Does Bern have a pulse?

There's more to Bern than cobbled streets and bear pits Keystone Archive

Bern may be beautiful but, according to a recent study of urban tourism, many visitors find it boring.

This content was published on December 13, 2001 minutes

The report, which was carried out by a business research unit in Basel, immediately aroused a great deal of consternation in the Swiss capital, with the tourist office coming in for a hefty broadside from the city's Bund newspaper.

The paper accused tourist officials of failing to exploit Bern's potential as a "trendy" place to hang out, arguing that too much emphasis was being put on its long-standing "Bern is Beautiful" tag.

As Richard Kämpf, co-author of the report, revealed: "People see Bern as a lovely place, with a nice old town, but they don't think Bern is really a trendy city. Seen from the outside, its leisure activities are more or less boring."

The report and the subsequent criticism understandably went down like a lead balloon at the city's tourist office where director Raymond Gertschen has been quick to defend his record.

"We would say that Bern is trendy and we have done a lot over the past few years to make it so - but you can always do more," he told swissinfo.

Buzzing bars

Gertschen points to the city's bevy of buzzing bars, clubs and restaurants such as Lirum Larum, Lorenzini, the Kornhaus, Tonis and Quo Vadis as proof that the city does have a beating heart.

But he admits that promoting Bern as the night-clubbing capital of the world is not currently on his department's agenda, citing budgetary constraints as a major factor in the decision.

"We know we have certain areas where we could do more, but if we really want to achieve something we can't do everything at the same time," argues Gertschen.

"We have to concentrate on certain areas and the most promising ones for me at the moment are the World Heritage aspect and Bern as a starting point to discover Switzerland."

Cultural pulse

This argument has failed to wash with those who have their finger on the city's cultural pulse. Christophe Balmer, director of the innovative Dampfzentrale cultural centre for the past seven years, has watched the capital's "scene" explode over the past few years.

Picking up a copy of the weekly "Bernerwoche" listings guide, Balmer notes there are 25 separate club nights for the following Friday night, along with 24 films showing in cinemas across Bern.

"For me Bern is not boring," he says. "I guess we have a lot of things going on but they sell it a bit wrong here. We just have this picture of a boring city."

Balmer admits that part of the problem may lie in the fact that Bern's burgeoning cultural scene is still in its infancy, taking root only four years ago. He claims places such as the Dampfzentrale, the Reitschule, the Schlachthaus Theatre, and the city's bars and clubs are now attracting steady interest from right across the country.

"We want to open this city and show that the city is culturally alive and doesn't just revolve around politics," says Balmer. "But it's the job of the tourism office to sell it better.

The Net

"If I go onto the Internet and I log onto I don't find anything. They should be selling our new cultural image of Bern better than they're doing it right now."

Over in the Kornhaus Café, head barman Jörg Baumgartner nods in agreement, adding his voice to those who feel Bern is failing to get its more modern image across.

However Baumgartner also believes that more effort should be made to encourage greater diversity among Bern's restaurants and bars.

He says that while the city may have more nightspots that four or five years ago, new arrivals on the scene tend to be cut from the same cloth.

"We have three cigar lounges, five or six Italian-style bars and too many Italian-style restaurants," he explains. "In Zurich it's another story and they have many more different ideas."

But for Baumgartner, like others working in the city's cultural heartland, the hope is that word will eventually get out that Bern has more to offer than cobbled streets and a couple of bear pits.

"Bern isn't a big town; it's not Zurich, but it's certainly not boring," he says.

by Adam Beaumont

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