~e = mc2~

July 13th, 2008

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The story goes that the German-born physicist Albert Einstein worked out his theory of relativity while employed as a clerk at the Berne patent office. We visited this Medieval town–the capital of Switzerland–this weekend with Alfonso’s cousin Antonio (of terrifying Angel fame) and his girlfriend Mimi.

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The town’s best known icon is Zytglogge, an elaborate medieval clock tower with moving puppets. We waited in baited anticipation for it to strike and whir and spin about. It was late.

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Their restored Justice fountain is far hotter than ours in Neuchatel. And they have an Baby-Eating Ogre fountain too. Nice. The locals use these fountains, everyone had a pitcher or stein to help themselves. Water from a lovely sculpture makes it all the more refreshing.

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The town is lovely in a bougie, slightly over-kept way. Tourism is clearly the main industry here, but it’s very tastefully done. Morning Glories trail the arches of the stone arcade walkways, which are dotted with shops and outdoor cafes with velvet lined nooks. I bought a pair of flora and fauna prints from an antiquarian bookshop. Antonio tried his first German pretzel.

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I love this misbehaving lady, showing spite and skin. (The Bern bear icon has it’s tongue out, as did Einstein in that grossly over-reproduced image. What’s with the tongue?)

My least favorite aspect is a tragic bear pit that’s been around since the 16th century. The city named for bears keeps one held hostage so piles of tourists can photograph it and throw cheap snacks at its sad head.

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What happens to Sirens (and snack throwers) in Suisse. This gargoyle is from my most favorite aspect of Berne: an amazing 15th century Gothic cathedral.

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Construction started on Berner Münster in 1421 and continued until 1893. The portal’s depiction of the Last Judgment is quite something, the work of one Erhard Küng, also a master mason.

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Inside, the wood carving is exquisite–gorgeously detailed and often surreal. There are endless rows of pews, and each seat has its own carving: bee hives, leaping stags, suns and moons, skulls. My favorites are the open palms. I also found graffiti initials carved in 1875. No fear of purgatory there, apparently!

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The stained glass is quite dramatic as well, some of it damaged during a hailstorm in 1520 and replaced in 1868. The most interesting window features the “Dance of Death,” images of which originated during the Black Death of the 1340s and remained popular during the 14th and 15th Century.

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The choir stalls were mostly roped off–too bad–the carved sea women were incredible.
Instead I offer this rather Charles Dodgsonish fellow.

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We had quite some rain when we visited Antonio and Mimi in Turino, and quite some rain this weekend as they came to visit us, prompting us to agree that if on the occasion of our third meeting it also rained, we would never meet again.

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On the way home we found ‘cut your own bouquet’ fields of Sunflowers, Gladioli, Snapdragons, and Dahlia. This, I loved.

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