This view, seen on my way over the bridge into town on Monday, perfectly relays the quintessential quaintness of Bern. It has the medieval majesty found in storybooks with its decorative architecture, pebbled streets, cute cafes, and general slowness. Many people even fondly refer to it as “Slow Bern”. I, too, find myself easily susceptible to wrongly generalizing Bern, and the country as a whole in fact, as adorably naive and innocent; a place where nothing bad happens.
Shortly before snapping this shot I went out for an afternoon run. Thanks to a week of mid-afternoon beers and eating out for every mea in Berlinl it was time to get the blood and sweat flowing yet again. Part of the charm of Bern is the giant, impossibly-colored Aare river that flows around it, carving the Old Town into an isolated peninsula. Centuries of the river’s natural erosive properties has left the city high above and the river several meters below. Numerous wanderwegs allow access down to the river where hiking and running paths follow the swift current.
After winding my way down to the river and a couple-kilometer cruise along the shore, I made my way back up a steep staircase. As I neared the end of my climb I noticed a youth covered in black garb with a backpack resting beside him sitting on the platform just before the final series of steps. I thought nothing of it as I had passed many people already and didn’t give him a second thought until I was right behind him and noticed blood snaking down his forearm. Looking quickly to the other arm I saw it too had blood crawling down it. Alarmed, I started to ask if everything was alright but then noticed the two hypodermic needles sitting beside him and the terror in his eyes.
I had caught him shooting up less than ten feet from one of the busiest bridges in town.
Without a word I ran up the remaining steps and joined the throng of people crossing the bridge. Shaken and unsettled I felt a heavy weight of sadness for this kid who was using a horrifically powerful and dangerous drug on a gorgeous sunny Monday afternoon. I was instantly reminded that nowhere, not even Slow Bern, is immune to the forces of humanity. I, along with many, have incorrectly idealized Switzerland.
While I don’t see it as a heroin haven I suppose I have mixed emotions about the signals it may be sending. Each public toilet not only has a bin for paper waste but also used needles, clearly marked with a stencil drawing. Is this helping keep the streets clean? In a way, yes. Those needles are probably less likely to find their way into a child’s hands or some other unwarranted place, but I’m not sure it’s the right answer. I never quite imagined those needles bins being used, that is, until I saw the young guy shooting up right there literally in broad daylight.
The world and its evils have roamed Switzerland long before my revelation early this week. It’s still jarring, nonetheless. For all its natural glory and splendor, evidenced in the above photo, it’s still a real place struggling with its own problems and issues. To be fair, though, I do feel safe and protected here. It’s simply more proof that reality is not all mountain hikes and cheesy fondue, rendering Bern and Switzerland all the more lifelike.