I felt dizzy looking down at them from high on the white iron bridge arching over the river Aare in Bern. The figures far below were being swept along in the fairytale- coloured current, blue-green by its cargo of minerals carried down from the high Alps. The air was warm, so warm that I envied them their freedom, frisson and coolth while I sweated high above them feeling trapped by the heat of a beating sun.
I couldn’t see their faces clearly, such was the drop to the river, but it was easy to tell they were having fun, great fun even when they were bundled by the torrent into each other’s paths. The relaxed arm gestures and the happy pitch of the rising voices communicated excitement not panic; the occasional languorous thrust of a limb stretched against the strong current showed that this was a river ride like no other.
And yet the Bernese take this for granted. They fearlessly jump into this long winding river and trust the current to deliver them to the bank at the point where it turns back on itself. In another country much tamer “to do’s” would have been horribly commercialised. Not here in Switzerland where the swimmers float along either on great rubber rings or just allow their bodies to be carried by the flow. Occasionally they bump into each other until they reach a part of the river where they are delivered safely to the bank at a natural curve and through no effort of their own. Like young birds learning to fly on a warm summer breeze, these adult humans seemed to revel in their escape from life’s effort as they are carried along in this irresistible and careless flow.
I admit I wondered as I watched them, whether Einstein had also looked down from this very point on the bridge. His seminal work on the movement of particles in liquids was completed when he lived in Bern in 1905. Standing here looking down I couldn’t help thinking about his idea that Brownian movement – the constant movement of tiny particles in water — occurs because the atoms bump into each other and bounce off in random directions. But that idea applied to still water. So idly I wondered if there is Brownian movement in a flowing current? If so it might look like the floaters below.
Einstein left a lot of traces in Bern and never was as happy as when he lived in this beautiful city – but I don’t know if he answered the question about such movement in flowing water. I will try to find out. What a beautiful place in which to contemplate the idea.
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