Visiting Bern Switzerland With a Dog – Part 1
Travel for us is about discovering the new. It’s one reason why we seldom return to the same place. It would be even more unusual for us to visit two years back to back. The only time we make an exception to this preference is when we are invited by friends or family. Because we love them. And, well, we want to see them. But in a nutshell, the world is a big, big place and time is short, so adventure it is!
So when we traveled to Switzerland, Mom was happy to show us around the places she knew well from living there twenty years earlier, but she had one request: to see something new. “I want to see Bern,” she said. “I missed it somehow when I was living there and I have always regretted that.” So it was with pleasure that Dad and I agreed to add this city to our “to see” list. Dad and I weren’t sure how we would manage to squeeze it in, but then our plans fell through to go see Gigi and Luna in the mountains and two days opened up. We headed first to Luzern and then, at long last, to Bern.
We were sorry we weren’t able to see our dear friends but when we got off the train in Bern, our sorrow lifted pretty quickly. From that moment, Bern held our attention.
Bern was different right from the get-go. For starters, the Info/Tourist Office was not at the actual train station. That was a first. Instead, there were little information signs all around. The reason the Tourist Office is not at the station is because the station is an odd sprawling thing made up of several buildings that sort of surround the tracks rather than flank them on one chosen side.
Take a look at the map and you will see what I mean. The top left blue circle indicates the train station. The “I” is the information centre. See what I mean?
Speaking of the map, you will note that once again there is a very well marked, self-guided walking tour through the old town. It’s fantastic with almost no looping back. Because you don’t need to retrace your steps, the walking tour maximizes your time there. It was with great pleasure that we followed the blue line and arrows and headed off to discover Bern!
First a bit about the city.
Bern is the capital of Switzerland, referred to by the Swiss as their Bundesstadt (federal city). With a population of about 140,000, Bern is the fourth most populous city in Switzerland. In 2010, Bern was ranked among the world’s top ten cities for the best quality of life.
The official language of Bern is Swiss German. But the main spoken language is the Alemannic Swiss German dialect called Bernese German. Mom speaks German and lived in Austria and Switzerland, so she has an ear for the language, but she was surprised in Bern by a totally different rhythm to the language. She was delighted.
I will skip the history lesson this time. After all you can read more about it on your own. Is that okay? Because I really want to get into what we saw and, Dear Reader, we saw a LOT! Don’t believe me? Well, let me try to give you an idea of the ground we had to cover: In 1983, the entire historic old town in the center of Bern became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Yes, the entire old town is a heritage site. So buckle up because here we go!
Bern’s old town architecture is unique. The houses are all a sort of olive green color. They line the sides of the streets where pedestrians walk and the electric trams pass quietly. (The electric trams are so quiet they installed little bells on them so pedestrians can hear them coming!) The houses cover the sidewalk, which you access through pretty archways. This has created perfect covered areas that allow the people of Bern’s old town to move about in the shade during the hot summer months and protected from rain in the cooler months. It’s genius.
The street we started on is a stretch that is divided at each intersection with a beautiful fountain. Each fountain seems to be even more beautiful than the last. The fountains are right smack in the middle of the intersections so you have to look both ways for trams before scooting across. This is easily done, oh the fun! There are 12 fountains in total and we took the time to see each and every one.
Having only a day to visit the entire old town, we decided that there would be certain things we would enjoy from the outside and not enter. For example, although we love a great church, Bern has so many that we knew we had to limit the number we would visit inside. Same thing for the theatre and for most of the museums. It’s a shame, I am sure. If you have more time, please do savor everything this city has to offer.
There are a LOT of glorious towers in Bern! But three towers at the start of the walking tour are definitely worth your time.
- Prison or Cage Tower (Käfigturm): The original tower was built as a gate house during the second expansion of Bern in 1256. The tower was demolished in 1640 and completely rebuilt immediately thereafter.
- Dutch Tower (Holländerturm): The exact age of the tower is unclear. The name refers to a Bernese mercenary commander who bought the tower after service in Holland.
- Clocktower (Zytglogge): Arguably the prettiest, this tower dates back to 1218 and features a large clock, a smaller astronomical clock, and moving figures.
As you continue down the street you’ll come across a very interesting home: the home of Albert Einstein. Yes, the Einstein. The flat on the second floor of Kramgasse No. 49 was rented by Albert Einstein from 1903 to 1905. The flat has been restored in the style of that period to reflect Einstein’s stay in Bern. The site is open to the public.
After having a look, we took a little side street on the left and discovered a lovely courtyard with the Church of St. Peter and Paul and the Town Hall. The Church has a different and unusual flair to it, so we felt compelled to at least take a peak.
The Church of St. Peter and Paul is relatively new, having been built between 1858-1864, then renovated in 1998. It is considered a significant example of the neo-gothic style in Switzerland. It was kind of a big deal when it was built because it was the first Roman Catholic church established in Bern after the reformation.
As for the Town Hall, all I can tell you is that I LOVED the STAIRS! Oh yeah. I ran up and down those babies a few times. Off leash. Oh, the exhilarating fun! When I started to slow down a bit, Mom and I posed for a photo together. It’s a favorite.
We were starting to get hungry, and when we looked at the map we decided that the first leg of the walking tour ended in a perfect place: the Rose Garden up on top of the hill. We had been told by the owner of the B&B we were staying at in Zurich that the view was very much worth the climb. Having packed a picnic (to save a little money), we started to make our way up the hill. But just before we crossed the very pretty little bridge leading to the path for the Rose Garden, we stumbled upon a statue of a man and a bear, and the Nydegg Church.
The original small Nydegg Church was built between 1341 and 1346, replacing the old fortress that had been raised to the ground. After the Protestant Reformation in 1529, the Nydeggkirche was transformed into a warehouse for barrels, timber, and grain, but in 1566, it once again served as a place of worship.
The church was renovated in 1953. During the renovation, bronze reliefs by Marcel Perincioli were added to the main entrance door. They depict the life of Christ, and although not as flamboyant as those I have seen in Florence or elsewhere, they are still rather lovely and worth a moment of your time.
As for the statue of the man and bear … well … that took a little more digging to suss out. I did find out what it was called: the Zähringer Monument. But who was this guy? And why the bear? I finally found a little information. It’s all a bit of folklore, but the man is Berthold V. He was, more or less, the founder of the city. And the bear? Well, it’s said that the city of Bern got its name (Bear) because Berthold V said the city would have the name of the first animal he encountered on his first hunt on his new lands. And, well, it turned out to be a bear. Is it just a great story? I don’t care. I like it and I shall adopt it.
Finally we crossed the bridge over the Aare river and followed the path to the Rose Garden. It’s on a hill, so it is a bit of a climb. About a third of the way up the hill, I was allowed off-leash. We could not find any signs and saw that, in general, the rule seemed to be that tiny dogs were off-leash and all others on leash. Well, for once my tiny size had a perk! With glee I ran up and up and, finally, we were rewarded with the view. And you know what Dear Reader? It was TOTALLY worth it.
The Rose Garden is actually a full blown park! And, yes, it is pet friendly. We met quite a few canines while there. The park is home to 235 different types of roses, 200 types of irises, and moor beds with 28 different types of rhododendrons. As I enjoyed the stellar view, I couldn’t help but wonder why there are no homes up there. After all, it is prime real-estate.
The answer, it turns out, is an interesting one. You see, up until 1877, the Rose Garden served as a cemetery. At the time that the city grew the most, the Rose Garden was still a cemetery and thus, in order to not disturb the dead, the place remain untouched. Then in 1913, the Rose Garden was created as a green space and became a public park with a special focus on roses. It wasn’t until 1956 that the park was redesigned, introducing rhododendrons and azaleas as well as an iris garden. I didn’t ask what happened to the dead.
Sitting on a small wall, we enjoyed our picnic in the sun. Behind us, some roses were still in bloom, even in mid-October. There is a nice restaurant with an open terrace up there and if you have a little money to spare, the restaurant certainly looked great. But we were most content with our situation. We lingered a while, resting our tired legs and just soaked it all in.
And with that, Dear Reader, I shall leave you for today. With still so much to cover, I think it best to split this into two posts. See you next week with the second leg of our walking tour of Bern—including the Bear Park, the Cathedral, the Parliament Buildings, and so much more!