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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Kade

Biel/Bienne, Switzerland

I'm back to my daily Swiss routine. Hop on a train and go somewhere!!!!!! Today, I am going to Biel/Bienne. Michael has never wanted to go there so I decided today would be a great day to go. I have a favorite band that plays at the Jungfrau Marathon from Biel.

For the past few years, I usually meet up with a man and his dog at the West train station He spends an hour or so every morning there people watching and talking with people whom he knows. He also stops at the grocery store. His dog is the cutest and the cleanest! His fur is so white.

I took the ICE (intercity express ) train from Interlaken West to Bern; changed to a regional train and went direct to Biel/Bienne. If I had stayed on the train which originated at the Interlaken Ost Station, I would eventually arrive in Berlin, Germany later this evening. Maybe Michael and I should do this some year as we haven't been to Germany for quite a few years.

In a previous blog, I have written about my train routine going to Bern.

Today, it is partly cloudy skies; a small chop to the waves on the lake; three fishing boats in the cove; two water taxis crisscrossing the lake; deer in the middle pasture; no cats hunting in the fields and harvesting of lettuce and potatoes. There are fields of sunflowers ready to be harvested. Their heads are drooping downward. Not sure what their seeds will be used for: oil or eating. Speed of the train from Interlaken to Thun is a nice steady pace; then the speed dramatically accelerates from Thun to Bern.

For those of you whom have written: Interlaken is in the Berner Oberland; home to the Alps and high snow capped mountains.

When most people think of Switzerland, they most likely think of this area with snow capped mountains, cows with bells grazing on the mountain side, wooden chalet style homes, Bernese mountain dogs or St. Bernard dogs, etc. Most of Switzerland is not anything like that. The cities of Zürich, Bern, Geneva or Basel definitely are not anything like that!

Biel's landscape is totally different from that of Interlaken. It is flat before you get to the city. I see fields of corn being grown and orchards of apple trees. Spotted a few sections of asparagus that have gone to seed. Can also recognize fields of sugar beets, potatoes and carrots.

This officially bilingual city is known as Biel to German-speakers and Bienne to French-speakers. While the modern city extends across the plain down to the lake, the intact Old Town with its Gothic church nudges up against the hillside.

From the town on the linguistic divide, it is only a stone’s throw to the lush green, hilly landscape of the Jura with its broad forests and wonderful vantage points, as well as the sportsperson’s Mecca of Magglingen above Biel, and the Chasseral (1607m)

Biel/Bienne is the heart of the Swiss watch-making industry.

Trademarks such as Swatch, Omega, Rolex, Bucherer, Candino, Century, Festina, Perrelet, Leroy, Movado and many others are closely associated with the city of Biel, The Swatch Group has its worldwide headquarters in the tree lined "Seevorstadt", in the previous building of ASUAG. Biel has additionally also positioned itself in the field of other industries and in communication. Its location makes the city an attractive gateway to the excursion and holiday region around Lakes Biel, Neuchâtel and Murten – also known as the “Three Lakes Region” – with vineyards on the hillsides and extensive vegetable cultivation on the level areas. The options for rambling and cycling excursions are huge. On the North Shore of Lake Biel the vineyard trail and the viticulture museum in Ligerz attract visitors.

The city has a small and beautiful historic center, with a Gothic church (15th century), impressive guild halls and fountains decorated with flowers. Outside the historic center, the tree-lined "Seevorstadt" goes to the lake and its beautiful shoreline. On the way, the visitors pass the Biel "Cultural Quarter" with the Neuhaus and Schwab Museums and the CentrePasquArt.

I picked up a walking map at the tourist information office. I only had to follow the "watch trail" to find my way around.

Beautiful architecture and designs for some of the buildings.

This building has oriel windows. An oriel window is a form of bay window which projects from the main wall of a building but does not reach the ground. Oriels are supported from below by projecting corbels or brackets of stone or wood. Usually semi-hexagonal or rectangular in plan, oriels first became prevalent early in the 15th century and were a popular way of making the most of sunlight.

You were considered rich if you could afford an oriel window.

Rolex have their offices high on the hill while Movado has it by the train station.

Once I reached Zentral Platz/Place Centrale (the central place), I could branch out in many different directions.

There is an Old Town section of the city and the newer section with the tall concrete buildings. Decided to concentrate on the Old Town section of the city. The Old Town section is the birthplace of the city. The Romans settled in this place. They worshiped the god "Benelus", which also gave Biel its name.

I could never find the entrance but it is still quite beautiful to look at.

The old section of the city has many beautiful fountains. The water is drinkable from any fountain. Workers filled up water bottles and continued working.

This section of the Old Town is called The Ring. Located here is the City Church of Biel, restaurants, shops and homes. It is such a quaint section of town as compared to the new section.

The City Church of Biel is a Swiss Reformed church. Built in the Gothic style, its construction started around 1451 and was mostly completed in 1470. The church is considered one of the most significant late Gothic churches in Switzerland and is a Swiss Cultural Property of National Significance. Some of the old paintings on the walls still exist, though. It is quite simple but very beautiful.

The current church was built on the site of two earlier churches, a Romanesque building and an early Gothic building. Very little is known of the previous churches, though the old sacristy now forms a crypt below the choir. The town of Biel first appears in records between 1225 and 1230 while one of the earlier churches is first mentioned in 1228. This and the current church were dedicated to St. Benedict. In 1367, much of the town, including the church, was destroyed in a fire. Construction began on the current church in 1451 under the leadership of the master builder Wenzlin of Bohemia, who remained on the site until his death in 1465. Primary construction finished up about 5 years later in 1470. The tower of the previous Gothic church had to be repaired and strengthened and was incorporated into the new building. In 1480 additional height was added to bring the bells above the new roof. However, while finishing construction a wall collapsed. The top of the tower, the bells and an unlucky worker all fell into the street below. Master builder Henmann Ulfinger spent about 10 years rebuilding the tower, finishing in 1490. In 1549 Hans Dyck replaced the old bell tower roof with a steeply pointed spire and four small spires, a design which remains today. The five current bells were added in the 19th and 20th centuries; three in 1882, one in 1947 and one in 1955. The church was partly rebuilt in the Baroque in 1781-83. The Baroque elements were replaced with Gothic Revival elements in 1864-84 under the direction of Hans Rycher. The Gothic Revival elements were removed and the original Gothic design and decoration were repaired in 1908-11 by Emanuel Jirka Propper.

The church is an uneven, mostly rectangular, sharply beveled on the north-west corner basilica. It lacks a crossing and transepts. The polygonal choir and nave share a single roof and there are side chapels between the buttresses on the south side. The massive tower makes up the north-east corner. The western portal is partly interrupted by the beveled north-west corner and so has an asymmetric arraignment of a pointed arch portal and windows.

The church has a central nave with two uneven side aisles and four side chapels. The nave is divided into four bays, supported by large octagonal capital-less pillars. The roof in the eastern (and older) part of the church is supported by rib vaults while the western part has linear vaults. The wall behind the choir is pierced with three high pointed arch windows. The windows are filled with 15th century stained glass which depict events from the life of St. Benedict. The nave and choir together are 36 meters (118 ft) long, 7.5 m (25 ft) wide and 14 m (46 ft) high.

This Baroque organ was built by Jacques Besancon above the western portal. It was first played on 20 September 1783 and was damaged in the 25 July 1855 earthquake. Twenty years later, in 1875, it was finally repaired and put back in service. It was repaired, cleaned and partly rebuilt in 1902 and again in 1943. At that time, the organ had more than 55 registers, distributed over three manuals and pedals. In 2011 it was repaired by the Metzler Orgel company and put back into service. After the 2011 work, the organ has a total of 51 registers, including an extended register and a transmission, on four manuals and a pedal. A special feature is the 4th manual, called the Winddynamisches Werk.

A Swallow's nest organ, built in 1994 by Metzler Orgelbau (Dietikon), is located on the north wall of the church. It replaces the 1517 swallow's nest organ which was built by Hans Tugi and was destroyed in rioting during the Reformation in 1527. Today's instrument has nine registers, Rückpositiv (FGAB-g2a 2: Gedackt 8', Principal 4') and Manual (CDEFGAB-g2a2: Praestant 8', Coppel 8', Octave 4', Waldflöte 2', Mixtur IV, Sesquialtera II, Regal 8'). The pedal (CDEFGAB-c1) is attached to the manual. The instrument is equipped with a Tremulant as well as the effect registers Vogelgesang, Zimbelglöcklein as well as with a Kalkantenglocke. It is medium-toned and is designed especially for the performance of organ music of Late Gothic, the Renaissance and the Early Baroque. The painted wing doors were completed in 1995.

This was the first time in this church so I needed to light a candle and made a wish.

There are waterways from the Bielersee/Lac de Bienne (Lake Biel) running through the city. Water level is extremely low. The running water over the cobblestone made for a pleasing sound. Ducks enjoyed waddling through the shallow water.

I passed the Synagogue of Biel. There was an interesting door knocker of a hand on one side of the door.

I walked up all the steps to the Reform Church of Pasquet only to find the doors of the church locked. Next to the church was a vineyard. Grapes were still wrapped in blue netting. A cat slept under the vines.

The Jura mountains are easily reached by funicular railway from Bienne, with both the Bienne–Evilard Funicular and the Biel–Magglingen Funicular linking the city with the foothills. It takes just seven minutes to reach Macolin (the location of the Federal Sports School) and from where numerous walking paths start in every direction. Macolin, Evilard, Prêles and the year round resort of Les Prés-d'Orvin offer sensational views of the Alps on a clear day. The highest viewpoint is Chasseral (1607 m a.s.l). The steep gorge of Taubenloch also offers spectacular scenery.

The port of Biel/Bienne is the starting point for scenic river and lake cruises, which can take the visitors to the city of Solothurn, St. Peter's Island and the Lakes Neuchâtel and Morat (Three-Lake-Tour). The experience is at its best during the autumn harvest and when the wine festivals are held against a background of autumn colors. Other culinary specialties of the Biel region include perch and whitefish filets and the marc sausage. I wanted to try the perch but I had my heart set on lasagna at Città Vecchia back in Unterseen.

Biel also makes the ideal starting point for cycling tours. Sporting cyclists can measure themselves against the Jura foothills or more, while day-trippers can opt for the routes along the waterfront, where restaurants and cafés are on hand to help top up energy reserves. The lakeside Seeland has kilometers of paths. The "Vegetable Route" provides information panels along the way on the more than 60 varieties of vegetable cultivated in the area.

So happy I waited to go to Città Vecchia! Started with the mixed salad of baby greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, butter beans and corn. Salad was served with fresh crusty bread just out of the oven. Nice and warm! Already had the Rusticana pizza so tonight was lasagna. Their lasagna literally melts in your mouth. Delicious!!!

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