I was walking on Lake Street, the one skirting the Pasquart district, when I saw it standing out at my left. The Reformed Evangelic Parish of Pasquart is an impressive New Gothic sight that gazes over the town from its hilltop. Having it rushing on you, without warning, is a call to climb the staircase and take a closer look. The door was closed, but when he heard me pushing from outside the carpenter working on the church’s internal upkeep popped out and came to me. ‘Monseiur, voulez vous visiter l’église à l’interieur?‘
Of course I wanted to visit the church. And, without a second thought, he opened the side door for me and allowed me to roam among the benches and the humble altar while going on with his work. To tell the truth, inside the church wasn’t by far as impressive as from the outside. Bare and essential, just as a place of worship should be. But that’s how I will always remember the people of Biel: humble, simple, welcoming, kind.
Biel, as in German, or Bienne, in French. Italians even use to call it Bienna. This pretty town holds a delicate balance over a typical Swiss bilingualism, so much that at the tobacco shop’s counter it’s perfectly normal to hear the clerk answering to the customers once in German and once in French without batting an eyelid.
Biel is also the capital of Swiss watch industry. Rolex, Tissot, Omega, Swatch… they all have their headquarters here, together with many other more or less renown, more or less prestigious companies. Well, at least that what I read somewhere. It’s not like everything here is watch-shaped or anything like that. I just saw the showy Rolex sign on the hill slope. Everything else is useless notions to a tourist like me. I can’t even remember since how long I don’t have a watch on my wrist. Probably since my first mobile.
The old town, solid and quite small, is a charming exhibition of medieval buildings culminating in the wonderful town hall and in the 15th century Gothic church. Behind every corner and in the middle of every small square there is a fountain, a bold statue on a column or an ancient commercial insignia.
While I was heading back towards the train station – I had an undeserved first class trip ahead, thanks to the Swiss Travel Pass I got from My Switzerland – I crossed the modern commercial area. In the large square the buildings were reflecting the sun which only seemed warm because of the reddish colour of the sunset. The large street was a continuous line of shops and boutiques. Although it was a winter week day, the atmosphere was lively and joyful.
Who knows what happens in springtime, when the Braderie de Bienne takes place, in June. A longstanding tradition of markets and concerts lasting since over 70 years. Or in summer, in July, when there is the Lake Festival with its food market lightened by the fireworks. To find out, I will have to go back to Biel, the town of watches and caring carpenters.