Wednesday, November 30, 2011

breaking the bank in Bern

We arrived yesterday and our first impressions are: wow, the Swiss are rich. And: nice to be a neutral country.

I love how in Europe you can be someplace COMPLETELY different within an hour or two. Okay, we cheated, and took a plane, but even when driving. One hour by plane, and you can go from Berlin to Bern. Two cities that claim the bear as their mascot, that couldn`t possibly be more different. (By the way: it was nice to not fly with a bankrupt American airline...we got free newspapers, choco-croissants, and Schoklis. Thanks, Swiss Air!)

We arrived at Zürich airport (shiny, sparkly, fancy), and took the train to Bern (1 hr). We stepped out of the train station into this unbelievable city. Not in Berlin anymore. Berlin, like so many other German cities, was devastated during the bombings of WWII. So the rebuilding is this kind of patchwork-style of Imperial Germany/20s Modernism/Nazi buildings/postwar rebuildings: ugly building here, uglier building there, old building here, interesting building there. And then cover the whole thing with graffiti. Bern, on the other hand, benefited from Switzerland`s neutrality and is GORGEOUS. So old, so pittoresque. (And I guess the core of the city is also a few centuries older than Berlin...) It reminds me of some cities I`ve been to in France, and Luxembourg. Really ornate old facades, arcades along the bottom of the street. Circled by a river on three sides, and alps visible along the horizon. The river is much lower than the city, which makes for some dramatic views from the various bridges.

We walked along one of the main streets in the old city, and had fun window-shopping along all these fancy little boutiques. We popped into one kitchen store just to look around...and I was greeted with a mouthful of something I did NOT understand. I just looked and the shopwoman and said, "wie bitte?" She laughed at me and repeated the whole thing in (standard/high) German, which was something like "Are you just looking around or can I help you find something?"  It`s so crazy! I really expected to be able to understand a bit of what was being said, but Swiss German is SOO different. I can understand (with difficulty) Bavarian German, and Austrian German, but this is a whole different dialect ball game. Last night we had fun flipping through some TV channels, too, and listening to these beautiful sounds. The German words are printed on the screen, and then they read something incomprehensible (to me). Swiss German is melodic and they have really adorable diminuative forms where they put a "li" at the end of everything: "Schokli" = little chocolate.

This whole situation was repeated again at dinner, when the waitress came over and said something to us that sounded like "aoighds oaiidgfakl jfskljasfo". We look at each other and she says, "Oh, English?" and we said, "nein, Deutsch..." And she laughed and repeated in Hochdeutsch, "would you like bread with your meal?" What is crazy to me is that it is German. All the advertising is in German, the menu, the papers, the street signs...but when they speak it out loud we can`t understand a thing. Incredible.

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