The bear is the symbol of Bern and it is found on flags and statues throughout the city (see photo on the immediate right and the photos on the left and right below.) Although it was raining throughout most of our time in Bern, we still had a great time touring the medieval streets of this beautiful city.
The Old City portion of Bern is a peninsula that is surrounded on three sides by the river Aare. There is a wonderful clock tower — the Time Bell or Zytglogge — in the center of the Old City. The 180 foot tall tower dates back to the early 1200s and it features a regular clock, an astronomical clock, bells and a striker, and a puppet show that is performed on the hour. Despite the rain, tourists, including us, flocked to the clock tower to see the changing of the hour.
Directly to the east of the Time Bell is the Kramgasse, a street with beautiful architecture, covered sidewalks that take you by upscale shops, and interesting fountains and statues right in the middle of the road. Like so much of Bern, the statues date back to the 1500s. There are also statues that represent various crafts and trades on the facades of the bordering buildings.
Our walk down the Kramgasse ultimately lead us to the Münster of Bern, a Gothic cathedral that dates back to 1421. Above the main entrance to the cathedral is an ornate sculpture of the Last Judgment that was constructed in the late 1400s (picture below.) In the sculpture, the righteous stand clothed in white on the left, the Archangel Michael is in the center, and the wicked stand naked on the right. In the first arch above the judgment are five angels, in the second arch are the eight prophets from the Old Testament, and on the top are Jesus, Mary, Joseph, John the Baptist, Paul, and the apostles except Judas. There are over 200 sculptures in all.
Beneath the sculptures of the Last Judgment are statues depicting the Parable of the Ten Virgins. This parable was very popular during the Middle Ages and is obviously very relevant to the Last Judgment:
At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’
But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’
But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’
Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
The details in the interior of the cathedral are stunning — carved seats, stained glass, etc. There is a bell tower that we could have walked up, but 250+ stairs to the first level and 90 more to the spire seemed a bit more (by a long shot!) than we were willing to tackle.
After we left the church, we walked down to see the Parliament Building, or Bundeshaus (picture on the left below.) Unlike so much of the city, the parliament building is almost brand new — it was built in 1902. Unfortunately for us (but probably fortunately for the Swiss taxpayers), parliament was not in session and the building was closed so we were unable to get a tour of the inside.
After lunch, we continued to tour the city. We went down to the town hall, or Rathaus, where the city council meets (picture on the right above.) The Rathous dates back to the early 1400s. We also walked by the Bern Theatre (Stadttheater) where opera and live drama are performed; down to a bridge over the river Aare (below left); and to the Church of St. Peter and Paul (below right.)
By 3 p.m. we were back in our bus and headed up to Zürich for a flight to Frankfurt and then another back to Bangkok. It probably goes without saying that we loved Bern and wish that we had had far more time to spend in this city.
Kop Khun Krab.
© 2011 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.