Monday, January 16, 2017

Unexpected excitement in Bern, Switzerland

My wife Esther and I decided to go by public transportation to attend a concert in Bern, the capital of Switzerland. By not driving, we hoped to avoid the hassle of traffic and parking, in spite of needing to ride two busses and two trains to get there, along with a bit of walking to our final destination. The difference in time was only about 15 minutes. Are we glad we did not drive!

As we walked toward the concert hall after our arrival by train in Bern, we discovered that the street we wanted to take was overrun by police and blocked by barricades. We took an adjoining street, even though it wasn’t the most direct route. Approaching the square near the national government building, we began to hear a loud roar which increased in volume as we drew nearer. Suddenly a fierce gale-like wind hit us, even though we were under an arcade. We could see people in the open square ahead of us hanging on to their hats, and others pointing their cameras skyward.

Source (Jürg Spori): Berner Zeitung Online
When we came out on to the open square, we saw a military helicopter overhead, hovering just above the tallest buildings. The noise and wind were overpowering. I had to hang on dearly to my ubiquitous beret if I wanted to continue my signature look. We continued on our way, beret intact, soon out of the reach of the turbulent noise and wind. We still had no idea what was going on.

After walking several more blocks, we turned a corner and saw the outline of the concert hall; our destination. The closer we got, the more worried we became. The barricades and the police presence continued right up to the front door of the concert hall. Would the disruption, for whatever reason, prevent the concert from happening?

We were early enough to linger along the barricades to hopefully figure out what was going on. A large group of Asian-looking people were lined up against the barricades, many waving flags. We assumed they were tourists—there are nearly always groups of Asian tourists to be seen touring Switzerland. We were a little too shy to ask other bystanders what was happening. Soon an escorted motorcade of very official-looking limousines drove past. Whoever, or whatever caused all the commotion was probably leaving at the very moment.

As the noise from two helicopters droned on in the distance, we saw that
there was a side door available for concert goers. People were streaming in to find their seats when we arrived. We entered, and soon the din from the streets was forgotten, and the reason for our being in Bern unfolded before our eyes. The sublimity of Mendelssohn’s Oratorio Elijah in the beautiful surroundings of the concert hall, dismissed from our minds whatever had taken place outside.  

When the concert was over, we headed to catch our train. A light snow was falling. The barricades were still up, and although fewer in number, security was still evident all along our walk back, but no more helicopters. As soon as got home, we turned on the news. Apparently the president of China was making an official state visit to Switzerland, and there were fairly massive protests, by Swiss standards, against China’s oppression of Tibet. The escorted motorcade we witnessed was probably the president of China, Xi Jinping, being shuttled from the capital building to where he was spending the night.

I wonder how long it would have taken for us to find parking, had we driven? Or how far from our destination would we have been allowed to park, considering the thigh security? Although expensive, I am forever grateful for the availability and efficiency of Swiss public transportation.

Now an interesting footnote to this story. When we boarded the first bus in Aarberg, there were two women at the front of the bus chatting merrily away. Nothing unusual. We noticed that the same two women boarded the train to Bern. As we neared the concert hall, we spotted the same two women lingering at the barricades to see what was happening. Sure enough, they entered the concert hall just before us to attend the same concert. Indeed, we saw them on the same trains home. Excitement, glorious music, coincidence, and just another day in our year-long adventure in Switzerland.

Source of picture and news: Berner Zeitung Online

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