Bern to a crisp

According to legend, Bern got its name because the lord who set up his fiefdom there asked his henchman what to call this little nubbin in the oxbow of the Aare river. The henchman suggested they name it after whatever animal they killed first in the hunt. That unfortunate animal turned out to be a bear, and thus the place is called Bern.

In honor of this history, Bern keeps a  pair of bears in a pen by the river. This is an upgrade from their previous digs, the Bern Bear Pit, really a hole in the ground ringed by tourists. When we visited the bears, one of them was busy tearing down a tree in his enclosure.

That’s better.

We caught the early (cheap) train, and made it to Bern before sunrise. We waited for daylight over coffee and a shared muffin (15 Swiss franks, franks are about equal to dollars). Then we got to know Bern, the Swiss capital. I insisted on touring  the capital building, an opulently decorated building featuring native Swiss materials and workmanship. Swiss has four official languages (German, French, Italian, and Romansh). Our tour was conducted in German and Italian. The guide first gave her spiel in German, then said exactly the same thing in Italian. This worked out great for Aaron and me. While she spoke Italian, I could get Aaron to clear up the German I had missed. Or if there was something neither of us understood, we could try to catch it in the flow of Italian and hope for a Spanish cognate. In this way, we got almost everything.

The back of the Swiss capitol

Of course we climbed the cathedral tower, the highest spire in Switzerland, and for now in no danger of losing that title to any minarets. The Swiss recently voted to outlaw the building of any new minarets. I asked our hosts about this outrageous, anti-Muslim legislation (thankfully not expected to be upheld by the Swiss legislature because it’s pretty clearly unconstitutional). They said the rationalization is that minarets are the source of unpleasant noise at all hours of the day and night when they call Muslims to prayer. So, really, it’s just an objection to this disturbance of the peace….

The biggest bell in the belfry - over 10,000 kilograms!

On the dot of noon, we and the other ten tourists in Bern that day gathered in the square before the old city gate to watch the cuckoo clock perform. It whirled and squawked and clanged (disturbed the peace, one might say). By 12:01, we tourists dispersed towards warm lunch spots.

The buildings of Bern were all constructed with arcades on the ground floor, so all the sidewalks are covered. The day we visited was street cleaning day, and here is the quaint way one cleans streets in a medieval town. I saw the same thing in Amsterdam:

Then the street sweepers mounted their brooms and flew off cackling to their next assignments.


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