Day Trip to Bern

We missed sitting in on a session of the Swiss Parliament in Bern, the country's capital (needed reservations ahead of time; couldn't ask our US Rep!), but our visit there was full of visual delights. The Parliament buildings go on for 2-3 blocks; the property looks out onto the lower parts of the city and Aare River. Bern is cosmopolitan, lively and very scenic.

Following a practical walking tour provided by the tourist office, you can get to all the major sights in about half a day. From the very clean and modern train station, which has a chunk of the old city wall behind glass in the middle of it, you can hike to the Cathedral Minster, a Gothic masterpiece from the 1400s. The sculptures above the door (afraid I only captured two--maybe the wise Queen of Sheba and Solomon) of The Last Judgment and others are one of the only late-Gothic groups left in Europe after the Reformation cleared religious statuary and such away. The area behind the church is a lovely park (where the reformers tossed church stufff) with more senic overlooks--almost to the Alps.

We stopped for a bite at the Einstein Cafe, so named because the genius lived in Bern for several years. When we circled back on the walking tour, I discovered I could have entered his home from the cafe; it went right through to the other street. Would have been easier than getting to the site 20 minutes before it closed! The place is multi-floored, includes perhaps his living room and a whole area with signage outlining Einstein's life. That includes the fateful year of 1905 during which the Bern civil service clerk came up with his major theories on relativity and more that would upend modern physics.

The city has an older section with slanted porticos on both sides I believe from the 1600s. Getting to the end of that section, you cross the river and are part of a busy intersection leading to higher levels of a park and some neighborhoods, But everyone's attention was drawn to a sort of zoo on one side where you can look down and see the family of brown bears that gave the city its name and are symbols of Bern civic pride. (Historians have noted bears protected there from the 1400s.) They were in a large area below us and could walk under the land bridge, so crowds would run from one side to the other to catch glimpses of the big animals loping along their enclosure paths. What a scream. No lions or tigers, but bears, oh my!

Bern, like many old European cities, has a history that dates back to warring nobles and divided territories. Bear with me on this (pun intended), and this is a bit of a reach, if it hadn't been for a certain duke, the world might not have had a fashion icon and the Little Wrap Dress. That's the late 1100s, a certain Duke Berthold V, had expanded his territories into southern Germany and northern Switzerland, including settling the Bernese Oberland and the area of Lucerne, through conquests and Holy Roman Empire politics. He founded Bern in 1171 (the myth is that he vowed to name the place after the first animal he saw on a hunt, a bear) and started rebuilding the Freiburg Minster (cathedral) in 1200, where he was buried in 1216. Unfortunately he died childless, so his dynasty ended and his lands were divided among three families, including, wait for it...the house of Furstenburg! So, though the family's territories got wittled away over the centuries as countries realigned themselves, it remained princely to this day and welcomed a Belgian fashion designer when she married Prince Egon von Furstenberg in 1969. After they divorced, she kept her name as Diane von Furstenberg! Worth the read, right?

Back to our walking tour, which takes you back to Bern's main historic thoroughfare. It feels like it should be pedestrian only, but cars and trams are all over. Concrete short pillar barriers help organize things. We moved along carefully and suddenly heard a crash behind us. A driver attempting to get ouf of a parking spot had hit one of the barriers and toppled it! It took the driver and several onlookers to put the thing back. His partner/girlfriend looked like she didn't want to be seen with him any more that day.

Full of decorative pillars dedicated to saints or old Bern emblems, the strasse ends with the clock tower. Getting there at 4 pm, we had a mechanical treat,