I gather from comments that people are enjoying the picture-heavy, travelogue-style posts. I’m having fun writing them, too. Today I’m going to tell you about the second excursion that Leah and I took outside of the Zürich city limits.
We decided to visit Bern (Berne if you’re French), Switzerland’s capital. Like other capitals that I’ve visited, Bern is pretty, and, uh, kinda….pretty boring. But nice to look at. Definitely.
In my opinion, you shouldn’t come to see the parliament buildings — I didn’t go inside, but from the outside, they were underwhelming. To spare you the visit, I will tell you the interesting facts about the way in which this country is governed, because the system, rather than the buildings in which it is housed and enacted, is what is worth looking into, in my humble opinion. So: in Switzerland, there is no one person (such as a President or Prime Minister) sitting at the top of the totem pole — instead, there are seven Federal Councillors who share power equally (currently, four of them — a majority — are women).
The seven are elected as representatives of several (currently five) different parties according to their number of seats in the Swiss Parliament. Decisions are made jointly by the septet, and there is a policy that once a decision is made (even if it passed only because three against were outvoted by four in favour) all seven will support it publicly — the public is not supposed to know who voted for or against a given motion. Okay, I think that’s enough lecturing.
I also wouldn’t go to Bern to see the Zeitglockenturm, a tower with a clock which keeps several different types of time (including current astrological sign). I mean, it’s pretty. But it’s not much to write
home on your blog about.
You also won’t want to go to Bern just to see this statue of an ogre capturing and eating children. Be forewarned: your Lonely Planet Western Europe guidebook may make this fountain sound like it is a can’t-be-missed highlight, but really it is just a pretty ordinary fountain, and the sculpture sitting atop it is actually not so big and consequently, hard to see or get a good picture of.
Now, you may have heard of Bern’s Münster. Is this worth a visit? Well, yes. And no. Yes because it has a unique carving depicting The Last Judgement at the entrance that is fun to look at.
However — I feel I must bring you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth — the church’s exterior, and especially its steeple, are currently undergoing repairs. Therefore, you will not be able to take pictures of it to share with your loyal readers. And many of your Bern-skyline shots will be marred by the steeple which, from afar, appears to be wrapped in something bulky, like a giant piece of bubble-wrap. Quel dommage.
But wait! I’m not all pessimism and Bern-bashing. I do think there are several reasons that you might want to visit Bern, should the opportunity present itself. First of all, go to Bern if you like bridges — the River Aare cuts through the city, and the city itself is built high above as well as down close to the river, meaning that there are bridges of different sizes and shapes that are fun to look at and photograph.
Now, you also might want to pay Bern a visit if you are a fan of Albert Einstein. And really, who isn’t? As a mathematician, my sister might have more legitimate reasons to want to visit Einstein Haus, but I think I enjoyed it just as much as she did. The small museum is housed in the apartment where Einstein lived while he worked as a patent clerk and wrote the series of papers which proved utterly game-changing for him and everyone else.
The main floor of his apartment shows the Einstein family’s living room, complete with family portraits, and the upstairs contains a series of placards telling the story of Einstein’s life.
I especially enjoyed some of the German-to-English translations on the placards. Where, in German, a period of Einstein’s life is described as unerfreulich, or “unpleasant,” you can see that the person translating to English decided to take a more blunt approach (“Einstein’s situation is rather annoying”). Isn’t it nice to know that a genius such as Einstein could, just like you and me, be downright annoyed with things from time to time? It made me really relate to the man. Touché, Einstein-story translator.
A couple more things about Einstein Haus: there’s a pretty nice view from Albert’s former window…
Finally, go to Bern if you like bears. The city was named after them, after all: its founding father, Berchtold V, declared in 1191 that he would name his settlement after whichever animal he first successfully hunted on site. Guess what his first trophy was?
Bears are still a major attraction for visitors to Bern today. Until a few years ago, they were displayed circus-style, in these depressing and seemingly inhumane cement pits:
In fact, standing at the new bear enclosure you get a taste of many things that make Bern what it is: the bears, the bridges, the river, the buildings close to and high above it, including the Parliament buildings. Even the bubble-wrapped cathedral is visible from here.