Thomas W. Hodgkinson

All the time in the world

Bern, Switzerland
Daily Mail, November 2014

‘We have all the time in the world,’ sang Louis Armstrong on the soundtrack of the 1969 Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, filmed near Bern. But if you don’t have as much of it, the Swiss city is a perfect weekend destination. 

The city is a cinch to reach, thanks to a new service from Southend Airport, launched by Swiss carrier SkyWork. Though a little pricier than budget alternatives, you step aboard a small turboprop aircraft with just 30 other passengers, and an hour and 40 minutes later you’re practically in the city centre.

Bern is small, so whether you stay in the superior Schweizerhof Hotel or somewhere more economical, you can get around on foot.

First, make for the clock tower — the Zytglogge (literally, ‘time bell’) — a handy emblem of an obsession for the Bernese: time. It has the largest cuckoo clock you’ll ever see. Even the architecture is uniformly accurate: the lime-tinged sandstone houses were all built in the same period, after a fire devastated the old town in 1405.

Every other shop sells watches, from swish but affordable Swatches to stratospherically expensive Hublots. These sum up the character of the locals: precise, but practical, with an appreciation of the finer things in life.

Cross the bridge over the river Aare and gawp at the brown bears that lumber, or slumber, on the far side in their reassuringly secure enclosure. It’s a short walk from here to the Paul Klee museum, crammed with the Swiss master’s artworks.

Then head for the Schilthorn mountain, 40 miles away. At its top is the Piz Gloria, the revolving restaurant where much of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was filmed. There’s a new exhibition, Bond World 007, which is hilarious, plus simulated helicopter and bobsleigh rides, and a hat stand on to which you try to toss a fedora in true Bond style. 

It was while living in Bern that Einstein turned our understanding of time on its head with his theory of special relativity. He reasoned that if his tram were to move at the speed of light, time would be slower for him than it would for the Zytglogge.

Round off your holiday at the Einsteinhaus, the cramped quarters he shared with his first wife and fellow physicist, Mileva. As it turned out, he was two-timing her. He later married a girl named Elsa, who was also his first cousin. Now that’s what I call special relativity.