Dodgeball, Quidditch and Queers - a trip to Switzerland's Capital!
by Chantal Cooke.
The EuroGames take place in the Swiss city of Bern in 2023 – providing the perfect excuse to visit this picturesque capital.
Taking place over four days in July, the EuroGames is all about creating a positive space for the queer community to come together and engage in sport. And you don’t need to be the best in your field or play at pro level, in fact, you can enter just as an excuse to try out a new sport and see if you like it. No heats to get through, no tough time challenges, just a willingness to have fun.
For Greg Zwygart, one of the organisers of the 2023 Games, it was taking a punt at the 100m sprint one year that made him realise he actually enjoyed running. Previously he’d felt sport “wasn’t for people like me, but taking part in the EuroGames changed that. It gave me the confidence to pursue something I had never really realised I enjoyed. Now I am a member of a local running club and run a variety of distances regularly.”
But EuroGames in Bern is not just about the traditional sports – they’ve got a bunch of less ‘traditional’ activities on the programme too; from Dodgeball and Quidditch to Dancesport and Rollerderby. So there really is no excuse!
During the Games there will be parties, cultural events, and a Village area overlooking the river with live acts, food trucks, discussions and chances to meet friends old and new.
The entire event will culminate in BernPride. This will only be the third time the city has had its own Pride, but the organisers of the EuroGames hope it will be the first of many. All monies raised from hosting the Games will be given to BernPride to create a legacy with the intention that the city can host Pride every year.
Still not convinced you want to make the trip to this picturesque city? Well, let me give you a few more reasons:
Bern is super easy to get to. Fly to Zurich and then catch a train, straight from the airport to the centre of the city.
Bern is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, thanks to the preservation of its Medieval town centre. Built on a narrow hill bordered on three sides by the River Aare, its compact layout has remained essentially unchanged since its construction during the twelfth to the fifteenth century. Its also home to Switzerland's tallest minster as well as other churches, bridges and a large collection of Renaissance fountains.
Whenever I visit a new city, I love to book on a guided city tour. It’s an easy, stress-free way to get to know the place, pick up some insider tips and get orientated. Any tour will take you to the famous Zytglogge clock tower where you can watch as the cock crows every quarter hour setting off a sequence that includes dancing bears and a golden knight. Well worth the time.
Bern, although not in the Alps, is surrounded by hills which provide the perfect opportunity to view the city from above with the Bernese Alps in the distance. Jump on a train a couple of stops to Wabern, Gurtenbahn, then board the funicular which will take you all the way up to Gurten - Park im Grunen. There are hiking trails, a toboggan (no snow required), green meadows, grazing cows, and a restaurant where you can enjoy a drink as you gaze over the city and the sparkling Aare River to the snowy caps of the Bernese Oberland mountains.
On the other side of the River Aare, take a stroll up to the Rose Garden, a floral park with over 220 different varieties of rose, 200 of iris, and over 20 of rhododendron. Sunbathe on the grass, smell the flowers, enjoy the view over the river and across to the spires and tiled roofs of the city, and pop into the restaurant to enjoy the scenery over a drink or dinner. Or, in my case, a large ice cream Sundae.
On a hot day, head to the beach house on the banks of the River Aare and join the locals in the water as they allow the river’s current to take them downstream through the trees. The current can be strong so do put safety first, take a float, and travel with friends. On a baking hot day there is no better way to cool off.
If you love Museums and culture, invest in a Museum Card (from 28CHF). Use your card to visit, among others, the Natural History Museum (currently hosting ‘Queer; Diversity is in our nature’ until March 2023), or the Swiss Shooting Museum (learn the history of firearms, view vintage rifles, handguns and other forms of shotting weaponry), or the Museum of Communication (yes, a museum about how we communicate). If none of these appeal, don’t worry, there are plenty more options.
Bern is famous for its bears – the symbol of the city. In the past these poor animals had a miserable existence in a small, bare, pit where locals would throw trash at them from above. Today, their lot has improved. The bears now have a purpose built 6000m2 Bear Park where Bjork, Finn and Ursina can climb, fish, play and retreat from view when they want a break.
If you are visiting Bern, or even the surrounding areas, you don’t need a car. It’s very easy to get around. For a start, the city isn’t that big, so most things are within walking distance, but if you don’t fancy walking then there are regular trains and buses. When you check into your hotel, you’ll be given a Bern Pass which gives you free travel on public transport throughout your stay, including the funicular and the elevator to the Minster Platform.
The train connections are so good, you can use Bern as a base for trips out into the countryside without the hassle of hiring a car.
For example, if you fancy a day out, then it’s a short 30minute train ride to Emmenthal. The houses are picturesque with their typical rounded fronts, carved balconies, and masses of hanging flowers. And, of course, the views and opportunities for hiking are wonderful. You can also visit the cheese making factory, learn the history of the so called ‘King of Cheeses’, take part in a cheese making lesson and taste a few different varieties; Emmenthal Classic is the mild version, Reserve has been matured a little longer, and the King is mature, salty and much harder.
Finally, and importantly, food and drink. For a great setting, overlooking the river and across the hills on the far side, book into the Noumi at the Bellevue Palace and ask to sit on the terrace. Enjoy your meal as the sun sets and the golden rays bounce off the water below. And Noumi isn’t the only option with a great location, there are plenty of high-quality restaurants all over the city.
Kornhauskeller is, as the name suggests, where the corn used to be stored. Today it is a balconied restaurant with muraled arches and an elegant, old world feel. Restaurant Dampfzentrale sits next to the river, has an open terrace area surrounded by greenery and fairy lights, making it the perfect spot for dinner alfresco. And for the plant-based, in my experience, most places are good at catering for vegan diets.
Although there are only two gay bars in Bern (check out Comeback with its collection of sequinned hats) there are plenty of welcoming places to drink. For wine try Bindella Vinoteca, and for the beer lover there is Altes Tramdepot (where many beers are brewed on the premises).
Whether the EuroGames in 2023 is your reason for visiting, or you simply fancy a city break somewhere different, Bern has plenty to offer. I’d suggest two to three days in the city, then, depending on your interests, another one or two to explore the countryside close-by. But whatever you choose, I am sure you’ll fall in love with the pretty medieval city.
Swiss International Air Lines (SWISS)
SWISS connects Switzerland with the world via Zurich and Geneva, offering more than 160 weekly flights from London Heathrow, London City, Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh and London Gatwick (seasonal) to Zurich or Geneva. For more information, visit swiss.com
Swiss Travel System
Swiss Travel System provides a range of exclusive travel passes and tickets for visitors from abroad. The Swiss Travel Pass offers unlimited travel on consecutive days throughout the Swiss Travel System rail, bus and boat network. For more information see mystsnet.com/areaofvalidity