Bern is Switzerland's federal capital and at first glance it could seem like a sleepy provincial town. But underneath the cobblestones beats a dynamic heart.This content was published on March 25, 2008 - 11:39
Bern is definitely the Swiss capital – even if the rest of the planet prefers to believe it is either Geneva or Zurich. In the centre of the city, the parliament building dominates the skyline with its green and gold dome.
"Bern is an elegant city with many embassies," says ethnologist Jacques Hainard. "It is also relatively calm. It shouldn't have any trouble receiving foreign visitors for Euro 08."
But Bern no longer reflects Swiss identity like it used to. At the main station, which is being renovated, the word station in the four national languages has been removed from the side of the building.
"It was a symbolic act removing that," says Romansh specialist Chasper Pult. "A more modern station will no longer reflect our capacity to live with four languages."
For Steve Lee, singer for rock band Gotthard, Bern is definitely the centre of the country, politically and geographically. "Every road leads to Bern, as they do to Rome," he says.
As for the locals, Lee is full of praise. "Even if they have a reputation for being slow and thoughtful, the Bernese are more direct than in other German-speaking cities. You really know who you are talking to," he says.
"Work of art"
There is the political Bern – and then there is the Bern that belongs to all of humanity. The city's old town, with its arcades stretching the length of its streets, is a Unesco World Heritage Site.
"When I walk under the arcades, I find stores that you see nowhere else," says comedian Emil Steinberger. "I'm always amazed by my discoveries. I hope these small businesses will survive."
Emil doesn't spend all his time shopping, he hastens to point out. "For me, Bern is a work of art. Now that they have banned cars from many of the streets, you can actually get a good look at all those magnificent buildings," he adds.
Behind the quiet facades, intellectuals have been busy trying to explain the world (and the universe) around us. Perhaps the most famous of these brains was Albert Einstein, who developed his famous theory of relativity while living in the old town in 1905.
A strong tradition of physics continues to this day at the university, contributing instruments and projects to Nasa and the European Space Agency on a regular basis.
Chasper Pult says this creativity is not restricted to science. "Bern is a quiet, administrative town, but under the surface there is plenty of creative energy," he points out. "It is particularly noticeable with poetry and local musicians singing in dialect."
Steve Lee, who is a native Italian speaker but only sings in English, agrees.
"Nine out ten Bernese groups sing in dialect. And their texts have depth, are poetic, sometimes funny and want to change the world. There's no denying it: Bern has a truly intellectual dimension," he says.
Switzerland's capital, Bern is built along the River Aare. A German-speaking city, it is home to 122,000 people. The wider metropolitan area counts around 957,000 inhabitants, or more than a third of canton Bern's population.
The city is also home to the federal parliament and the government.
Bern's old town was listed as a World Heritage Site in 1983.
Euro 08 in Bern
After the demolition in 2001 of the Wankdorf stadium (which hosted the final of the 1954 World Cup), the Stade de Suisse was built on the same site. It can hold 32,000 spectators and is home to the Young Boys Bern.
It will host three first-round matches :
- Netherlands-Italy (June 9)
- Netherlands-France (June 13)
- Netherlands-Romania (June17)
Giant screens will be set up on the Bundesplatz square in front of parliament and on the nearby Waisenhausplatz square. A fan zone will also be opened in the old town.
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