In Berne, it is just as in all cities and towns. One year before the end, schools close their doors. Why learn for the future, with so brief a future? Delighted to have lessons finished forever, children play hide-and-seek in the arcades of Kramgasse, run down Aarstrasse and skip stones on the river, squander their coins on peppermint and licorice. Their parents let them do what they wish.
One month before the end, businesses close. The Bundeshaus halts its proceedings. The federal telegraph building on Speichergasse falls silent. Likewise the watch factory on Laupenstrasse, the mill past the Nydegg Bridge. What need is there for commerce and industry with so little time left?
At the outdoor cafes on Amthausgasse, people sit and sip coffee and talk easily of their lives. A liberation fills the air. Just now, for example, a woman with brown eyes is speaking to her mother about how little time they spent together in her childhood, when the mother worked as a seamstress. The mother and daughter are now planning a trip to Lucerne. They will fit two lives into the little time remaining. At another table, a man tells a friend about a hated supervisor who often made love to the man's wife in the office coatroom after hours and threatened to fire him if he or his wife caused any trouble. But what is there to fear now? The man has settled with his supervisor and reconciled with his wife. Relieved at last, he stretches his legs and lets his eyes roam over the Alps.
At the bakery on Marktgasse, the thick-fingered baker puts dough in the oven and sings. These days people are polite when they order their bread. They smile and pay promptly, for money is losing its value. They chat about picnics in Fribourg, cherished time listening to their children's stories, long walks in mid-afternoon. They do not seem to mind that the world will soon end, because everyone shares the same fate. A world with one month is a world of equality.
One day before the end, the streets swirl in laughter. Neighbors who have never spoken greet each other as friends, strip off their clothing and bathe in the fountains. Others dive into the Aare. After swimming until exhausted, the lie in the thick grass along the river and read poetry. A barrister and a postal clerk who have never before met walk arm in arm through the Botanischer Garten, smile at the cyclamens and asters, discuss art and color. What do their past stations matter? In a world of one day they are equal.
In the shadows of a side street off Aarbergergrasse, a man and a woman lean against a wall, drink beer, and eat smoked beef. Afterwards, she will take him to her apartment. She is married to someone else, but for years she has wanted this man, and she will satisfy her wants on this last day of the world.
A few souls gallop through the streets doing good deeds, attempting to correct their misdeeds of the past. Theirs are the only unnatural smiles.
One minute before the end of the world, everyone gathers on the grounds of the Kuntsmuseum. Men, women, and children form a giant circle and hold hands. No one moves. No one speaks. It is so absolutely quiet that each person can heard the heartbeat of the person to his right or his left. This is the last minute of the world. In the absolute silence a purple gentian in the garden catches the light on the underside of its blossom, glows for a moment, then dissolves among the other flowers. Behind the museum, needled leaves of a larch gently shudder as a breeze moves through the tree. Farther back, through the forest, the Aare reflects sunlight, bends the light with each ripple on its skin. To the east, the tower of St. Vincent's rises into the sky, red and fragile, its stonework as delicate as veins of a leaf. And higher up, the Alps, snow-tipped, blending white and purple, large and silent. A cloud floats in the sky. A sparrow flutters. No on speaks.
In the last seconds, it is as if everyone has leaped off Topaz Peak, holding hands. The end approaches like approaching ground. Cool air rushes by, bodies are weightless. The silent horizon yawns for miles. And below, the vast blanket of snow hurtles nearer and nearer to envelope this circle of pinkness and life.