Bern, baby, Bern

While I was in Europe for Didacta last month, I took the opportunity to visit Bern in Switzerland.

The Swiss capital is both beautiful and odd. (I mean that in a good way.) The town centre is medieval, the people speak a peculiar dialect of German peppered with French, and a riverside park at the edge of the old town houses a couple of real-life bears!

Bern, Switzerland

Apart from all the other touristy stuff, one of the things I did was visit the Museum für Kommunikation.

And I’m glad I did. I was genuinely surprised by the quality of the artefacts on display.

The permanent collection spans the history of technology-mediated communication, from the cuneiform tablets of the Sumerians, through the postal service, telephony, telegraphy, radio and television, to computers and the Internet.

If you find yourself in Bern, I highly recommend you set aside at least a couple of hours to devote this museum. It’ll be well worth it.

In the meantime, please enjoy some of the highlights that I have shared with you below…

Electric teletypewriter

Figure 1. Electric teletypewriter, Siemens & Halske, circa 1910.

Manually operated switchboard

Figure 2. Manually operated switchboard, Hasler, 1885.

National Auto-Telephone

Figure 3. National Auto-Telephone (“Natel”). One of the world’s first mobile phones.

Vintage televisions

Figure 4. Vintage televisions. Out of shot is a unit that was used at the National Exposition in Zurich in 1939, which was the first time TV was presented to the Swiss public.

IBM 601 electromechanical punch card tabulator

Figure 5. IBM 601 electromechanical punch card tabulator, circa 1940.

DuMont 303 oscilloscope

Figure 6. DuMont 303 oscilloscope, circa 1950. This oscilloscope is similar to the one that was used to demonstrate the world’s first computer game, Tennis for Two, at a US research lab in 1958.

Ermeth electronic computer

Figure 7. Ermeth electronic computer, Swiss Federal Insitute of Technology, 1956. Working memory: approx 80 KB.

PDP-8/E minicomputer

Figure 8. PDP-8/E minicomputer, Digital Equipment Corporation, 1970. At less than $20,000, the PDP-8 series was the first that medium-sized organisations could afford to purchase.


Figure 9. Apple-1, Apple Computer Company, 1976. The first personal computer with a fully assembled circuit board to which a keyboard and display unit could be attached.


Figure 10. Scrib, Bobst Graphic, 1979. A portable computer designed for journalists. It was equipped with an acoustic coupler so that text could be transmitted over a telephone line.

Osborne 1 Portable

Figure 11. Osborne 1, Osborne Computer Corporation, 1981. The world’s first commercially successful mobile computer. Working memory: 64 KB.

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10 Comments on “Bern, baby, Bern”

  1. Willem Says:

    I am located in Zurich (one hour by train from Zurich) and got an PDP-8 to play with when I was doing research at the ETH.
    Now I have made an emulator which can be visited on:
    Have fun…

  2. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Sounds cool Willem, but access forbidden?

  3. Mike Hatch Says:

    Willem has left off the “index.php” part of the URL- the correct link is – – look down the page for the PDP8 emulator link which gets you to –

    Best regards

  4. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Ah, good man.

  5. Fay Moore Says:

    Amazing stuff — it’s shocking how fast it keeps changing.

  6. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Tell me about it, Fay.

    The difference between the Ermeth (Figure 7) and the PDP-8 (Figure 8) was a mere 14 years!

  7. epurser Says:

    fabulous fotos Ryan! thanks for compiling and sharing those…. and thanks also Mike for the additional links, most interesting.
    Willem – klasse! alles Gute fuer Ihre weitere Dokumentation :)

  8. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Danke! :0)

  9. Marcello Says:

    Ciao ho del materiale che potresti aggiungere alla tua collezione contattami il mio contatto mail è

  10. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Thanks Marcello. I suggest contacting the museum directly.

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