Browsing through Bern, Switzerland
It is early Friday evening as my flight touches down at the Frankfurt International Airport. The Captain announces that the weather outside is three degrees and I have just flown in from the 30 degree tropics. My toes, in open sandals are numb. But I refuse to let the chills travel through my body. I am excited as I look forward to spending the next ten days in Germany and determined to enjoy the weather, the wine and the company. My holiday starts off perfectly as the first evening is all about delicious cold cuts, superb German cheeses, good wine, and great company… In candlelight!
As I look outside the window in trepidation on this Saturday morning, I am thrilled to see bright sunny skies. One hour later, I am en route to Switzerland. With no speed limit on the autobahn we are touching 260kms at most times. Considered the pinnacle of the German driving experience, this journey is an awesome driving experience and gives new meaning to the cliché, ‘life in the fast lane!’ Soon, approximately 400kms later, we are at the Swiss border and continue on to Bern, the capital of Switzerland which is located close to the German border. Our final destination is Alstadt, a small city nestled at the horseshoe bend of the Aare River. Altstadt is also famed for its impressive bridges.
Founded in the 12th century, Bern sits on a bluff that overlooks the Aare River and includes 15th century arcades and 16th century fountains. According to the history books, a fire destroyed most of this city in 1405. Today, we join a multitude of sightseers and shoppers and stroll through this beautiful medieval town which was restored in the 18th century. In 1983, Altstadt was selected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its ‘positive example of how a medieval urban structure can be adapted to fulfil functions which are increasingly complex, notably the function of a capital city of a modern State’. This timeless city has six kilometres of arcades, which the locals refer to as ‘Lauben’ and is considered the longest weather-sheltered shopping promenades in Europe.
We walk the cobblestone streets and under stone arcades until we come to the Zytglogge, a clock tower decorated with the 12 signs of the Zodiac, which, in the 12th century, was the ‘gate to the city’. The painted collage above the clock depicts five deities from classical antiquity representing a day of the week and its planet according to Ptolemaic Cosmology. They are Saturn with the sickle and club for Saturday, Mars with sword and shield for Tuesday. Mercury with staff and bag for Wednesday, Jupiter with thunderbolts for Thursday, and Venus with cupid for Friday. Along with us crowds of tourists wait patiently under the Zytglogge to strike on the hour.
We walk on and come to one of the largest Gothic cathedrals in Switzerland, the Munster Cathedral. Standing 101 meters high, this cathedral took almost 150 years to complete and was built entirely by volunteers and represents the last work of late Gothic architecture in Europe. Its stunning interior attests to the city’s conversion from Catholicism to Protestantism aptly captured by its black ceiling flourishes to the massive granite altar taken from the Lausanne Cathedral. The main threshold of the Cathedral, a 15th century sculpture called the Last Judgment, depicts 234 human figures of high and low ranks, religious leaders including the Pope and lay people representing the justice theme – heaven and hell. The intricate detail in this sculpture is fabulous and soon, I have a crick in my neck by staring up for so long!
Across from this square, stopping for the occasional tram car, we walk along the Bundestrasse which overlooks the river. This panoramic view is amazing on this perfectly clear day. Whilst the Aare River snakes its way through the city below, comprising red tiled roofs and tall steeples amongst a mass of modern buildings, the snow covered Swiss Alps stands as the perfect backdrop in the distance. Not even the chill in the air can dampen my enthusiasm as I take in this spectacular scene.
Back in the centre of the square is the Bundeshaus, the three Houses of Parliament. This 19th century building, the seat of the Swiss government, extends 300 meters across the square! I stand awed by its magnificent size and beauty. The façade is made of greenish-grey coloured Bernese sandstone and shines as if it has been polished. Unfortunately, we cannot take a tour of this place and have to reluctantly move on.
With a unanimous decision to stop for lunch, we step into Tibits, a popular restaurant located in the vicinity of the train station. Its popularity is evident as heaps of customers jostle inside to get served. The food, comprising homemade sandwiches, soups and salads, is 100 percent vegetarian and sold by weight. I settle for a sandwich and a hot chocolate and soon feel the warmth return to my bones!
We stop by the street market to buy some flowers. The market extends down this street and is full of meats and dairy, fruits and flowers, and souvenirs. The day is looking fabulous and I am reluctant to leave this beautiful city. But I add this to my list of ‘must revisit’ destinations. It is time to head back to Frankfurt now.