New Delhi, India
June 25, 2009
The Zytglogge, appropriately enough, has moved with the times. Between 1191 and 1250 AD, this squat stone tower functioned as the western gate of Bern. In 1405, the tower was rebuilt following a fire, and some bright spark decided it was perfectly suited to be a prison for prostitutes. Our guidebook didn’t offer any insights into when it ceased to house the local hookers, but it must have been, at the very latest, around 1530 or so when the clock was installed. The most lusty of whores—and their guards or keepers—could hardly have been expected to live with the bell clanging loudly about their ears every hour.
Which brings us to the clock. This was designed in 1527-30 by Caspar Brunnen, and—Swiss clock that it is—even 500 years later, is precision itself.
The Zytglogge is hard to miss. It stands at the intersection of Kramgasse and Marktgasse, with a huge dial, glittery with gold paint and crimson, the hands ticking away industriously. We were on our way to the Münster, so didn’t have time to dawdle, but promised ourselves we’d stop by later—which we did, at 3.45 that afternoon. It meant hanging around for 10 minutes watching other tourists hanging around, but then, this is the greatest show in Bern!
The point is, every hour, 4 minutes before the hour strikes, a series of little mechanical figures in a special niche next to the clock face present a little show. A gilded rooster flaps his wings; a figure dressed as a jester, strikes a pair of bells; another figure, bearded and looking like a portly alderman, turns an hourglass upside down. And, in case you thought they’d forgotten Bern’s favourite animal: a little procession of bears, each of them dressed (why, I don’t know) as a warrior, goes by. One bear’s even astride a horse. Kinda cute, but awfully slow—this is spread out over 4 minutes, so the rooster flaps his wing, then everybody stares expectantly at the niche for half a minute before some other mechanical figure starts jiggling.
The clock face is interesting, though, with its multiple aspects: you can see not just the time, but the date and month too, on concentric circles forming the clock. And for anybody who can’t, by looking around, guess whether it’s night or day, here’s the bonus: this is a 24-hour clock! Above the clock face and the mechanical figures is a larger, more prominent clock face which shows only the time—you can see it quite a way off, so it’s probably more effective for people in the vicinity.
Standing around and gaping at the Clock Tower is free. A small fee is charged if you want to climb up to the tower. Do look at the murals on the buildings round about: they’re delightfully old-fashioned.
From journal Bears, Bears Everywhere