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It's not something you pick up easily as you're driving through New Bern on US Highway 70, but there truly is a connection in place that links North Carolina's second-oldest town to a place five-thousand miles and three centuries away. Even though they've evolved into much different cities with distinct cultures, Bern, Switzerland and New Bern, North Carolina do have a shared history that hasn't been lost—it's alive and well and being celebrated in a big way this year. It was my goal from the beginning to focus on that relationship and the linkages that exist and tell you all about them in “Bern and New Bern: 300 Years Later.”
New Bern, like many American cities, owes its existence to European settlers coming across the Atlantic Ocean centuries ago. It's pretty remarkable that New Bern can trace its origins directly to a family in 18th century Switzerland, but the fact that the city maintains a relationship with its founders even today, 300 years later, puts it in a very select category of cities.
Before UNC-TV decided to partner with the New Bern 300th Anniversary Committee to produce this program, I had something of a sense of the relationship between Bern and New Bern. After working at WCTI-Ch. 12, the ABC affiliate in New Bern, for 3 years, I knew that New Bern celebrated and valued its Swiss roots. But it wasn't until I got off the bus in Bern, Switzerland that I realized how much the Swiss value the relationship:
--Hundreds of people from Bern and surrounding communities came to welcoming receptions to get to know the visitors from New Bern and become more familiar with their city
--The Swiss media covered the group's visit in newspapers, on the radio and on television
--Bern's History Museum is hosting a six-month exhibit about Bern and New Bern
Through the eyes of visitors from North Carolina, “Bern and New Bern: 300 Years Later” takes you through the streets of Bern, high in the Swiss Alps and beyond to discover the origins of the second oldest town in North Carolina. It's a journey that winds through some of the most beautiful places in the world, picking up plenty of history and culture along the way.
The Swiss, through Christopher de Graffenried, led the expedition and founded New Bern, but many immigrants from the Palatine region of Germany were also part of that first settlement. “Bern and New Bern: 300 Years Later” explores some of the German elements of New Bern's founding and how they remain in place today.
I shot about 12 hours of footage for this project on both sides of the Atlantic and paring it all down into a 30-minute program has certainly been a challenge, but it's also been very rewarding. In 2010, it's easy to think of Europe and other countries around the world as far-off places with little relevance in our society today. This project has proven to me once again that our global society is truly smaller than it so often seems; understanding our roots helps us have a better perspective about our places in this world.
It's my hope that no matter where you live in North Carolina, “Bern and New Bern: 300 Years Later” both enlightens and entertains you—and maybe even sparks an interest in the origins of your community and your family.
Thanks for watching!