Dream come true? Wine flows from Bern fountain

Bern's fountains are a treat for any tourist - but even more so on Tuesday, when one provided wine rather than water to celebrate the city's tradition of wine tasting.

Dream come true? Wine flows from Bern fountain
One of Bern's fountains. Photo: Carl Mueller/Flickr

A public wine tasting takes place on Tuesday at 5pm, with locally-made white wine set to gush from the fountain instead of water.

Bern residents were expected to flock to Mosesbrunnen on Münsterplatz by the city's minster, to try the Chasselas white wine – said to be the strongest alcohol ever produced in the region, with an alcohol content of 12.1 percent. 

Adrian Zingg from the city of Bern told The Local “We have over 100 litres of wine prepared. We have invited a lot of people and had 150 responses, but we really don't know how many people will come.”

“So far the reactions have been only positive. If today is a successfull evening, we certainly want to make this a repeated event,” said Zingg.

In fact, the new tradition was inspired by a historic event. Wine first flowed from the city's fountains in 1848, when Bern and Zurich were both vying to become the capital. At a banquet to present the city to the National Council and Council of States, an artificial fountain with gushing wine was the centrepiece.

It clearly went down well with the guests, as Bern was named as the federal capital just three weeks later – despite the fact that Alexandre Schmidt, a local councillor responsible for the region's winery, says the city had a reputation for being “boring and financially underdeveloped” at that time.

The fountains used on that occasion could not be found, so the city's winemakers settled for the Mosesbrunnen.

“Indirectly, all Bern residents are wine-producers – so we want to teach them about their wine” said Schmidt. “I cannot imagine a more original setting for a wine-tasting.”

The organizers hope to repeat the event in a year's time.

The Local has previously looked at the history behind Bern's fountains – there are over 100 of them.

However, anyone partaking in the wine tasting might want to be careful. Bern tour guide Ursula Aregger previously shared a local legend, relating to the Ogre Fountain in the city. “Folklore goes that at midnight at Christmas, the fountain flows with wine,” she said, “but try to drink any, and you will be possessed by the devil! It is a warning against greed.”

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Swiss history: How the Swiss army refused to decommission its pigeons

For half a century after WWII ended, the Swiss army refused to decommission its carrier pigeons, even though they had long outlived their usefulness.

Swiss history: How the Swiss army refused to decommission its pigeons
Pigeons flew military missions in Switzerland for over 70 years. Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / AFP

Certain species of pigeons have an uncanny ability to find their way home to their coops from any distance. That is why pigeons were widely used to carry messages from one military unit to another in World War I and II.

But only the Swiss army had kept its pigeons long after the war ended — until 1996. They have been on standby for decades in case of invasion— this time from the Soviet Union.

The birds “have been specially trained for homing and are used to flying long distances over all kinds of terrain,” Samuel Iselin, a spokesman for the Federal Office of Signal Troops in Bern, said just before the pigeon troops were disbanded.

But since the country had not been involved in either of the world wars, it is safe to assume that Swiss pigeons had never seen active combat duty or witnessed any frontline action.

There is also no record of any of them falling victim to enemy fire, unlike their French counterpart, Cher Ami, which was hit while delivering messages during the Battle of Verdun in 1916. She was awarded the posthumous Croix de Guerre medal for her bravery.

It is perhaps natural to think that pigeons carried messages in their beaks, like the olive branches. But in fact, messages were written on light paper, rolled into a small tube, and attached to the bird’s leg.

From 1919 until 1996, Switzerland owned 7,000 pigeons; another 23,000 were on standby to use in case of national emergency.

In the early 1990s, the Defense Ministry decided to save $476,000 a year by finally retiring the flock and focusing on more modern communication methods.

But in a truly Swiss fashion, a pro-pigeon group had collected 100,000 signatures for a referendum to enshrine the carrier pigeon service in the Swiss constitution.

 In the end, however, bird enthusiasts and the army reached a compromise: a new foundation was established especially to care for the retired military pigeons in their new civilian life.

Thirty elite birds were pigeonholed, as it were, to live out their retirement in warmer climes.

They were sold to a private South African buyer, and they didn’t even have to fly to their new home themselves. “The pigeons were handed over in Zurich and put aboard a South African Airways flight,” Iselin explained.