When a friend says they’re going on a trip and they send you a message or a Snapchat with the set of emojis ‘flame, baby, flame’, they can only be headed to one place: Bern.
As I Snapchatted my journey to some close friends, I asked them to guess where I was going, giving those emojis as a clue. I was making a reference to that 70’s song by The Trammps, Burn Baby Burn. One friend thought I had a bun in the oven; another thought I was going somewhere where they burn babies. I’m too fluent in emoji for my own good.
I headed to Bern Friday evening because F was there for a conference so we decided to make a weekend of it. That Friday – and during the whole weekend for that matter – the weather was absolutely gorgeous: crisp but sunny.
Before going to Bern I consulted a few websites but by far the most useful article was one by the New York Times called 36 Hours in Bern. Bern is a really dynamic city and its Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, lined with street after street with beautiful arcades. I highlight some of the places mentioned in the article below and I’ve also added a few more that we came discovered that I think are worth checking out on your trip to Bern.
We stayed at the Goldener Schlüssel, in the heart of the Old Town, just one street away from the Clock Tower (Zytglogge) and Einstein’s old home and two streets away from the Cathedral (Münster). Our reservations at the Goldener Schlüssel included breakfast (and a pass for the city transportation system, too!) so we made sure to load up on carbs in the early morning. We slept so soundly in our hotel bed that I would go back there just for that reason alone.
The Bellevue Hotel has just that: a gorgeous view of Bern. We went for an afternoon snack on our last day and really got to enjoy the landscape in front of us.
A Seasonal Spectacle
Thanks to a colleague at UNHCR, I found out that from mid-October to the end of November, a sound and light show takes place at Parliament Square in the evenings (Rendez-vous Bundesplatz). What really sets the light show apart is that the images projected onto the facade of the Parliament Building are specifically designed to fit the contours of the building so at certain points the windows, the statues and other parts are highlighted by the lights. I highly recommend this – it’s truly a sight to see and it’s free!
In the Old Town, the Clock Tower (Zytglogge), Einstein’s House and the Bern Cathedral (Münster) are all withing walking distance of one another, making for a pleasant walk through the historic city. Try and make it to the Clock Tower a few minutes before the clock strikes twelve at noon for a special treat.
The Einstein Museum is located within the Historical Museum of Bern and gives an exhaustive account of his personal and professional life. Did you know that Einstein relinquished his German citizenship and studied and lived for many years in Switzerland (even gaining Swiss citizenship at one point) before coming to the US as a refugee?
Before heading to the Bear Park & Pit, I was told that it could go either way: either I would find the bears asleep in their respective caves or I would find them out and about (and even mating!). Luckily, when F and I arrived their caretaker had just thrown some food into the pit so they decided to show themselves and roam about. I was a bit disappointed to see that the actual pit where they are kept is so small; I envisioned a huge space with high-up platform that allowed you to see the bears. They were so cute.
The Saturday Morning Market in front of the Parliament Building (which also takes place on Tuesdays) is great if you want to pick up local food goods and clothes. I didn’t buy anything but it was a nice scene to walk through.
On the first night, F and I stumbled upon the Gourmanderie Moléson by pure chance. From the outside, the restaurant seemed very cozy and as we approached we noticed a number of Michelin stickers near the entrance so we thought, why not? The service and the food were both exquisite and although a bit pricey, we have no regrets.
F had a plate of beef cheeks in a red wine sauce that would come apart effortlessly with every forkful, accompanied with some steamed vegetables, mashed potatoes and these small caramelized onions. I opted for a plate of scallops with a vanilla sabayon and small pieces of pumpkin.
On the second night, we made reservations at Wein & Sein, which we had also read about in a Michelin guide. I believe that at one point Wein & Sein had one Michelin star but I think it may have been taken away because it wasn’t as busy as you would’ve expected for a Saturday night. Nonetheless, we had a delectable 4-course meal, plus some introductory dishes, sent to us by ‘the cookers’ as our waitress endearingly told to us.
Each plate was a dining experience of its own, with deer (or venison, if you’re feeling fancy) being the star of the show. One of our appetizers featured quail, too. The quail dish was the most interesting because with every sip of the soup and bite of the accompaniment, the flavor of the soup kept changing. The main course included a perfectly cooked venison steak with mashed purple potatoes, figs, and celery. I normally don’t like celery at all but I really enjoyed how it complemented the other flavors of the dish. That says a lot!
Alternative Night Life
Reitschule is like a playground for the more alternative crowd. It’s a complex with a large building divided into various rooms, all playing different kinds of electronic music. People are constantly moving in and out, or simply leaning on the nearest surface with a group of friends while talking and smoking the night away – a really interesting and quite frankly, unexpected, space.
We didn’t get to fully experience Turnhalle but we walked through it on our way home one night. In the front lawn was a circus tent of sorts, which was crowded with people talking and having a drink. The building itself seems to be an arts center. The night we went there was an electronic music concert on the ground floor and a tango dance night on the first. Really diverse, really relaxed, and really cool.
For Nature Lovers
Bern’s Botanical Garden (Botanischer Garten) is pretty standard and reminded me very much of Geneva’s. Unfortunately, many of the plants and flowers were dried out. It’s a shame it we didn’t take this trip in the springtime. Still, the garden is located on a hill, starting all the way at the top and going all the way down to the Aare river.
Much like the Botanical Garden, there weren’t many roses at the Rose Garden (Rosengarten) this time of year but the walk uphill will definitely get your heart pumping. Once you make it up the hill leading to the garden, you can enjoy a drink or a meal at the nearby restaurant as well as a great side view of Bern.
A Note on Language
Although German is the main language spoken in Bern, F noticed that many locals they say ‘thank you’, they opt for merci – like they do in French – rather than danke, as they might say in Germany. I thought this was peculiar but also really endearing. I wouldn’t expect to ever hear a Swiss French person say danke instead of merci but I guess that has a lot to do with language politics in Switzerland. German-speakers are the majority and don’t feel threatened by the French so they can incorporate French words into their daily speech without thinking much about it. Apparently this strictly a Bern thing.