Category Archives: Einstein

Einstein in Bern: Did river rides influence his theory of Brownian movement?

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.


river floaters 3Me on bridge at Bern

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Buskers, Breathing Dragons, Einstein and Bern

I admit I got it wrong about Bern, capital of Switzerland.  If I thought about Bern at all only snow and banking came to mind. Ok then, maybe clocks and bears figured somewhere in my thinking too.  But for someone like me who doesn’t like climbing mountains, and who doesn’t like feeling cold, who likes the cultural aspects of travel and who loves a bit of safe Irish craic (fun), Bern did not seem like a prime holiday destination. How wrong I was!

Bern is an extraordinary city; it is old world, fun and a cultural destination not to be missed. We arrived in the middle of August into the world busker festival. The city was heaving with people and great music was being played on the streets late into the night. We ate food from the stalls offering an amazing selection of international foods and which lined the cobbled streets for the festival. What fun, what a buzz. The combination of music, fun and safety certainly appealed to us 50-something’s (who like to act as if we are not 50-something but to do so in a safe environment). Usually such a festival would mean drunk and disorderly crowds. Not so in Bern. We danced on the streets until late into the night despite the fact there were just two of us.

We had come to Bern, driving there from Dublin, which is not as hard or long as it sounds and I confess we had lost our car on the way. Coming out in the morning after a lovely evening in France, in Chalon En Champagne, a location chosen for an overnight stop only because that is as far as we got on the first night, we found in place of our car, a market stall- multiple market stalls in fact. But enough of that topic and back to Bern, where we arrived eventually after we paid an extortionate fee to retrieve our car from the French garage to which it had been removed.

Bern was a delight. As we had arrived in the middle of a busker festival we had a little difficulty finding a hotel. But we did. Bern is pricey for hotels, but that is normal by Swiss standards.

We were there to find what trace remains of the locations where Albert Einstein worked and developed his theory of relativity. The life of anyone who lived as an adult in the 20th century – and that after all is most of us – has been significantly changed by Einstein’s understanding of our universe. I am no scientist but this man seems to me to be the iconic figure representing the 20th century. His name at least is known to almost everyone everywhere. It was here in Bern that he developed those ideas and I wanted to understand something of that. We were not disappointed in what there is of our friend Albert in Bern. And we were not disappointed in Bern. But more of that later.  Fiona , Let’s Trail

.Breathing Dragon

Check out “Extreme motorcycles” on youtube to see this monster move at the busker music festival Bern 2013

Bern blog picure    Switzerland Tourism

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