- Life Style
From rail to Renoir: A scenic train trek through Switzerland
by Beverly Mann
Bern itself is a masterpiece, with its array of 15th century stone dwellings. The Clock Tower, where I first stopped to see the movable objects chime, marked my entrance through a historic tour of arched facades, red-tiled roofs and picturesque bridges that cross the blue-green River Aare.
It was difficult going indoors, but the new Einstein exhibit at the Musee Historique de Bern on Helvetiaplatz 5 was a worthwhile detour. Here stands the largest exposition on the life and work of this genius of physics. Huge interactive installations, with projections on large screens, were creatively displayed throughout several floors, and tapes of his speeches were played next to easy-to-understand explanations of Einstein's Theory of Relativity, geared for the layperson. Intertwined throughout the exhibit was information on Einstein's Judaic background and life in reference to historical events. Most of the installation will remain as part of the museum's permanent collection.
Just a short bus ride from the Old Town, past the bear pits and tourist center, stand three waves of steel roofing covering the glass-enclosed Zentrum Paul Klee. Designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano against a mountain backdrop of greenery, Bern's newest museum (which opened in 2005) has an interior that is also quite unique. An open plan of disconnected white walls spaced from the ceiling make it possible to view paintings close up and from a distance. I could appreciate each work strategically placed in the uncluttered environs.
Klee bridged the abstract with representational, and, in the 1920s, he became master teacher at the Bauhaus in Germany. When Hitler came to power in 1933, Klee then moved back to Switzerland with his wife.
Complementing the works of Klee was the temporary exhibit of Max Beckmann, who shared Klee's love of music, theater and acrobatics, along with a common interest in both psychological and mythological themes. Beckmann's vivid colors and shapes appear to scream out of the canvas with a well of emotions and movement. The contrasts between the two artists create a thought-provoking dichotomy.
Afterward, I journeyed through the Italian Alps toward Lugano, with enough beauty outside and within to hold any artist captive. The town has more than 30 museums and a lakeside brushed with a scattering of sculptures by local talent. The tourist office provides a helpful brochure listing the locations of all the museums in the region.
One extraordinary find was the Swiss Customs Museum, aka Smuggler's Museum, in the charming hamlet of Cantine di Gandria on the southern shore of Lake Lugano. The only way to access this free museum is via a boat ride. Formerly a housing facility for unmarried frontier guards in the 1890s, the museum portrays their living and working conditions, along with photos and objects representing the smuggling practices and forging of passports. It was fascinating to see the surreptitious way drugs were actually hidden in carry-on items and luggage, baby carriages and in the wheels of cars.
Back in town at the Museo d'Arte Moderna (Museum of Modern Art), right off the main lakefront at Riva A. Caccia 5, was an exhibition of Bulgarian-born Christo and his wife and colleague Jeanne-Claude. Both of these environmental artists are known to wrap landscapes and monuments with polypropylene fabric for the viewer to see life and art in a new perspective. Photos of their work included the Pont Neuf in Paris, Miami's Biscayne Bay and New York's Central Park. This exhibit follows past showings of Edvard Munch, Modigliani and Chagall.
About a 20-minute walk from the center of town, on Viale S. Franscini 12, I discovered the Galleria Gottardo, a hidden treasure. Tucked away in the modern high-rise Banca del Gottardo, designed by Swiss architect Mario Botta, creator of San Francisco's Museum of Modern Art, this nonprofit museum presents four exhibitions per year in collaboration with New York's Guggenheim Museum. According to Monica Homberger, officer relationship manager for the bank, "Chairman Garzoni started this gallery in 1989 originally to support local Swiss artists. Our evening expositions are very crowded. For a small gallery, we have at least 40 visitors a day come through."
The day I was there, they were presenting an unusual Etruscan archaeological find from the Tuscany Poggio Civitate Museum. There was so much art and history to absorb in Lugano, I wished I had stayed longer. However, I was off the next morning on one of the most sensational train rides, the Wilhelm Tell Express, via the Gotthard Pass, where some 270 trains pass through daily. The train ride was coupled with a blissful boat ride that took me from Fluelen to my final destination of Lucerne.
On the east bank of Lake Lucerne is the Lido, a popular summer vacation spot. Directly adjacent to this vista sits the Swiss Transport Museum, the only one of its kind addressing the history of transport and communication. I was amazed by the intricate detail in the old replicas and models of the 19th century locomotives. Housed within this massive complex I found the Hans Erni Museum, containing more than 300 works of this local artist. The complex is so vast that the staff drive around in scooters.
A must-see was the Rosengart family's Picasso Museum, a private collection showcasing the last 20 years of Picasso's life through 200 photographs of the artist, his friends and family taken by photographer David Douglas Duncan. The museum contains some of Picasso's late drawings, ceramics and original prints. The site is located on Furrengasse 21, off a small street near the main thoroughfare. The signs leading toward the museum are a bit confusing.
Even more impressive is the Rosengart Collection, on Pilatusstrause 10, a 15-minute walk from the Picasso Museum. On three floors, there are 19th and 20th century paintings including such artists as Matisse, Miro, Cezanne, Chagall, Pissarro and Renoir.
IF YOU GO
Visit www.myswitzerland.com for general information on Switzerland.
Visit www.raileurope.com or call 888-382-7245 for information on trains, schedules and fares. The rail passes can be purchased in the U.S. For more detailed information on Swiss travel by train, bus and boat, go to www.swisstravelsystem.ch.
The Wilhelm Tell Express runs two times a day from May 1st through October. There is a small surcharge with your Swiss Rail Pass that includes boat reservation and lunch. For information, go to www.wilhelmtellexpress.ch.
Reasonably priced hotels within walking distance from the train station:
Bern: Hotel Kreuz
Holiday Inn Lugano Centre, Via Geretta 15 Static
Zurich: Hotel Rutli
Hotel Des Alpes
Rathauquai 5/Furrengasse 3
Interlaken: Carlton-Europa Hotel
Beverly Mann is a freelance travel writer.
© Copley News Service