Berne, with its arcades and fountains, is the capital of Switzerland and the seat of the Federal Government. It is situated in the heart of a rich farming district with the magnificent Bernese Alps as a background. The Bernese them. selves are a slow and easy. going people, but supposedly somewhat clumsy, like the bears which have been the symbol of the city since its foundation.
Berne, the capital of Switzerland and seat of the government since 1848, is, of all important Swiss cities, the one which has most successfully preserved its old world charm.
Built on a promontory above the River Aare, it has a magnificent view of the Bernese Alps. And even in modern times nothing mars the architectural unity of the city. The old town is marked off by perfectly clear boundaries -- the river Aare Berne on three sides, the line of the last walls, retained in the name of the Äusseres Bollwerk, on the fourth. Berne can be described in terms of the quaint or picturesque, but only at the cost of a radical misapprehension of her character. The town was not built to be picturesque, but to fulfil a very practical function. And Berne has something far deeper than mere picturesqueness to reveal. What is unique and imposing in this city is the harmony of form and color in which the spirit of a community has incorporated itself in stone. Other towns have beautiful monuments. Berne, as it has been so aptly said, itself is a monument. The single building in Berne is astonishingly unpretentious. There are no overwhelming façades nor single beautiful houses on which endless time, thought and money were lavished. This has always been so, and travellers tales tell us how the character of Berne has withstood all the changes of time, taste and traffic.
Practically the whole town was rebuilt in the early decades of the eighteenth century, but the arcades were rebuilt with it. No façade projected to break the even flight on either side of the streets, and only details -- the composition of the house front with its central accent, the ornamental sculptures and iron work -- show that Berne is a town of the eighteenth century.
That is what is great in Berne. It is not only that the Bernese on principle dislike useless trimmings. It would have been possible for them to have created a completely new town for they had the money -- and piety towards things of the past is only a modern feeling. Moreover, as the view from the Kirchenfeld Bridge shows, they could create eighteenth century façades as well as anyone else, and the public buildings of the epoch are fully expressed in its terms. But along the streets of the old town, the expression of the individual was quite naturally absorbed in the expression of the community.
Along the main street, which is called successively Spitalgasse, Marktgasse, Kramgasse and Gerechtigkeitsgasse, are a series of handsome fountains dating mostly from the 16th century. The most famous one, the Kindlifresser, shows a ferocious ogre devouring a child while several other infants are held in readiness in his pockets. Owing to the fact that the ogre wears a Jew's cap, it has been said that this fountain is a public reminder of the awful practices attributed to the Jews in olden days. Another story has it that so many children had fallen into the town moat that this figure was set up to frighten them away. Other famous fountains are the Zähringerbrunnen showing a bear fully armed with a little bear at his feet calmly eating grapes; the Samsonbrunnen, the fountain of the guild of butchers, with whom Samson was always a favorite figure; and the Gerechtigkeitsbrunnen, the fountain of Justice, showing Justice with an upright sword moving between Emperor, Sultan, Pope and Magistrate.