When the initial plan for the visit of Switzerland was set, there wasn’t much prominence given to Bern. But due to the fact that Bern being the capital of Switzerland and its unique city architecture, we decided to at least spend half a day in Bern.
On the day before our visit to Bern, we got introduced to the President of RAC Bern Rtr. Michele Serra and the President Elect of RAC Bern, Rtr. Stella Hlawna by the President Elect of RAC Luzern Rtr. Milena. Unfortunately, Rtr. Michele was not available in Bern due to a work commitment, hence we planned to meet up with Rtr. Stella.
After the morning activities on 13th of April, we boarded the train to the Swiss capital Bern from Interlaken East Railway Station. After about an hour’s ride from Interlaken, we reached a quite big railway station of Bern. We were startled to see the station having a platform number ‘50’, but later realized that all the preceding numbers are not included as platforms.
Bern is a city built around a loop in the river Aare in 12th century. The streets in the city resemble medieval architecture and uniqueness when compared to other cities in Switzerland.
The city is characterized by the 16th century fountains situated throughout; hence is known as the city of fountains. Bern’s eleven historic fountains have eye catching figures or colourful sculptures, which are built in remembrance of historical events or social ideals.
The old streets of Bern are decorated with Swiss flags & Bear flags. The name Bern is derived from the German word baren, which means bear. Hence, bear has become the city’s emblem and a black bear striding across a golden banner on a red shield has become the official flag of the canton of Bern. The bear symbol is proudly displayed not only on flags, but also on street signs, license plates, homes etc. There is a designated park dedicated to bears called as the ‘Bear Park’ which is situated on the banks of River Aare. It is a small forest with trees, bushes & caves, where bears can freely roam around. Altogether, there are three bears residing in this bear park.
The parliament building, which is the heart of the Swiss democracy is also situated in Bern. The building houses some parts of the Swiss federal government & federal administration, while the parliament square is a lively meeting place and photogenic spot for visitors. The 26 fountains situated in the parliament square represent the 26 cantons (provinces) of Switzerland.
Zytglogge is a clock tower constructed in the 15th century with moving mechanical figures and an astronomical clock. As the clock strikes the hour, the mechanical figures comprised of a parade of bears, a jester, a golden rooster & Chronos make up a performance.
Käfigturm or the prison tower is where the prisoners were locked up in early days. It is also an important landmark in the UNESCO World Heritage City of Bern. A clock is emblemed on this tower, making it look quite similar to the Zytglogge.
While roaming in the old Bern city, we got the chance to visit a Läderach chocolate shop, which has custom flavoured chocolates. The flavours varied from strawberry, caramel to almond, corn flakes and many more.
Berner Münster or the cathedral of Bern is a premiere attraction in Bern. This cathedral boasts to have the highest church spire in all of Switzerland. The architecture of the church building is exquisite; be it the artistic stained-glass windows, choir vault, sculptures or frescoes. Unfortunately, pictures are not allowed inside the cathedral.
Münsterplattform is a terrace situated next to the cathedral of Bern; a place with a grass lawn, trees & benches to make it an ideal spot of relaxation with a panoramic view of Aare River flowing few tens of meters below. The city of old Bern has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage back in 1983.
After roaming in the old city of Bern, we came back to the Railway station at 5 pm to meet Rtr. Stella. After getting to know each other, Sella suggested that we should visit the Rose Garden, which is quite close to the bear park. On the way, she taught us how to checkout in a supermarket without the cashier by operating the self-checkout barcode machines, which we found very useful in the rest of our tour.
Rose Garden is the best place to get a panoramic view with the old city engulfed in the loop of Aare River that flows beneath. This garden has a variety of flower species, though the name suggests otherwise. Unfortunately, it was early spring, hence we couldn’t experience the true beauty of the garden, which fills up with colourful flowers towards the late spring. A familiar statue of Einstein, where you can take photos with the old city of Bern enthralls the science lovers.
We discussed about the Rotaract projects that are being carried out in each other’s country. She explained about their club member engagement projects and about a week-long children’s camp, a massive annual event where they engage with needy community in Switzerland. We saw much similarities between our community service projects, but we highlighted that Rotaract projects in Sri Lanka focus more on community service since the need for such causes is high.
Apart from the Rotaract stories, we had a quality time discussing our culture, economic & political situations. We were thrilled to find how she loves ‘Vegetable Kottu’ because of her roommate with Sri Lankan origins.
Gifts and letterheads were exchanged between the two clubs. As the evening turned into the dusk, we bid adieu to the lovely Rose Garden and started our journey back towards the Bern Railway Station. It took us close to half an hour for the return journey, where the last bit was a marathon to catch the 7.00 pm train. We bid adieu to Rtr. Stella with a glimpse of hope in meeting her in Austria in the future.
Penned By: Rtr. Prabodha Chamarie