We rolled into Bern Hauptbahnhof in the early afternoon on Thursday. The rain was pattering on the windows, and when we craned our necks to the right we saw the old riding school or “Reithalle”. The building was once a beautiful testament to Bernese architecture. And, yes truly, it was used by the city as a riding school for the public. In the mid-century it’s usefulness waned, and since the 1980s it has housed an autonomous group of youths – largely punks and anarchists – who want to see social change. The exterior walls are covered in spray painted pictures and messages telling us to “fight for our reit”.
We had planned our trip to Bern to attend a gig at the Reithalle. But, because of internal politics and run-ins with the law it was closed until further notice. The new location was a secret.
Bern itself reminds me of Wellington. Aside from the fact that they are both small capital cities, they share some specific similarities. Like Wellington, the best things in Bern are often hidden in alleyways or underground. Yes, the city has some amazing major attractions (The Bundeshaus, the Bären park, the Zytglogge etc…), but its true treasures take a bit of hunting.
On our first night we had dinner at the popular Altes Tramdepot. We left after it got dark (around 10pm) and wandered back home. Our route back to the hostel started with a set of creaky wooden stairs down the the Aare river. We started walking through a little walkway along a row of small shops. As we strolled, the ceiling seemed to get lower and lower, until eventually we had to hunch our backs in order to get through. A man was sitting outside with a beer and a cigarette.
Yesterday we took the bus out to Lorraine for dinner and found a group of young men playing ping-pong at a local cafe. My parents had lived in this area when they were a young, childless couple. We ended up eating dinner at a place called wartsaal. Apparently there used to be a Migros there, and in the early morning a lorry would back into the courtyard to deliver supplies. Unfortunately, my parents’ bedroom also backed onto this courtyard. Things have changed.
The gig ended up being at the squat of the “Familie Osterhas” – another collective interested in autonomy and social change. There were lots of people with tattoos and piercings, but also lots of people without. There were a diverse range of ethnicities and ages and generally the space felt safe. The city of Bern only has a population of 130,000 and somehow manages to sustain various subcultures and events – where in Auckland an event like this would have flopped. We caught a bus back to the city at about half past midnight, and there were still people outside, quietly enjoying their beer and cigarettes.