Friday, June 27, 2008

Berne, capital of Switzerland

On Saturday evening I arrived in Berne, and I might as well say from the beginning that I have decided that it is the least favorite of the major Swiss cities. You might say that the relationship got off to a bad start. When I got off the train I followed some other people to some stairs and went up them. But I have since learned that I went the wrong way. The place where I came out had little information. The bus I needed to get to my hotel was off at some strange place. I walked around towards it but couldn't find it. I gave some money to a beggar who looked like a 20-something meth addict. She was the first of many addicts I would see during my visit. She was also only the second beggar I have encountered, the first was an old man in, of all places, the small French Swiss village of Tavannes in the Jura.
So I walked back towards the station trying to find my way. The strangest thing to me was that everywhere else you come out in a big train station filled with stores and friendly people. You just ask someone or go to the information booth. But here there was none of that. I was on my own. I wandered around for some 45 minutes before I finally found the train station that I would have come out of if I had gone the "right" way.
I went into a ticket office to ask how to find the bus. In Switzerland these offices always have you take a number rather than waiting in a line. But in this office there was no line and the number dispenser wasn't working for me. Even so, the next available agent insisted that I take a number before he would help me, even though I was clearly the only person there. And then he couldn't really help me so he sent me to another office. There I met a young man who was very sympathetic to my comments about how difficult it is to find anything in this city. Finally I got to the Marthahaus, which is a reasonably price pleasant place to stay, though it is not in the old town. But the theme of seeking and not finding continued throughout my stay in Bern. The one time it was when I just wanted an ice cream cone but couldn't find any.
Perhaps another problem I had with Bern was its strong motif of human domination of animals. There is a statue of Samson subduing a lion and Bern is name after the bear and symbolized by it. There are several statues that show a man in charge of a bear, and of course there are the bear pits, where bears are kept in not so pleasant conditions. A Bernese friend says she is embarassed by them, but they are now working on making a nice spot for the bears.
Bern came across to me as a dominating city. As I read the history, and notice that Bern is the largest canton in Switzerland, there is almost an imperialistic sense of conquest, gobbling up more rural areas to put under their rule. And of course part of their ruling of rural areas was trying to root out Anabaptists, something the cities wanted to do but the rural areas themselves didn't seem too keen on.
Having said all that, Bern is a beautiful city, but in a bigger is better, aren't you impressed with us kind of way. Don't worry, I will have nice things to say about Bern. I met some wonderful people, really the friendliest people I have met. But that is for another blog.

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