Sunday was Halloween, that famous American holiday when all children go trick-or-treating. It seems that the holiday has permeated to other cultures as well, for there were many Swiss children wearing costumes wandering around. There weren’t as many as I would expect in an American city, but hey, it was Switzerland. Sunday was also the day that started European daylight savings time (I think in the USA it begins this upcoming Sunday). To celebrate Halloween, I woke up early, headed to the Lausanne train station, and bought “un billet aller-retour” (round trip ticket) to Bern. I had wavered on whether or not to go to Bern, head further up to Zurich, or to stay in Lausanne. I ultimately decided to go to Bern, partly because Lausanne dies on Sundays (seriously, nothing is open), I had already done all the touristy things in Lausanne and didn’t want to go to the vineyards by myself, and I figured I should experience German Switzerland! So off I went.
Bern is the oft-forgotten capital of Switzerland. I believe Bern was chosen as the capital of Switzerland because it was in the ‘middle’ and it is really the only place that the French and German parts of the country could agree on in 1848 when the new Swiss Confederation came about. Switzerland is a strange country in that it is made up of 3 different cultural areas; in the west they speak French, in the northeast they speak German, and in the south they speak Italian! Ironically enough, Switzerland has FOUR, not three, national languages. Romasch is the fourth national language, but it is spoken by approximately all of 1% of the Swiss population.
Bern’s biggest claim to fame is that in 1983, the historic town in the center of Bern was named a UNESCO World Heritage site. To blog about Bern means I have to show you an old map of Bern.
Bern was built around a “U” in the Aar(e) River in 1191. So all those buildings you see in the U of the river form the historic part of Bern. It has 6km of covered arcades with cobblestone paths, 15th century buildings, terraces, and red roofs. Walking around Bern really does make you feel like you’re walking through an old medieval town. There is also a famous Clock Tower right on main street, with mechanical figures coming to life 4 minutes before every hour.
Legend has it that the city was named after a bear that the Duke of Zahringen, Berthold V, had killed. Bär is German for bear, and seeing as Berthold V was the city’s founder, it seems appropriate that one of Bern’s biggest attractions is a Bear Pit. Yeah, think a zoo, but only with one animal species, and right at the U of the river. There’s a mama bear, papa bear, and two baby bears. And they live in the Bern pit. Hilarious.
Bern is also known for being one of the many homes of Albert Einstein. He lived right on the main street of Bern, so of course, me being the MIT alum and science nerd that I am, I just had to pay a visit! The apartment was quite small and simple, and the curators had turned the apt directly upstairs into a showroom of some of Einstein’s work. There was also a video talking about Einstein’s private and professional lives. Did you know he fathered an illegitimate child with his first wife before they were married? No one knows what happened to her and they assume that she was given up for adoption. Then, Einstein started sleeping with his first cousin, who he subsequently married after he divorced wife n° 1. I guess for him, wacky personal life meant lots of genius scientific discoveries.
All in all, I am glad I decided to go to Bern. My day trip was a fabulous introduction to German Switzerland. Next time I am in the German parts of Switzerland though, I will visit Zurich and Luzern. But I had a lovely time in Bern.