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Bern, Switzerland

Bern’s People
Paul Klee’s Park near Lu

Bern claims for its own the artist Paul Klee, a German who was born in a village near the city of Bern, died in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino, and is buried in Bern’s Schosshalde Cemetery, twenty minutes’ walk from where I live. Klee wanted Swiss citizenship and applied for it, but it wasn’t granted until six days after his death. His mother, Ida Frick, was Swiss, and he went to school and lived in Bern until he was 19, when he left to study art in Munich, but his citizenship was determined by his German father.

Bern’s Language

The Bernese do interesting things to their male friends’ names.  Aschi, Bidu, Bänts, Chrigu (“ch” like hawking up spit!), Fige, Köbi, Kusy, Res, Seppu, and Stöffu are what you call men named Ernst, Beat, Benjamin, Christian, Victor, Jakob, Markus, Andreas, Joseph, and Christoph (or Stephan). My favorite nickname of all, though, is Schämpu (pronounced more or less like “shampoo,” but with the accent on the first syllable.) That’s what a man named Jean-Pierre may be called if he lives in the canton of Bern. 

Chrigu Stucki, national wrestling champion

Scenes of Bern
Italian architect Renzo Piano’s Paul Klee Center

No more than a few hundred feet from the Schosshalde cemetery where Paul Klee is buried is the Paul Klee Center, which holds regularly changing exhibits of artwork by him and his contemporaries and friends, many of whom taught at the Bauhaus in Germany, as Klee did. The museum, completed in 2005, is by architect Renzo Piano, and its design reflects the light, playful quality of Klee’s paintings and drawings. I get to admire it at least once a week on my regular walks. Much as I like the building, I have to confess I don’t think it’s as breathtaking as Piano’s Beyeler Foundation near Basel.


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