Bern is the 4th largest and capital city of Switzerland. The city was founded in 1191 by Duke Berthold Von Zähringen. During the middle ages it was the largest independent city state north of the Alps. Bern became the Swiss capital in 1848. The historic old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Bern was ranked among the world’s top ten cities for quality of life in 2010.
We started our day at the Bear Pits. According to legend, the city’s founder named the city after the first animal to be caught here. The saga lives on in the form of the real live Bear Pits and the heraldic bear in the Bernese coat of arms. When we first arrived there were three of the cuddly-looking creatures right up against the wall. They look so cute that you just want to hug them & bury your face in their fur…however that would probably end badly so we stayed safely behind the walls & fences.
We did get a chance to meet these bears though (once the hoard of Asian tourists had finished with them):
Walking back into the town center we glanced into shops and enjoyed the street vendors under the covered arcades. The city has over 4 miles of arcaded walkways along the streets. We only window shopped as we didn’t want to even tempt ourselves into buying anything. It would be the worst to find something you really wanted but not be able to buy it because everything here is astronomically expensive. We were drawn into one department store by their Christmas chocolate display and then further into the shop by their Christmas decorations. Inevitably we ended up exploring the toy section 😉
The other top attraction of Bern is Einstein’s house. This was a really interesting place as neither of us knew much about Einstein besides the simple things like he was a genius and came up with much of both modern atomic theory and the theory of relativity (you know: e = m * c^2). There were many displays to read (thankfully they were in both German & English) and a very informative 20 minute video. Albert Einstein rented this small flat with his wife when his family moved to Bern in the early 1900’s. It was here he began work on the special and general theories of relativity. After his theories were proven and he became famous in the physics world, Einstein split his time in Zurich, Berlin and eventually Princeton.
Bern’s streets feature 15 fountains. They sit literally in the middle of the road and are all powered by this crazy current of water that you can see running right under the street. There are portions open to it that we fear we may fall into one day if we are not on top of our game. The fountains are quite ornate, usually topped with a carved figure. One of the most famous is right by our hostel: the Ogre fountain. Can you pick out which on it is?
We also checked out the clock tower, zytglogge. This tower was built in the early 13th century and has served the city as guard tower, prison and clock tower, center of urban life and civic memorial. The clock tower today still features the 15th century astronomical clock. It wasn’t our first view of the structure as our hostel is on a side street right beside it, but we afforded it a more detailed look this time. There’s quite a lot going on on that tower.
At this point it seemed time for hot beverages. It is such a common part of our regular lives that we were willing to splurge for the inflated prices of Starbucks here in Switzerland. Plus they have their Christmas drinks in and the cold weather here has put us in the holiday spirit. The fact that the city workers were hard at work putting up Bern’s street decorations today didn’t help deter us either. We sat in the peaceful warm sipping Gingerbread latte/steamed milks and enjoyed the joyful soundtrack of Christmas music they had playing in the store. Starbucks just has the greatest cds, especially holiday ones!
We consulted the map to see what other high points there were to see in Bern. The church was said to be rather nice so we headed in it’s direction. Construction on the Münster Cathedral began in 1421. It’s 330 ft tower (largest in Switzerland) wasn’t completed until 1893. Both inside and out it was very reminiscent to the gothic-style churches we have seen before. The outside had a darker feel and was covered in carvings & statues…and scaffolding, but we’ve gotten so used to important buildings being restored that this didn’t even phase us. The interior was bright & spatious with high gothic arches and stained glass windows. The windows behind the altar were quite detailed & beautiful, while the side windows only had stained glass on a few of the panes. This was the first time we’d seen this style so we are not sure if that’s what it’s always like or if the full window is undergoing restoration. The ceiling was the most interesting part. It was covered in a pattern that reminded us of lace.
While sitting in the church, taking it all in as we always do, the organist began to play. It started out very simple but incredible dark & ominous. It was the kind of music that made you apprehensive to look behind you because it sounded like a horror movie soundtrack. The music built and as it did we became more & more entranced…literally! It wasn’t until the final bars sounded that Kristin shook her head and got Justine’s attention so we could leave. It was a very odd but cool experience.
We munched on a hot dog as a late lunch on our way to the Parliament buildings. They are quite nice, but not as impressive as one would expect for the main government buildings of such a rich country. The best part were the cliff side parks that ran behind it. We walked for quite awhile through the fall colors looking out over the river valley.
The rest of our day was pretty boring…walking around town, organizing & packing our belongings, buying supper, etc. Eventually we settled into the common area at the hostel and grabbed the Scrabble board. Kristin won her pride back with two wins in today’s games.
We had a similar supper to yesterday in that we bought it at the grocery store and warmed it up in the hostel kitchen. Tonight’s feast consisted of spätzel, the cheapest (but still delicious) stroganoff they had and toast…and of course milk in a wine glass as that is the life we have become accustomed to 😉
And of course we did a post-dinner mini cheese fondue! fondue! fondue!