Bern is charming and quaint, showcasing its proud history though the charismatic buildings and numerous highlights. Although the moody weather wasn’t in my favour, it didn’t stop me from uncovering the enchanting allure of the medieval streets.
As the capital of Switzerland, Bern has much on offer. With an extensive history, the coat of arms proudly displays an illustration of the bear that represents the famous folk story of when the founder of Bern decided to name the city after the first animal he came across.
Apart from rich folk tales painting the scenes, the history is told through decorative objects. Almost everywhere in Bern you go, you’ll come across a vivid conspicuous fountain. There are 100 of these ornate fountains with some dating back to the 16th century and still displaying their original features. The fountains were originally built to provide locals with fresh running water and they still act as a water supply today, allowing passers by to fill up their water bottles for a refreshing taste of the Bernese water.
Another sight that promotes the medieval city is the clock tower known as the Zytglogge. This 800-year-old landmark is a delightful attraction placed centre stage that has distinctive features, including character bears that circle the clock face and sounding cuckoo noises as the clock strikes on the hour. The clock face emblematizes the zodiac with the stamped icons and astrology themed dial, which gives an insight to its age. The clock tower has undergone intensive structural work, as during the great fire of 1408 it was completely burnt to the ground. The structural re-build was finally completed in 1983 and the clock is still an iconic feature today. To uncover the mechanical workings of inside the clock, private tours with an experienced tour guide can be arranged in advance.
It’s apparent that the majority of activities and sights to see in Bern are heavily focused on promoting past events and folktales. Apart from being displayed visually as the city’s emblem, visitors can visit the bear park, which is home to 4 colossal brown bears from one family. Bears have inhabited Bern since 1857 when the first bear pit ‘Bärenplatz’ was opened. After trying to renovate the old bear pits in 1996 and failing to satisfy legal requirements and the public, the BärenPark opened in 2009. Now the bears are kept in a sanctuary replicating nature with a flowing icy river and sloping grassy hills for them to graze on. The bears are also very well fed and this can be noticed due to their whimsical and oblivious attitude to the public!
To compliment the pictorial city, the Rose Garden which was once an 18th century cemetery, exhibits over 220 different types of roses. This is definitely a photogenic spot with the purples, pinks and reds from the flowers emerging into a beautiful kaleidoscopic landscape. The garden was opened as a public park in 1913 and is a great place for tourists and locals to relax with a good book or for children to play on the groomed verdant lawns. From the edge of the Rose Garden, a clear birds-eye view of the river Aar is a pleasant sight as the colour of the water is tinted by the reflection of the surrounding greenery. This river; which can be enjoyed by the locals and tourists during the summer season, cradles the primitive buildings of the city, almost encircling them.
If you’re into arts and culture, the city has three museums on offer, including a history museum (Bernisches Historisches), a museum of fine arts and the Albert Einstein museum situated not far from the clock tower. Interestingly, the theoretical physicist lived in Bern for 3 years where he developed his theory of relativity and taught a handful of students at the local college. The museum; which is Einstein’s house, has been restored to reflect the period of when he occupied it. Unfortunately, the house has recently suffered from water damage due to a burst water pipe and therefore is currently closed to the public.
And if having Einstein develop his most famous theories whilst in Bern isn’t enough fame for the city, it also acts as the perfect background for block buster films. Film buffs will know that the cobbled streets have played host to a few location shoots for the James Bond Film Her majesties secret service. This is not only appropriate with Bond being half Swiss but because the city has an alluring appearance which looks great on film. The featured scenes included exterior shots of Bond entering a building at Bollwerk 15, which is located next to the train station and scenes of Bonds stakeout on top of the Schweizerhof hotel.
To visit all the main attractions it’s much easier to ride through the congestion of the traffic on a hired e-bike rather than hiring a car. These bikes have become quite popular in Europe, replacing the traditional bicycles and even motorbikes. If like me, you’re not as confident on foreign roads (or too short to reach the bicycle pedals), there is the option to hire a private rickshaw, where the driver will give you a scenic and informative tour of the popular destinations.
The Swiss cuisine; although only using simple ingredients, is extremely exquisite showcasing traditional dishes including the ‘Rosti’, which is fried potato and also veal that is cooked in a cream sauce. Lets not forget that the Swiss are famous for their fondue and with many cheese delicatessens in the city centre showcasing the delicious yet potent, local cheeses, it’s easy to get carried away with what cheese you’ll choose to dip your bread into.
To sample these Swiss delights, the kornhauskeller is a magnificent baroque style restaurant made out of sandstone, originally used as a place to store grain and wine before the 19th century. The entrance, just off the city’s cobbled streets, greets you with an exorbitant, glistening crystal chandelier and a grand staircase, which leads you down into the restaurant, whilst looking up in awe at the Grande views of the sculptured high ceilings and decorative murals on the walls. The food is delicious and is a great example of traditional Bernese cuisine, however the menu can be quite pricey so for those on a strict budget, an aperitif in the upstairs bar might be a better option. This well known culinary spot is definitely worth a visit, as the architecture of the building makes it a truly unique and atmospheric place.
For a city break packed full of history and charm, Bern is definitely a place to visit, as it offers something more than just pretty scenery, it has an interesting story to tell that will cajole you into falling for its charisma.
Did you know…
When eating fondue, if the woman drops bread into the cheese then she has to kiss the man she is eating with and if a man drops the bread he must buy the wine.
A bear psychologist was hired to work with the bears for a few years when they where first moved to Bern.