THE MANY LANGUAGES OF SWITZERLAND

THE MANY LANGUAGES OF SWITZERLAND.

Basel, or Basle, is situated on the River Rhine, where the borders of France, Germany and Switzerland meet. In fact, we came to Basel by train from Freiburg, Germany, for a one-day impromptu excursion. The trip takes about one hour. Having traveled throughout Europe previously, it was a slight cultural shock to see the guards and customs right there at the train station (though nobody stopped us there). And we clean forgot that they have francs, not euros in this country of international banks and finance. We had our return train tickets, and credit cards, in case we became hungry or wanted to do some shopping. As it turned out, we did not need any money. The town is not large; it is possible to wander around on foot. Near the river, it reminds one irresistibly of Paris, but on a smaller scale. There are many bridges, and lots of people cross them on foot or on bikes. Everything is rather compact and very charming. The town, we knew, was founded by Romans, it was called Basilia; it became a Episcopal see in the 7th century. As many settlements which are very good ports, it changed hands throughout history. It also managed to preserve its main historical buildings, as well as all its charm. The cathedral was consecrated in 1019, which makes it almost 1,000 years old. It is very impressive, and its tall towers can be seen from any point in town. In fact, it is very sensible when a large cathedral is built in the center, and all the streets either radiate or circle the main square. In former epochs, the cathedral was always the focal point, the place where everybody got together, and also a sanctuary. The university was founded circa 1460. It is firmly associated with many famous names, Erasmus being one of them. The famous author is buried in Basel cathedral. The art gallery boasts a large collection of Holbein’s pictures. Basel Rathaus, the City Hall, was erected in the 16th century. It is bright’red, with a lot of golden ornaments all over it. One can also see the Medieval town gates. In the center, there is the traditional shopping street, with souvenir shops, little street markets, and a lot of well-known designer boutiques. Trams busily run around town. As we happened to be there during the holiday season, we saw lots of lovely decorations, some of them very cute, like little gilded angels floating in the air. The people are obviously used to tourists. Practically everybody speaks two or three languages, it seems that they are accustomed to it, as the country’s state languages are German, French and Italian. Lots of people speak English. They don’t seem to think that the ability to speak several languages is anything out of the ordinary. The towners are very friendly and calm; everybody seems to have a purpose, no idly wandering figures there.

We admired the cathedral, it is a great human achievement, one feels awed just trying to imagine all those centuries which comprise its history. Living in such a town full of wonderful buildings, surrounded by beautiful nature, with the ancient river flowing along, must be special.

© gretag 2012

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