This week’s writing prompts included “incidents that stand out in my memory”, and offered examples of parades and circuses. This event sprung immediately to my mind, and although it’s a short piece, I’m going to be happy to present it in class this week.
Elephants on the Nydeggbrucke
On a foggy alpine morning in Bern, my friends and I rose early for a visit to the Barengraben before taking the train up into the mountains for the day. The city still seemed to be asleep. The narrow streets were almost empty of traffic and the sidewalks were bare except for a few early risers clutching steaming cups of coffee. The tall closeness of the buildings in the Swiss capital blocked out much of the surrounding view, so when I heard a commotion coming from somewhere nearby, I couldn’t locate the origin of the foreign voices. I rushed ahead, turning a corner and losing sight of my friends.
I blinked. I gaped.
I ran back towards my friends, who were keeping a leisurely pace a block behind me, and I shouted to them.
My companions looked at each other, not sure I was sane.
“Elephants!” I repeated, racing back to the main road for another look.
We gathered on the damp sidewalk with other bleary-eyed tourists and confused locals, to watch the elephants walk by. A procession of five huge Asian elephants was being led down the street to cross the Aar river by way of the Nydeggbrucke bridge. There were no banners, no marching band, no circus clowns in giant shoes. Just five elephants, being led quietly down the streets of Bern on a sleepy morning. The elephants wore no costumes or blankets. They didn’t walk trunk-to-tail like they do in cartoons. Their legs weren’t shackled together, like all of the elephants I’d ever seen performing in the circus. They simply plodded slowly forward, towering into the grey sky, each following the other at a short distance. Men who I supposed were their trainers walked alongside the beasts, holding riding crops in their hands to correct their course if necessary.
I don’t know where the elephants came from, or where they were going – I only spoke enough German to order bratwurst and beer, so I didn’t think to ask anyone around me for an explanation of what I was witnessing. Given the dazed looks of the others on the sidewalk, though, I suspect everyone was as confused as I was.
We followed the silent parade across the bridge and watched them walk on into the morning as we stopped at the bear pit to eat our pastries.