.  Because of the weather we were not able to visit all 11 fountains.

There are also newer fountains in Bern.  This one created in 1983 is a mossy fountain.  It is suppose to symbolize growth and life and to demonstrate communication between an object of art and the beholder. It worked well...too well, most citizens immediately communicated their dislike and wanted it destroyed.  Locals like it only in the winter when it is covered with ice.

This tower served as a prison from 1644 to 1897.  Thus, the Prison Clock Tower.  If you look closely you will notice that the clock only has an hour hand.  The clock was built in a slower-paced era, when just an hour hand told time precisely enough.
The Parliament Building.  

Another picture of the Parliament Building.  The granite plaza in front of the building is a favorite spot for demonstrations and markets.  Embedded in the granite is a 26-squirt fountain (one for each of the 26 Swiss Cantons).  It is probably a lot of fun for kids on a hot summer day - not much fun in the dead of winter.
The Swiss National Bank - this country's Fort Knox.  About half of the Swiss gold stock is buried under the square in front of the building.  The rest is stored in Zurich.

A Bern building - notice the large eves.

Bern from the terraces surrounding the Parliament Building.  On a clear day you can see the peaks of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfran mountains.  As you can see, we had very limited visibility.

Another picture of Bern from the terrace.
The Kirchenfeld Bridge, which crosses the Aare River.  Bern's major river.

Bern's Historical Museum.  The Albert Einstein Museum occupies the second floor.  Photos and exhibits depict his accomplishments and his personal life.  It is a wonder that with all the affairs and other things in his personal life, that he was able to achieve as much as he did.  If you are a fan of Einstein and ever get to Bern, it is well worth your time to visit the museum.

The one and only photo from the museum.  Paula got in lots of trouble. We were told not to take any more pictures. Grateful they didn't  confiscate the camera!

This fountain is located in Kornhausplatz square.  It depicts an Ogre (Chindlifreser - child eater).  Notice that the Ogre has a child's head in his mouth.  Two legends try to explain this gruesome sight.  It's either a forkloric representation of the Greek god Chronos, or a figure that was intended to scare childern off the former city walls. Both are yucky.

Bern's famous clock tower (Zytglogge-Turm) dates back to 1530.  It is suppose to perform four minutes before each hour.  The jester comes to life, Father Time turns his hour glass, the rooster crows and the golden man on top hammers the bell.  Well, we waited and the clock did not perform until exactly on the hour.  The performance is certainly something that you would not want to wait around to see a second time...especially in the cold.

The back side of the clock tower.

Lunch time at the Kornhauskeller restaurant.  This restaurant is in the basement of an old granary.  

The tomato basil soup was just the ticket for a cold day in Bern

Einstein lived in this apartment between 1903 and 1905, during several of his happiest and most productive years. We are now Einstein experts having spent a couple hours in the museum.

Bern's 15 century Catholic cathedral.  In 1528, during the Reformation, it became a Protestant cathedral.  It is capped with a 330 foot tall tower, the highest in Switzerland, finished in 1893.  Currently the tower is undergoing restoration.  The inside has beautiful stain glass windows.

Another picture of the Cathedral.

According to the lady, at the TI office, there is a rose garden and Bear park on the hill overlooking the city.  She said that when the roses are in bloom, the park is absolute beautiful.  The symbol of Bern, which appears on its coat of arms, is the bear.  Since 1857, Bern has been housing bears, in the terraced hillsides, above the city.  They are in hibernation right now so another winter limitation.  We think Bern is one of the cities, we would like to revisit, when the weather is a lot nicer.  There seems to be a lot of outdoor activities and the center square of the downtown is well located and huge. We can imagine the farmer's markets and Christmas markets held there are probably fantastic. 

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