No sitting allowed in Bern train station

November 14, 2012, 8 Comments

The sign says it all: ‘Notsitz’ or ‘this is not a seat’. Odd, when it clearly is a seat. In fact ‘Notsitz’ means ’emergency seat’, which in itself is a strange concept. Why does Bern main train station need an emergency seat? And in such an unusual place, attached to a pillar in the middle of nowhere. Every time I walk past it, I try to imagine what emergencies could arise beside this pillar that would necessitate someone suddenly needing to sit down? Clearly none at all, as I have never seen anyone brave or desperate enough to sit there.

The answer to the riddle lies in the fact that Bern station has almost nowhere for people to sit. The long underground concourse is lined with shops and restaurants (which have their own seats for their own customers) but not a single place for anyone to sit. There’s a tiny waiting room with around 30 seats in it – rather small for the 250,000 people who pass through Bern station every day. It’s only once you get up onto the platforms that you find anywhere to sit down.

Clearly the thinking is that if someone does need to sit and can’t make it up to the platform, then an emergency seat fills that gap. And to stop non-emergency cases using it as an ordinary seat, it is labelled as a ‘Notsitz’. Logical, really, if completely ridiculous. Is this the only ’emergency seat’ in Switzerland? Most likely. With no seats around, it’s no surprise that people sit on the steps leading down into the station concourse from street level. But that, of course, is also verboten, and there’s another sign to prove it. And, yes, you do get told off and ordered to stand up if you’re caught sitting there. I know!

Behind all this ‘Thou shalt not sit’ stupidity is the fact that you should have no good reason to be sitting in a Swiss station. All the trains are so punctual that you should arrive exactly at the right time to walk to the platform and get on board. No need to be sitting anywhere, ever. Unless your train is delayed (as happened to me last week) or you are waiting to meet someone. Heaven forbid that you are not in dire need and just fancy catching your breath for two minutes.

Then again, few people have time for even that as, according to SBB figures, the average person only spends seven minutes in Bern station. Obviously an average person does not use the ticket office, where lengthy waiting times mean you usually do need a seat, or try to buy something in the new Coop, which must have the longest queues in Bern.

Yes, Bern is a busy station – and not just with train passengers. The businesses here rake in half a million francs a day, possibly more on Sundays when they are the only shops in town allowed to open. But does it really have to be such an unappealing place, with no thought for the individual? We are not sheep, or cows (as we’re in Switzerland), to be herded on to trains or in to shops. We are people, and some of us are pregnant, old, sick, tired, or just having a bad day. Is it so much to ask that a station the size of Bern have a few seats for weary legs and light heads?

Show some humanity, SBB. Let us sit down!

8 Comments on "No sitting allowed in Bern train station"

  1. Dom Wednesday November 14th, 2012 at 11:31 PM · Reply

    BTW: Did you know that seats from the Swiss parliament, i.e. the older ones, are now in the DMZ building between north and south Korea? Not exactly an emergency seat, but also funny to see where they can travel to…

  2. Martin Thursday November 15th, 2012 at 12:37 AM · Reply

    Dear Diccon,

    most of the time, any decision made has some historical background, actually most of the time reasonable ones, sometimes rather not. Nevertheless, the lack of knowledge about historical background almost constantly leads to wrong assumptions. The same is true here:

    Before the renovation of Bern’s station, 2001-2002, the passage under the bus station used to be the almost permanent meeting place by almost all then known clochards from Bern. And those days, the Bern’s train station had a lot of places to sit down (however, so far as I remember, quite ugly orange plastic seats). Nonetheless, some of them (always exactly the same ones) were constantly occupied by this special clientele. Thanks to the rather liberal attitude of Bern’s inhabitants and Bern’s politics, those Gentlemen and Ladies had never been smartly enough forced to leave their public living room, probably mainly because it spent enough warmth especially during the colder days of the year. If police tried to do so, they just reappeared the other day.
    I do not know, when they started to establish this passage as their daily communal meeting point, for the whole day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, ne’ertheless. But I am quite sure that every Swiss person, who ever visited Bern those days just once, knew about them very well.
    So the city took the chance during the renovation to influence the architects and interior designers that way that there are no public seats available anymore afterwards. I assume, such seats as the one by the restaurants and SBB’s waiting room are privately owned places, and this would allow the owners to call the police, if they think their property are being misused and are therefore legally able to demand them to leave and threat them with eventual prosecution.
    So, it primarily is not SBB’s fault, because those previously otherwise used seats belonged to the city of Bern and therefore to the public! And therefore you would rather have to address your complaint to the citizen of Bern! ;-))



    PS: I already used SBB’s waiting room in Bern for several times, and it never ever was totally occupied, I always found a seat there, actually most of the time half of them are available. Try it once, it is actually a calming room, indeed!

    • Diccon Bewes Thursday November 15th, 2012 at 11:37 AM · Reply

      I remember the resident station population well. As i recall there used to be different floor coverings to show where the SBB property ended and town began. And all the drunks were in the town part, around where the walls are now glassed in. Yes, it wasn’t a pretty sight but did we really have to go from that to no seats in the public areas at all? Why can’t/couldn’t SBB have seats in their part of the station?
      The last renovation (2007) made it look very smart but took away all the seats (and my favourite falafel place). Even up on the tram platforms there are only a few.

  3. Martin Thursday November 15th, 2012 at 12:46 AM · Reply

    By the way, your site’s clock is not correctly set, it is an hour ahead 😉

    • Diccon Bewes Thursday November 15th, 2012 at 11:28 AM · Reply

      That’s so that I can feel like it’s summer time when outside it’s grey and cold!

  4. veronica Thursday November 15th, 2012 at 02:31 AM · Reply

    Yes, I have always wondered about this station and awaiting the train somewher in the cellar.

  5. Philipp Gassmann Thursday November 15th, 2012 at 10:47 AM · Reply

    Nice read, thank you.

    But there are more seats than the emergency seat in the station. On each platform, there are benches and in the corridor, there are niches with places to sit down (where the info-screens are)

    • Diccon Bewes Thursday November 15th, 2012 at 11:29 AM · Reply

      I do mention the seats on the platforms, which are cold and windy in the winter. As for sitting in a niche in the corridor, how lovely! Especially if you happen to be at the other end of the station

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