A TURN IN BERN

It’s not too soon to think about the 2008 Euro­pean foot­ball cham­pi­onship. Alice Ghent re­ports from the Swiss cap­i­tal, where sev­eral matches will be played

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel -

IN June next year Wankdorf (now there’s a name), a sub­urb of Bern, will host three qual­i­fy­ing matches for the Euro­pean foot­ball cham­pi­onship, UEFA Euro 2008. Wankdorf is, of course, a loaded word in English but the grubby joke was lost on the lo­cals un­til Rob­bie Wil­liams, who re­cently staged a con­cert there, made sure to let them know.

Fans with­out tick­ets for one of Wankdorf sta­dium’s 32,000 seats will be able to con­gre­gate in sev­eral des­ig­nated ar­eas of Bern, where all 31 UEFA matches will be re­layed on gi­ant screens.

Exquisitely pretty Bern is de­ter­mined to have a foot­ball party and is lit­er­ally turn­ing it­self inside out in prepa­ra­tion for the cup. Its en­trails are strewn all over the main road through the city; usu­ally a tran­quil place, with the com­fort­ing rat­tle of trams the only per­va­sive noise, kanga ham­mers are busy dig­ging up tram tracks.

In the Bahn­hof­platz, the square in front of the main rail­way sta­tion, there is a huge hole in prepa­ra­tion for an un­der­ground shop­ping cen­tre and cov­ered way, us­ing the wave ar­chi­tec­ture seen in Melbourne’s Spencer Street Sta­tion. It’s a very mod­ern ac­cent for a city so in­te­grated with its past.

Fol­low­ing is a se­lec­tion of cu­riosi­ties that make Bern worth a visit, foot­ball cup or not.

Rathaus: The per­fect name for a town hall, is it not? Rathaus is a Ger­man word and while signs, news­pa­pers and television in the Swis­sGer­man part of Switzer­land are all in ‘‘ high Ger­man’’, the Swiss-Ger­mans speak a di­alect so re­mote from the orig­i­nal lan­guage that Ger­mans can­not un­der­stand it. With its four na­tional lan­guages — French, Swiss-Ger­man, Ital­ian and Ro­mansh (which is spo­ken by just 50,000 peo­ple) — it is not dif­fi­cult to find mul­tilin­gual fam­i­lies speak­ing a swirl of lan­guages around the din­ner ta­ble.

Switzer­land’s old­est phar­macy: The Rathaus Apotheke, which is near Bern’s town hall, has been dis­pens­ing medicine for 430 years. How­ever, don’t ex­pect a feel of the era when phar­ma­cists fash­ioned their medicines from mys­te­ri­ous con­coc­tions. There are no jars con­tain­ing pick­led tongue of newt. Pity. The phar­macy was re­fur­bished at the be­gin­ning of the 19th cen­tury, so looks (rel­a­tively) mod­ern with its el­e­gant wooden draw­ers. Like many Swiss phar­ma­cies, this one has a huge ar­ray of com­mer­cially pack­aged home­o­pathic reme­dies. Switzer­land might be one of the world’s phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal pow­er­houses, but a large num­ber of peo­ple still be­lieve in the old ways.

Ein­stein’s hair: Al­bert Ein­stein was Ger­man but in 1903 he ar­rived in Bern for a job with the Swiss pa­tent of­fice and lived in an apart­ment in the main street, which is open to the pub­lic. It was here that he dreamed up his the­ory of rel­a­tiv­ity and changed physics for­ever. There is an ex­cel­lent dis­play at Bern’s His­tory Mu­seum ex­plain­ing the the­ory but if that is too much for the hol­i­day brain, ig­nore the physics and con­cen­trate on the hair. Ein­stein al­ways looked as if he had plugged him­self into the na­tional grid. Be­fore in­ter- views he used to back­comb his hair to make him­self look more rak­ish.

This may prove his own so­cial the­ory: ‘‘ I be­come ever more stupid with fame, which is a per­fectly nor­mal phe­nom­e­non.’’

Ein­stein loved sail­ing even though he couldn’t swim. He was a life­long paci­fist and a cel­e­brated wom­an­iser whose con­quests (be­side two long-suf­fer­ing wives) in­cluded sev­eral ac­tresses and a spy.

A big tick: Biel in the can­ton (state) of Bern is home to such watch­mak­ing com­pa­nies as Omega, Rolex and Swatch. But when it comes to clocks, noth­ing beats the grand-daddy of them all, Bern’s town clock. Built in 1530, it is one of the old­est work­ing ex­am­ples in the world and is housed in a tower in the old city wall, which was once used as a prison for wicked women caught carous­ing with priests. The clock al­ways has a clutch of tourists wait­ing for its three-minute per­for­mance fea­tur­ing bears, a rooster and a jester, be­fore Chronos, the god of time, marks the hour. While this is cute, the real at­trac­tion is in the pure me­chan­i­cal po­etry of the rods, cogs and 400kg of weigh­stones that drive the clock.

Ev­ery day, a very fit man climbs the tower to wind the Zyt­glogge, as it is known, which slows by two min­utes a day.

The pits: Bears with rheuma­tism: that’s what you get when you keep age­ing brown bears in con­crete pits by the glacially green River Aare. The bearpits have been a fea­ture of Bern since the 16th cen­tury and are pop­u­lar with tourists who love to throw fruit from a safe height. While the Swiss are ner­vously try­ing to rein­tro­duce the bears to the wild in the can­ton of Grisons, the sight of th­ese mag­nif­i­cent crea­tures trapped in con­crete is painful to the zoo-crit­i­cal eye. Hap­pily, the em­bar­rassed city is about to spend 10 mil­lion Swiss francs ($9.4 mil­lion) build­ing a bear­friendly en­clo­sure on the banks of the river.

Slowly does it: Re­search by the Univer­sity of Hert­ford­shire in Eng­land has found that since the 1990s pedes­tri­ans in big cities across the world are walk­ing about 30 per cent faster. But not in Bern which, in the sur­vey of 30 cities, came third from last. For a cap­i­tal city, Bern has an un­de­ni­able air of re­mote­ness

from the world and is vir­tu­ally un­changed since Her­mann Hesse, au­thor of Sid­dhartha , de­clared in 1912: ‘‘ No one can live in such peace as here.’’

It’s a city with a beat­ing heart, no doubt sus­tained by the large num­ber of shops of­fer­ing fixes to this na­tion of cho­co­holics, who each con­sume a whop­ping 11.9kg of choco­late a year.

William Tell over­tures: The old town of Bern is truly a Swiss city. It is not French like Geneva, or blandly in­ter­na­tional like Zurich. It is not hard to imag­ine men in leder­ho­sen (those fetch­ing leather shorts with em­broi­dered braces) com­ing in from the val­leys to ad­mire the guild houses, the long ar­cades, punc­tu­ated by cel­lars with solid doors, the cob­bled streets with stat­ues and foun­tains. The red-tiled roofs have tiny at­tic win­dows perched like hats. Flags and win­dow boxes over­flow­ing with red gera­ni­ums add bright colour to the tableau.

The old town, which still has its me­dieval lay­out and is world-her­itage listed, is the in­car­na­tion of all we ad­mire about Switzer­land: or­derly, com­pact, and pre­cisely en­gi­neered to fit on a sliver of land bounded by the Aare. The city was re­built af­ter a fire razed 600 houses in 1405 but most of the build­ings are late baroque. Only trams and buses are al­lowed into the old town, where pedes­tri­ans reign to saunter around some of Bern’s 6km of ar­cades. Sit with a beer at a cafe in the old town and get a sense of liv­ing his­tory with­out a crush of tourists.

Build­ing art: Ex­pres­sion­ist painter Paul Klee (1879-1940) is one of Bern’s most fa­mous sons. To hon­our him the city com­mis­sioned megas­tar Ital­ian ar­chi­tect Renzo Pi­ano to de­sign a gallery to house more than 4000 works. The re­sult is the Zen­trum Paul Klee, which func­tions as gallery and study cen­tre. It is easy to reach by bus and is con­structed in three steel and glass ‘‘ hills’’ con­nected by an airy walk­way. The re­sult is a build­ing that ap­pears to emerge nat­u­rally from the land­scape. At the risk of heresy, I pre­ferred see­ing Klee’s works in Bern’s old Kun­st­mu­seum. The new gallery, al­though classy, is too in­tel­lec­tual, too light, too breezily mod­ern for Klee’s works, which have an en­dear­ing naive qual­ity that ra­di­ates more keenly in a smaller, more in­ti­mate space.

The Bern card: This pass gives free ad­mis­sion to 27 mu­se­ums and un­lim­ited travel in Bern, in­clud­ing on the Gurten­bahn, the world’s steep­est tram line. The card also car­ries dis­counts on guided tours. It is ex­cel­lent value and costs 20 Swiss francs. Oth­er­wise, en­try to mu­se­ums costs about 7 Swiss francs.

Check­list

The three UEFA Euro 2008 matches will be held at Wankdorf, Bern, on June 9, 13 and 17. www.bern­info.com www.uefa.com

Like clock­work: The Swiss cap­i­tal, Bern, is a charm­ing blend of his­tory and mod­ern-day ef­fi­ciency, main pic­ture; right, from top, Korn­haus cafe; the Zyt­glogge; Zen­trum Paul Klee

Typ­i­cally Swiss: The pic­turesque old town, with cob­bled streets and foun­tains, is world-her­itage listed

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