Info about Berne Switzerland circa 1900?
January 20, 2008 4:05 PM   Subscribe

I'm researching Berne, Switzerland, from approximately 1900 (although I could go as far back as 1880-90) to the First World War. I know that because of Switzerland's neutrality, a lot of international politics, diplomacy, activism and espionage was happening there. I have a few good general sources about Switzerland in about that era; a travel guide first published in 1919 by Frank Fox, John Addington Symonds' "Our Life in the Swiss Highlands," and I've just started tracking down information about the socialist International and the Berne International Women's Conference that took place in 1915. But I need to learn a lot more --

-- the flavor of daily life, the ethnic and cultural mix within the city, how rich people acquired their wealth, how poor people survived. The status of women and minorities. What people ate and drank. Cultural events. Festivals. Clothing. Technology. (I know, for instance, that the International List of Radiotelegraph Stations was maintained in Berne.) What it was like to be a diplomat and/or spy. Etc. Memoirs of diplomats might be especially useful, but I'd be grateful for any leads.
posted by ryansara to Society & Culture (3 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It happened about 98 km away in Basel, rather than Berne, but the first World Zionist Congress was convened by Theodore Herzl in 1897...
posted by Asparagirl at 4:28 PM on January 20, 2008

Here is the diary of an English visitor to Berne in 1897. The writer, Evelyn Wrench, was a 15-year-old schoolboy at the time (he went on to a career as a journalist, public speaker and promoter of international relations); the diary is not particularly insightful, but does at least give you a glimpse of Berne through the eyes of a visitor.

Friday, 17 September 1897 .. As soon as we arrived at Bern after leaving our luggage at the office, we went to the refreshment buffet at the station where we went last time & had the same 3 franc luncheon. The whole station was simply crowded with nothing but soldiers & officers and it was very amusing watching them salute one another .. I like Bern far better today, it is an awfully quaint old town with such funny buildings & there are lots of pictures of bears, in the middle of several of the streets there are little streams. After walking about & looking at everything we came to the lovely old Clock, it is really the prettiest clock I have seen, it is a great pity we were just too late to hear the hours strike & see the little bears walk round. We walked on and went through the principal street, where there are some very quaint figures of bears & men with fountains of water quite close to them; there is one very funny one of a little ogre eating little children & he has one in his mouth. We soon arrived at the Cathedral terrace & looked down on the view & we were just able to see a snow mountain .. Winifride & I each bought wooden bears on the terrace & then we all started for the bear pit. Bern really is quite different in fine weather & its streets are so quaint. On the way to the bear pit Winifride & I bought some delightful horses made of special Swiss crockery. Just as we were going to the bears it began to rain but stopped before we got there, we bought a large bunch of carrots & fed the bears, only the largest lay in his den & would not come out. Just then the rain began to pour so we took shelter in some of the stalls .. We then walked back to the Station .. We got the 5.15 train to Zurich and bought sandwiches & beer.
posted by verstegan at 4:33 AM on February 6, 2008

Here's another English visitor to Berne: A.R. Sennett, in Fragments from Continental Journeyings (1903). Sennett was a pioneer motorist (author of The Petrol Carriage, Horseless Road Locomotion, etc), but on this occasion he was on a cycling holiday:

As the cyclist journeys hitherwards from the Jura side of the country, where French is universally spoken, he finds himself passing through districts where both French and German are in about equal requisition. Here at Bern, however, we are in German Switzerland .. Here also we run into a country of another drink as well as another language. From the time we landed at Calais, we have been in a country and an atmosphere of wine and cigarettes; here we are in a beer-drinking town, and an atmosphere of 'pipe' tobacco. We have, moreover, run into a town of other eating habits, and have run out of that of eleven and twelve o'clock breakfasts. When you go to Rome you must do as the Romans do, for they have their long-established habits, and you should conform to them. To do so here you must alter your own, and have your dinner in the morning. This, too, like the change of language, was at once impressed upon us by our being asked, at about 5.30 pm, if we would take supper. We ventured to say that we would, if we could not take dinner instead; but that was out of the question, for dinner is always taken at twelve o'clock. [..]

Except it be after a good long cycle ride, we do not know a time when a good
krug of foaming lager goes down more satisfactorily than after a Turkish bath, and both can be obtained at Bern .. [Sennett goes on to describe a visit to a bier-keller:] There one is introduced to the queer red-and-white table-covers, huge and lidded beer-mugs, little drip-catching saucers, felt wads, and neat frauleines with clean white aprons, and large money satchels hanging over them. What lynx-eyed damsels these Kellnerin are; if you leave the lid of your krug open but half a minute, away it goes like a flash of lightning, and back it comes with a foaming cloud upon it; if you don't leave it open, but it gets a little 'low', there she is at your elbow with noch ein bier bitte, which sounds remarkably like 'bitter beer'. This she does in such a winning tone and with such a taking smile that no self-respecting cyclist can prevent her taking the mug as well. But a time arrives -- when she has flitted to and from the font, and ornamented the table before you with a pile of half a dozen or more of little silver saucers, for that's how she keeps account of how many 'goes' you have stowed away -- when, in response to her 'Noch ein bier bitte', you are forced to sigh, and say, 'Danke nein', the latter word not improbably representing the number of mugs you may have drunk.

The little tables rapidly fill up, and in troop, laughingly, many of the fair sex, which reminds us that that colour of hair is characteristic in both sexes at this part of Switzerland. The type of features is different also. These are larger, the cheek-bones are higher, whilst in stature both male and female are taller than those of French-speaking Switzerland. The women are chatting away at a tremendous speed, and seem to be very happy; the men are puffing away at a tremendous speed, and appear to be very contented; the beer is flowing away at a tremendous speed, and the landlord appears very contented. We note that many smoke long, thin, black stalks of cigars that take so much lighting.
Mariechen has to bring with them a little spirit-stove -- like a curling-iron stove -- in which they can be laid and warmed up until they think fit to light up.
posted by verstegan at 5:15 PM on February 11, 2008

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