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Bern: Europe’s Most Underrated City

Get ready for a fun trip to Bern and discover why this should be on your list of destinations when you travel. View the Bern Virtual Vacation with Guidester while you listen or check it out later and don’t watch it while you are driving! 🙂 Click on the word TRANSCRIPT to get a transcript of this podcast with audio player at the bottom.

[00:46] Let’s Get Started

[02:44] City Center

[04:36] Museums-one of the greatest and smartest

[07:09] Climate Expectations-Best Two Months to Go

[08:44] Famous People

[09:38] Take a Virtual Vacation

[10:00] Walkability

[11:55] Thinking of Switzerland I think of . . .

[13:43] Language Issues?

[17:40] Government in Switzerland

Dream. Learn. Plan. Prepare. Go to Guidester/Virtual-Vacation

Season 1: Episode 2

#Travel #Einstein #Chocolate #Museums #PaulKlee #fondue #raclette #bearpark #Zurich #Geneva #Alps

Transcript
Jack:

Switzerland and the Swiss really live by the concept of quality of life. The thing that moves and epitomizes life in Switzerland is quality of life. So everything from the transportation to the cleanliness to accessibility, they're very conscientious of this and Bern does a fantastic job.

Arnold:

Travel to Europe is off limits for the time being, but we can still keep the flame of wanderlust alive through the virtual vacation with Guidester the weekly podcast, where host JackBaumann, founder of Guidester and travel enthusiast Arnold Stricker, dive into new destinations, exploring their unique history, culture and special vibe. You will also get insider tips about these destinations. You won't get from other sources. Now let's join our host, the Guidester himself, JackBaumann. E=MC2. We've all heard of that. It's a Einstein's theory of relativity, but where did he discover that? Where did he develop E=MC2? Jack, can you tell us?

Jack:

I'd be happy to, he developed that theory while he was living in the city of Bern in Switzerland, which is the capital of Switzerland. It's not Geneva, it's not Zurich and Lucerne; no, it's Bern. A lot of people don't know that. And I would actually say in my opinion, that Bern is the most underrated Capitol city in all of Europe.

Arnold:

Obviously most people would think it would be some of those other cities that you mentioned. So why is it the most underrated capital in Europe?

Jack:

One of the reasons it's the most underrated is because it's underrated and that's a catch 22 with that. What I mean by that is there's just not a lot of tourists, not a lot of Americans make it to Bern. And because of that, you don't have the commercialization that's been built up and in London, Rome, Paris, the big three. And in other major cities too, Barcelona is a beautiful city, but it's very commercialized in some areas. So it's the nature of the city itself; the fact that it's not a major tourist destination for Americans yet. Also, the city itself is gorgeous. It's set in a beautiful, natural setting, surrounded by, the mountains on the river Aare, it is well-run clean, full of history, completely undamaged from World War II. It has direct connection to Einstein so the historical significance is immense. It has an incredible food scene, restaurants there that would blow your mind. The river runs through it that you can actually swim in during the summer months. You can go to one part of the city or kind of down the river a little bit or up the river and float. And people do this all the time. Kids, adults. They get a little floated and you're just floating down this river with the city on one side and, natural setting hillsides and mountains off in the distance and the other side. And then you get out in the middle of the city and they literally have a purpose-built little kind of bank that you can disembark. You can do this on a raft. You can do it on a canoe, whatever it's very open. Switzerland is very liberal in that way. So it's beautiful. The beautiful parks the Rosengarten, the Rosengarten for the audience, Switzerland has four languages. In Bern they speak German, which is actually Swiss German. So it does have a flavor of German to it, but it is a separate language called Swiss German. And so they have this Rosengarten, which has literally the biggest roses you'll ever see in your life in a bear park. A live bear park. It's not a zoo. There's no cages. It's up on a Hill. And I guess the barrier, the gap is wide enough that the bears can't clear it.

Arnold:

I was going to say, is there a fence or a moat or something or

Jack:

No it's just a, it's just an area on a hill and you almost feel like you can get close to touch them, but there's a number of bears up there right in the city center and it's just, you just say, Hey, let's go look at some live bears roaming around this Hill.

Arnold:

Like Brown bears. Black bears.

Jack:

Black bears. Yes. Yeah. I believe they're black bears. So they're sizable, but yeah, they're not giant Brown grizzly bears. No. They're manageable. You can, maybe a bigger guy could toss around with them for a bit, but, and then, there's just tons to see and do The city center of Bern has the longest arcade, which is basically just a covered walkway. I think it's 2.2 miles of covered walkways all through the city center. And in the covered walkways are shops and restaurants and little bars. Then going down, you've got these little cellars, it looked like storm shelters, you open up like it, it's going into the ground and those little nooks and crannies and bars and things going on. There's just two miles of it going through the city center. So to me it encompasses anything you could ever want in a capital city.

Arnold:

So what is there to see in Bern? I know you mentioned the covered arcades and the bear park. What else is there to see? I imagine I can stand and look at the Alps and canoe or glide down the river, which sounds very cool.

Jack:

Yeah. So there's a lot of museums. One of the greatest museums is the Einstein historical museum.

Arnold:

That's a smart thing.

Jack:

Right? Doesn't that make sense? He, came up with the theory of relativity there so I guess it was appropriate to make a museum to him, but it actually is fascinating. It's about his life and his story. It's interactive. It's not just a very, cut and dry museum. And it's combined with the historical museum of Switzerland and a Bern. So it's a, it's actually a three-part museum and it's in a giant. old castle So the building is magnificent. The Einstein museum is tremendous and then the historical museum of Bern is great. So you've got this combination there. You can get a combo ticket all in one, go see it. The bear park the Rosengarten there's an art museum. There's a couple of art museums that are well worth seeing. The city center itself is just a cobblestone streets and old style buildings and the covered arcade. So walking the city itself is an attraction. A great cathedral. You can climb the tower of the cathedral and get great views of the city. And then there's what I call the local mountain. The local Bernese mountain called the Gurton. You can literally get to the top of this Gurton in 45 minutes. The city of Bern now has these e-bikes. You can rent bikes and in a lot of cities in Europe but Switzerland, being advanced as it is, has these things called e-bikes, which are pedal assist bikes. So I'm climbing this mountain and I'm not a bike rider. I love to bike, but I wouldn't do this.

Arnold:

You weren't in shape like the Tour de France.

Jack:

No I'd get a a mile now. I may get a good 10 miles then, but no, I'm not standing up very little energy and I'm just, just going up this mountain with my buddy, my German buddy, who's living in Switzerland in Bern and we're going up this mountain and at the top of the Gurton is a beautiful view of the city and you can see the Alps; the Bernese Alps the mountains off in the background. There's actually like a little resort up there. There's a tower you can climb at the top of the Gurton to get sweeping 360 degree views of the area. It's just beautiful. It, the entire substance of this, whether you're hiking, biking, outdoor stuff, cultural stuff, food scene history scene, Bern has it at all.

Arnold:

I'm looking at a picture right now of the Bern Minster and it's the highest church spire in all of Switzerland. And I imagine the view must be spectacular from them.

Jack:

Yes. It really is. The view from the top of that cathedral tower is magnificent and the cathedral is a block off the main street, the main sort of street going through the cobblestone street with the covered arcades we were discussing. Just a block off that is the cathedral.

Arnold:

Now I imagine most people would want to go during the spring, late spring or summertime, or maybe early fall, but is it okay to go during the winter time? How do they handle snow or do they get a lot of snow or?

Jack:

Switzerland is more diverse than you think. So everybody thinks about Switzerland as being ski or Geneva in the United Nations and all of that's true, but Switzerland is actually a place of great diversity. You do get lowlands and low-lying regions that, yeah, they're going to get snow, but it's not covered in snow all year round. So going to Bern I think it's a great destination all year round. I've been there twice and I've been there in the warmer months. I wasn't there in December January, but I want to say it was November. Maybe late October and it was cold and no it did not snow while I was there. It's maintained very well. So you're not going to be in, you're not going to need a snow suit to go through the city of Bern. Depending on what part of Switzerland, every place you go to is very well maintained. And I think one of the epitomes of that is Bern. It's. Very clean, very well maintained. So they'll keep the snow clear, but then again, so even in the warmer months it's accessible to get to the higher regions and see some of that. So it just depends what you're going to do, but warmer months, I think the best time, the best two months all around is probably early June or mid September. So call it June and September are probably the two best months to go. You can go in the summer. It's going to be, maybe a little warmer in July, August, but June, we'll still have some decent weather. And the crowds that do come are going to come in the summer months. So just generally speaking, June and September, just fantastic months to go and visit Bern and the surrounding region.

Arnold:

So we talked about Albert Einstein E=MC2 alias. And there's also Paul Klee, who's an artist; he has a museum there where many of his works are displayed, but you had mentioned before the podcast of some other, very famous person that people may have a misconception about.

Jack:

Right Jean Jacques Rousseau the French philosopher is actually Swiss.

Arnold:

So he's really not the French philosopher. He's the Swiss philosopher.

Jack:

There's a good story there. He was born and raised in Switzerland and for some reason was forced to leave. There was something going on, politically, as there always is, and he was able to obtain a French passport or citizenry, rather a French residency. And he moved to France and that's really where he started his career that we all know him for. But yeah, most people think and assume that he's French through and through, but no, he was actually born in Switzerland.

Arnold:

Take a virtual vacation to Europe from the comfort of your couch. Browse popular sites, watch video tours, explore with interactive maps, discover local insights and start planning your dream trip when you're ready to travel. Once again, choose your destination and discover some of Europe's top destinations. Visit guidestar.com/virtual-vacation. My question deals with walkability. Can I just go to one place in Bern, stay there and just walk and do all these things that we've been talking about?

Jack:

Absolutely. If you get a hotel or Airbnb or something in the city center, in the historic center of Bern, you can walk anywhere. And you're right; that is one of my favorite things about Europe itself is you don't need a car. In fact, some of these cities, you don't want a car because they're pedestrian only. That entire street that I was telling you about the arcades itself, obviously you're too small for cars and then you've got public transportation. So any of these outliers that you want to get to, whether it's a museum here or, getting up to the Gurton, which I believe has a cable car going up to it; there's always another way to get there. And Switzerland takes us to the extreme, there're cable cars that just run right on the street, right through the middle of the town. Hop on, hop off. It's actually mostly an honor system. You should buy a ticket or a day pass or whatever. But a lot of times they don't even check your tickets. It's an honor system. It's very efficient sometimes down to the second. So yeah, absolutely. And I've sent several clients there. I've worked with a lot of clients that have gone to Switzerland and I've picked out their hotels four or five star hotels very reasonably priced; although Switzerland comparatively is not the cheapest place, but the value is there. And so I'll put them, within a 10 or 15 minute walk of the historic center of Bern, and from there, that's really everything you need. Again, any of the outliers, you can do several things, use public transportation, or rent yourself a little e-bike and bike around the city. And people are very respectful; Switzerland and the Swiss really live by the concept of quality of life. This is the thing that moves and epitomizes life in Switzerland is quality of life. So everything from the transportation to the cleanliness to accessibility, they're very conscientious of this and Bern does a fantastic job.

Arnold:

Jack, when I think about Switzerland, I think about several things, Swiss chalets. Swiss chocolate and a Swiss army knife.

Jack:

And fondue

Arnold:

And fondue. So does Bern have this huge chocolate factory there, or do they really like chocolate in their palette? Did you see any chalets while you were there?

Jack:

I would say Bern being the capital, you're going to have a melting pot of all that stuff, right?

Arnold:

No pun intended there.

Jack:

Exactly. Yeah. There you go. Yeah, that was good. I like that. But no, really one thing that you didn't mention that Switzerland generally is known for them, but Bern in particular is raclette. Raclette is a cheese dish.

Arnold:

Oh yes.

Jack:

It's melted cheese and they just slice it off. And I've got to say, it's probably even more common than fondue. Everybody thinks of fondue which is grossly overpriced. It's actually, you could spend hundreds of dollars for a pot of fondue at a restaurant. It's bizarre. And that kind of shocked me. Raclette is just like a dish, right? So you can go into a nice little restaurant and get a raclette dish and it's served with various things, potatoes, vegetables. But oh man I'm salivating now cause when I was there last time I went to this local restaurant that my local friend showed me that he's lived there for several years and he said, Jack, you gotta try this place. And so I'm in this small little restaurant and there right in front of you, just this big slab of melted cheese they are slicing off to a plate and then roasted potatoes. Oh, and then you add into that some wines and there are good wines in Switzerland actually, but yes, chocolate, cheese, other foods. Switzerland it borders, France and borders Italy, so they get influx of French cuisine and Italian cuisine. But for me, the thing that I'm salivating now, and when I go back, the first thing I'll do is get some tasty. raclette.

Arnold:

So if I'm going there, I don't know the language, but I'm going to guess that they speak English? Cause after all English seems to be the international language, at least we think so in the United States. Would I be able to get by if I knew German or would I be able to get by if I knew French? Is there German Swiss language? Is it more like a dialect of the Germanic language?

Jack:

Oh, it's much more than a dialect. Swiss German is its own language. Now Swiss German can understand high German. High German is the, let's say the traditional language of Germany. Basically every German is going to know high German, but then Germans have their own dialect and their own sort of colloquialisms and things like that. But yes, Swiss German is its own thing. Now, Swiss German can understand high German, but Germans can not understand Swiss German. It's very different, very difficult to understand. You talk to a German, they have a hard time understanding Swiss German. There are similar words and bitte you can maybe get through it. But to your point, getting around as an English speaker is exceptionally easy. I speak no Swiss German, and I speak a couple of German words, danke schon and bitte. These are the basics that you need to know. Other than a few basic German words, which, okay, so this is interesting to back up a second here: four languages. This is important to understand. Switzerland has four official languages. German French, Italian and Romansh which Is one of the ancient languages. It's a derivative of Latin; we think it's probably the closest thing to what Latin would have sounded like.

Arnold:

Interesting.

Jack:

Yes. Very interesting. Very few people speak Romansh but it's spoken. There are regions that still speak it. So the Southern part of Switzerland is Italian speaking. The Western part that borders France is French speaking, and then basically the rest is German speaking. So there's more German speakers than any other in Switzerland, but the West part; Geneva and the canton of Geneva, it's all French speaking. English is widely spoken, if not universally spoken in Switzerland especially the German speaking parts. In fact, I often joke this applies to German speaking parts of Switzerland, as well as Austria, which is German speaking in Germany. If you are anywhere in Europe and you're confronted with a language barrier, find a German. They will speak English. They will speak some English. Now, if they're 90, maybe not, but any person let's say under 50 is going to know English. Now English is a derivative of German. English came from German. So maybe that's one of the reasons, but Germans are great at foreign languages. They're really good at English. Maybe because of the business in the commercial kind of dealings, but yet I didn't have a single problem. In fact, I wasn't, I don't think I was even confronted with a single person that did not speak English.

Arnold:

That's great.

Jack:

Yeah. It helps. So compare that to let's say Rome. Rome, you can get around because it's touristy, but you leave the touristy areas and you get to other parts of Italy, forget it. For- get it. In fact, one of my good friends that lives in Rome, how Italian is that; he would be considered a great English speaker by Italian standards. And he can be hard to understand. So even the best of the best speakers, they have their accents that they just never get rid of. Part of that's the formation of a language, that's why I love hearing Italians, it's a sing songy. And so every time he talks to me Jack what do you want to do-a tonight-a? And I'm actually not exaggerating it in the slightest. Do you want some piz-za or do you want to go to the piaz-za and we can have a little vino? Or what would you like-a? You a tell-a me ah? And people think, Oh my gosh, he's being so stereotypical. Maybe I'm exaggerating slightly, but I'm really not though. It's the way they pronounce words. So I is E, so River, you're going to cross the Reaver, and so no matter when they speak English, unless they're a language teacher, they're never going to lose that accent. The German speaking people don't seem to have that problem. So I think it's much easier to understand German speakers, like in Berns. So yes, getting around as easy as can be.

Arnold:

Now in Bern because that's the capital of Switzerland. What is the form of government of Switzerland?

Jack:

Yeah. Good question. Switzerland in general it's actually quite similar to the United States. They're made up of cantons. They're made up of 26 cantons. I think it started, I want to say with 13 cantons was the original formation of Switzerland and it started to form in the 18 hundreds. And it really was just a collection of States that said, I don't like the way Germany is doing things, I don't like the way France is doing things and Italy is a mess. So let's just form our own thing and it built from there and they just started adding cantons as they went through. So they actually have a very devolved central government. One of the great ironies of Europe, more often than not is centralized forms of government. Now they're democracies, but they're centralized forms of government with a very strong central government like France. France is probably the strongest. Everything goes from Paris, everything flows through Paris, but in Switzerland, it's the exact opposite Bern is the capital. But the powers of the federal government are very limited. And so actually this is very interesting. Each Canton is very autonomous, maybe even more so than our States. Sometimes in some situations they have more power; pass their own taxes, their own regulations, et cetera. Now, when it comes to things that affect the entire country whether it be defense, spending or other things, ma- jor items are put to a vote of the people. Every single one. So they just voted recently this was a huge deal. There was a vote proposed by one party to end freedom of movement in Switzerland, which is a big deal. So Switzerland is not part of the EU, but they've made special dealings with Brussels and the EU to allow freedom of movement in and out of Switzerland because it benefits both parties. But they're not part of the EU. And so we actually didn't cover this too. They're not on the Euro. They're on the Swiss Franc. Okay. So they're not on the Euro. They're not part of the EU, but they do allow freedom of movement; very important. What that means is they were going to vote to abandon that freedom of movement. Now that vote was not passed, but it's interesting because the Congress, like we have here that in DC, this wasn't voted and passed by the Senate or the house, and then signed by the president. It was put to a vote of the people directly. And so from smaller items to large items, the people ultimately are the sayers of almost everything. If it doesn't affect every Canton then that individual Canton has to say. And so this is why you get a great diversity. You go to the Canton of Geneva, granted it's French speaking, but let's pretend it was German speaking. The look, the layout, the feel of the city, everything is very different than the Canton of Bern. The cantons really do have their own character and flavor because the federal government is so devolved. Now, here's one other thing I want to jump in with and say, by law, every citizen of Switzerland should have a firearm.

Arnold:

I was going to mention that because I was going to pose that to you as is this true or a myth.

Jack:

True. In reality, maybe 50% have a firearm. There are very, defined regulations against that. You have to shoot at a designated areas. But yes, you're by law you're supposed to do a year or two years in the military, and then you're supposed to own and maintain a firearm. The government at some point can maybe check in and make sure it's handled correctly stored correctly, I'm not sure on the specifics on that; but in practice now there's restrictions. They're not going to give it to people that have been dishonorably discharged. They're not going to give it to people that have any kind of criminal record. So in practice, about half of the country has a firearm. But again for Switzerland or for Europe. I think that would shock most people. Europe is lumped into this thing. It's Americans have the guns and Europeans don't, no the Swiss really do take to heart their right to have and bear arms. Of any country in Europe, I would say structurally speaking Switzerland is closer to the United States than any other country in Europe.

Arnold:

Interesting. So for the most underrated capital in Europe, it seems to be a pretty good destination to go to.

Jack:

It really is it w whether you're into food, history, natural beauty, historic sites, activities, hiking going out and climbing mountains, or just living the life if you will; Bern is a great destination and a great place to base yourself to do side trips, to those other destinations that we're talking about. Maybe it's Zurich, maybe it's Interlochen to do skydiving and other places. So it's a great place to base yourself and it's a great destination in and of itself.

Arnold:

It's a great destination to figure out what E=MC2 means, the most famous equation. Energy equals mass times the speed of light squared.

Jack:

Yes, absolutely. Arnold. I love that you put that in at the end there. I think that really ties it all together and, Einstein is a great person to admire and his admiration of Bern, he loved Bern. I feel the same way. So in that way, we're connected to Einstein.

Arnold:

Thank you for listening to this episode of virtual vacation with Guidester. If you enjoy this episode, please check out our website, guidester.com/virtual-vacation. That's guidester.com/virtual-vacation. Virtual Vacation with Guidester is produced by Motif Media Group. For Jack Baumann and Virtual Vacation with Guidester, I'm Arnold Stricker.

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