The Cellars of Bern

One of the more intriguing aspects of central Bern is that the streets are laid out for walking in the street as well as on the sidewalks. The sidewalks are covered, with one or more steps down to the street. The streets are cobblestone, and have wide areas where merchants used to sell their wares. Now these areas merely provide a safe place for tourists to wander around and take pictures without getting run over.

Along the edges of the sidewalks, facing the street, there are cellar doors. In centuries past, these were used as wine cellars or general storage, but now they house restaurants, bars, and all manner of stores. For example…

There’s a theater.

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And a tango studio.

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And a wat phoo.

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And a bar that serves absinthe.

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And the Einstein Kaffee und Rauchsalon, below the aforementioned Einstein Cafe.

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This Flammen-Bar is beneath the Paraguayan embassy.

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The Hardware Store, mentioned in the previous post, is the perfect fit for a cellar environment.

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As you approach the river, the street drops off faster than the sidewalk, the cellar doors become regular doors, and the cellars become the ground floor.

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Feel the Bern

I spent the entire day walking around Bern. Roughly ten miles. The sky was overcast and murpy, with occasional light rain, but nothing that someone from western Washington can’t handle. Some people were carrying umbrellas, but that’s just a sign of weakness.

Bern — at least the central area where I was — is one of the most attractive cities I’ve seen. The city dates to 1191, but most of it was rebuilt in 1405 after it…wait for it…Berned down.

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I went on the walking tour described in the Rick Steves guide book, with detours for anything that looked interesting, then wandered around on my own after that.

I was going to take a tour of the parliament building, but they were all booked for the day, so I picked up a free booklet about the Swiss government. They had it in all four official Swiss languages, plus a few others for visitors, so I got one in English and one in Romansch.

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I visited the Bern Cathedral and paid five francs to go up the 210-foot-high tower.

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Then I walked down Gerechtigkeitgasse to the river and across to the bear pit, where the bears don’t live anymore. Several years ago, it occurred to someone that it was really sort of cruel to keep bears in a pit, so they moved them to a larger park setting next to the river. You can ride a funicular to go down to them.

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In fact, these are not the same bears, since the earlier pit bears died. These are newer, younger bears. They have names, but I don’t remember what they are, so let’s just call them Todd and Thelma. Here’s Todd looking appropriately ursine:

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And Todd and Thelma together:

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So the Bärengraben is now a Bärenpark, but the Bären should not be confused with Beeren, even though Bären have been known to eat Beeren.

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Anyway, the bears were cool, but ten minutes or so is probably your maximum bear-viewing time, so I went back across the river and up to Albert Einstein’s house. It’s not his house now, of course, and it wasn’t really then, because he just rented, but he lived there from 1903-1905 while he was working in the patent office and formulating the special theory of relativity. You can walk through it. Afterwards I had lunch downstairs at the Einstein Cafe (“relatively the best”).

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Just down the street from the Einstein Cafe I found this place.

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You can’t not go into a place like that, so I did.

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It’s the storefront for Voodoo Rhythm Records, a local independent record label for both current bands and obscure bands from the past. It kind of reminded me of Rhino Records, though somewhat weirder.

And of course there’s the famous Zytglogge-Turm, the clock tower, which was built in 1530. I walked by it numerous times over the course of the day, but never while it was doing its elaborate chime presentation at four minutes before every hour.

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I need to check out and get over there so I can see it before I get on the train to Luzern.

Farewell to Jungfrau

I left Mürren at around 10:00, taking the BLM train to Grütschalp, the cable car to Lauterbrunnen, and another train to Interlaken Ost. I had planned to take a Golden Pass train to Luzern, have lunch on the river, then take a train to Bern, but that seemed like a lot of extra time just for lunch, and it was already noon by the time I got to Interlaken, so I took the train straight to Bern.

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But then halfway to Bern I thought, why not go to Basel? The train goes all the way to Hamburg, so I could ride into Germany, but my Swiss Rail Pass only takes me to the border. Still, I can get off, walk across the border and look around, then take the train back to Bern. I can’t check in until 3:00 anyway.

As it happens, the train station is several miles from the border, but there’s a central tram stop in front of the station with trams that go all over the city. Two of the stops had “Grenze” in the name, so I picked the one that didn’t sound French and got on that tram. I didn’t have a ticket, and I don’t think local trams are covered by Swiss Rail, but I thought I’d see what happened.

The tram actually went across the Grenze and into Germany.

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I got off, then realized that it was just going to turn around and go back, so I got back on again and rode back to the train station.

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No one ever asked to see my ticket, nor did I see any machine that accepted tickets. But there were machines that sold tickets next to the trams. Weird.

Then I took the train to Bern, where I have the tiniest hotel room I have ever seen. Even the Japanese business hotels were bigger than this.

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The hotel itself is all faded elegance, with an ancient cage elevator.

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Now I’m drinking a complimentary Schneider Weisse in the hotel restaurant and planning the next day.

Das Klettersteig

Today was clear and sunny, so I took a stroll to Gimmelwald, a little over a mile away. It started pleasantly enough. I watched paragliders take off to go floating over Lauterbrunnen in the valley below.

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I walked along a path with a view of Eiger and Jungfrau.

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The path got kind of rocky.

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And steep.

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Some of the bridges seemed kind of sketchy.

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But eventually I saw farmland.

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And I arrived in Gimmelwald.

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I took the cable car back to Mürren.

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It took less than five minutes.

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Der Ungünstig Schnee

It’s snowing. It’s been snowing all day. I went up the Schilthorn anyway, where I saw this view.

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I had the misfortune of going up with a Chinese tour group. There were probably at least 30 of them, all taking selfies and generally getting in the way. I did gain a few minutes at the top. While they were all crowding onto the escalator, I found a freight elevator and went up that way. I had the place to myself for about two minutes.

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The Schilthorn is famous for the Piz Gloria, which is a revolving restaurant that probably has a spectacular view when it’s not snowing. The building was also used in the 1969 James Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which is the one with George Lazenby. They play this up for all it’s worth. There’s a James Bond Experience, a James Bond Walk of Fame, and numerous Bond/Schilthorn souvenirs.

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All of which went pretty quickly, and I went back down before the Chinese tourists did. At the Birg stop, part way down there mountain, there’s a Thrill Walk, which was closed, and a Skyline View, which didn’t have one.

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So I went back to Mürren and had lunch at the Snackbar Berry. They have good Apfelstrudel and play Tom and Jerry cartoons in German.

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Into Deepest Switzerland

Driving to Switzerland took a little over an hour. They didn’t even stop me at the border. Leaving the rental car return, I had to walk along the street for about a quarter mile and through a parking lot to get to the airport, then through the airport to get to the train station.

I was planning to get lunch in downtown Geneva, but the train I got on happened to be going to Montreux, which is the end of the Golden Pass line, so I went all the way to Montreux. I had time before the next train to Interlaken, so I walked along the lake. I didn’t see the Freddie Mercury statue, though.

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The Golden Pass Classic is a set of refurbished older trains from 1914 and 1964. I mistakenly got on one of the first class cars, a fact the conductor discovered after I’d already settled in and there was no more room in second class. But I could pay to upgrade to first class. This required him to work through some elaborate calculation that involved talking to himself in both French and German, then concluding that I owed 12 francs. Thus for about $12.25 I have entered the ranks of the elite. Who knew that status could come so cheaply?

The train went through Gstaad, which, based entirely on The Return of the Pink Panther, I had always thought of as a ski town high up in the mountains. That’s sort of true. It is a ski town, and it’s generally in the Alps, but it’s surrounded by farmland. As a town, it didn’t look especially noteworthy, although I didn’t actually get off the train to look at it.

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Interlaken is a nice-looking town in a beautiful setting, but my hotel reservation was waiting for me halfway up the mountain. From Interlaken Ost station, I took another train to Lauterbrunnen, a cable car to Grütschalp, and a narrow-gauge train along the edge of nothingness to Mürren.

There are goats in Mürren.

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I’m staying at the creaky and atmospheric Hotel Blumental. Manuel from Fawlty Towers carried my bag to my room. Really, I swear it’s him.

I had dinner at Stägerstübli, where the owner generously accommodated my attempts at German. Horse steaks are on the menu, but I went with the chicken mit pfeffersauce.