Bern has more than 100 fountains. They were traditionally used as a public source of water, where housewives would gather to fill urns and wash clothes while having a gossip. Nowadays they are a good photo opportunity, with the 16th-century stone fountains in the old town boasting what could be the world’s most bizarre motifs. From a child-eating ogre to a jousting musketeer, here are our favourites:
- Ogre Fountain, Kornhausplatz: Who could top our list but the ‘Kindlifresser’? The child-eating ogre stands on his plinth busily gobbling babies, while tourists look on in bemusement and horror. Some say the ogre, which dates from 1700, represents the Greek God Cronus who ate all his children. Others think he stands for the vices and virtues of humanity. What is for sure is that of the medieval fountains in Bern’s old town, he is the most terrifying.
- The Bagpiper, Spitalgasse: First impressions reveal a joyful sight – a nonchalant musician leaning against a tree with a monkey perched above him. Meanwhile, exquisite Renaissance relief work represents people dancing to the piper’s tune. But look more closely and a darker scene emerges. The piper has holes in his shoes, possibly symbolising his exclusion from society.
- The Musketeer, Marktgasse: He cuts an impressive sight, this dignified figure bearing a banner and a long sword. Is he bound for war? His flat cap, which is set skew-whiff, would suggest not. Instead, he is probably preparing for a merry joust. We particularly like the mocking armour-clad bear, which stands beneath him pointing a sword at passers-by.
- Anna Seiler, Marktgasse: Perhaps more sincere subject matter than her fountain counterparts, rich widow Anna Seiler founded Bern’s University Hospital in 1354. Her fountain nods to her use of placebos – she gave patients diluted wine, instead of neat, to ease their suffering, as shown in the pitcher she is pouring water from.
- The Justice Fountain, Gerechtigskeitsgasse: This fountain would win hands-down in a beauty contest. Water gushes out from a duo of lion’s masks, while Justice, clad in blue and gold with her eyes bandaged, stands as if ready to step forward. In one hand she holds the sword of justice, and in the other, a pair of scales. She hasn’t always looked so grand, though. In 1845 the street was dug up and the fountain dismantled. Thankfully the disfigurement was but temporary.
- Kronenbrunnen or ‘Lischetti Fountain’, Postgasse: But it doesn’t have a motif, you may say. And you’d be right. Adapted by artist Carlo E. Lischetti as a speaker’s corner, this stone plinth outside the Town Hall allows anyone to climb up and speak out against governmental policy. There’s just one snag: the podium is facing away from the Town Hall, so you may not get the audience you wish for …