University of Bern

In the summer of 1961 I suddenly and unexpectedly became the beneficiary of funding which would allow me to study for two semesters at a European university of my choice.

Since time was short, I immediately sent off letters of application to several German-language universities. The first one to reply was the University of Bern, Switzerland, which accepted me as a student within days of my application.

I later learned that this was highly un-Bernese behavior on the part of the university administration, because in the rest of Switzerland the Bernese have the reputation of being very slow in everything they say and do. One of my fellow students taught me this riddle:

What’s this?
Boom. … [long pause] …
Boom. … [long pause] …
Boom. … [long pause] …
Answer: a Bernese machine gun.

Personally, I found the Bernese to be very quick, especially when they were speaking among themselves because I didn’t have a clue what they were talking about. Although the official language in this part of Switzerland is High German, which I had learned in school and college in the United States, the vernacular is something entirely different called Bärndütsch (Bern German), which is a distinct variety of Schwyzerdütsch (Swiss German), which in turn is a variety of Allemanisch. So to speak.

Bern University, main building

In the 56 years since I was enrolled there, the University of Bern seems to have expanded considerably. They now have some 13,000 students in eight faculties.

The lectures I attended in 1961/62 were mostly held here in the traditional main university building, but now there are also classrooms and lecture halls in other parts of the city. For instance, an old chocolate factory has been revamped for use by the Theological and Philosophical-Historical Faculties. 

The main building, Hochschulstraße 4, from behind

University of Bern logo

At some point in the past half century the University of Bern acquired a clever new symbol:


In German this is pronounced “u hoch b” which is sort of (but only sort of) like the name of the university. In English we would say “u to the b-th power”, which is somewhat less elegant, to say the least, and doesn’t sound at all like the name of the university.

View from the Grosse Schanze, in front of the university

My photos in this post are from 2008. I revised the text in 2017.

See more posts on Bern, Switzerland.
See more posts on European universities.

4 thoughts on “University of Bern”

  1. This must have been an inspiring place to study. With that stunning mountainous backdrop, traditional buildings and cultural immersion, how could one not be inspired! Quite different to my tertiary level study!!

      1. It seemed to be in the heart of the mountains. It was a small town at the time. We went back some 20 years later and it hadn’t changed much.

I appreciate your feedback!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.