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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Kade

Bern, Switzerland

Updated: Oct 14, 2019

The Rose Garden is one of Bern’s most beautiful parks, offering an unrivaled view of the Old Town and Aare Loop. When the weather is clear, the view extends far beyond the city. Not only is the Rose Garden a welcoming recreational area, it’s also a popular spot for taking memorable photos.

You can see the spire of the Bern Cathedral (Münster) and the Parliament building, where the two Swiss flags are flying.

The Rose Garden is a mecca for flower lovers and a great place to unwind. It features a restaurant in a prime location and a wonderful view of Bern!

As the name suggests, the park is most notable for its wealth of blossoms. It is home to 223 rose, 200 iris and 28 rhododendron varieties, as well as an enchanting water lily pond.

Floribunda Nubia Carruth 2002

Polyantharosen Benita A. Dickson 1995

Polyantharose Mariandel Kordes 1985

Teehybriden Gräfin Sonja Kordes 1994

Teehybriden Elle Meilland 1999

Stammrose Lady Di Huber 1982

Water lily pool

A pavilion and a reading garden make the Rose Garden the ideal place to relax, while the restaurant tempts visitors to linger a while longer. The park also caters to children, with a big playground where the little ones can run wild.

But the Rose Garden wasn’t always a park. From 1765 to 1877, it served as a cemetery for the lower part of the city. It then opened to the public as a park in 1913.

The Bear Park is home to Finn, Björk, and their daughter Ursina. The animals have been living in the new park along the bank of Aare since 2009. The new Bear Park provides a landscape where the brown bears can climb, fish and play, but also just retreat and relax.

The grounds cover nearly 6,000 square meters and extend from the former Bear Pits down to the river’s edge. With woodsy areas, bushes, grottoes, and a spacious pool running parallel with the Aare, the bears are able to live a real bear’s life. Finn, the father bear, is especially fond of the pool.

When I first arrived, all three bears were relaxing under the trees.

About a half hour later, the keepers gave the bears treats of apples, peaches, nuts and some pellet food that was put in a bucket of water and frozen. The keepers put three of these ice treats in the pool. Finn was the first to spot the treat in the water and he went running down the hill as fast as he could.

Yes, Finn loves the water!!!!

Check out those teeth.

That is a large tongue.

Finn decided he wanted to try a treat other than the one he first had.

The bears were so very excited!!! So much fun watching them interact with each other eat their treats.

In December of 2009, Björk gave birth to two cubs in the bears’ winter den. Daughter Ursina still lives with her parents in the Bear Park, while Berna has found a home in an animal-friendly enclosure in Bulgaria. The zoo in Bern works closely with the zoo in Dobric and supervised the construction of the bear enclosure there.

A new inclined elevator was introduced in 2015, offering visitors barrier-free access to the Bear Park. The elevator is free of charge and provides a quick link between the banks of the Aare and the upper end of the enclosure.


After Bern was declared the Swiss capital in 1848, a new building had to be constructed for its parliament. The construction of today’s west wing began in 1852. The east wing was added in 1884 – a mirror image of the west wing. The imposing center section with its dome and golden ribbing was completed in 1902. The dome is clad in copper and had a reddish hue in the time right after its completion. Over time, the turquoise patina developed that is typical of aged copper. The decorations in and on the Parliament Building were the work of a total of 38 artists from all over the country.

The Parliament Square was inaugurated on July 31 and August 1, 2004 (Swiss National Day). The square now serves as a gathering place for young and old, rather than providing parking spaces for cars as it used to. It also hosts the traditional weekly market.

Parliament Square is the site of official receptions, political rallies, cultural events and numerous sporting events.


Switzerland is a federal state comprised of 26 different cantons which have chosen to enter into an alliance. It began when the cantons of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden agreed to unite on August 1st 1291 at the Rütli meadow on Lake Lucerne, an event celebrated every year on Swiss National Day.

The Confederation continued to grow throughout the centuries until its current borders were set in 1815. The federal constitution was created in 1848, founding the federal parliament and giving central government certain powers.

There are three levels of government .

The federal system means power is shared between the federal government, the cantonal governments and the country's more than 2,000 communes.

The federal government tackles policy including defense, national roads, energy and external relations.

The cantons have their own government, laws, courts and constitution but must not contradict the federal constitution. Some of the areas in which they dictate their own policy include education, healthcare and cultural affairs.

The communes are mostly run by communal assemblies and have their own responsibilities including local planning, social welfare and schools.

Federal laws are created by parliament, which comprises two chambers whose members are elected by the Swiss public every four years.

The lower house, the National Council, represents the Swiss population as a whole and comprises 200 MPs. The upper house, the Council of States or senate, represents the cantons and has 46 senators – each canton has two representatives apart from six ‘half' cantons that were formerly joined with another, for example Basel-City and Basel-Country, which have one each.

Both chambers have the same powers. Together, they are known as the Federal Assembly, which is the highest publicly-elected authority in the land.

The government is elected by parliament, not the people.

The government executive, which implements the laws decided by parliament, is called the Federal Council. Each of its seven federal councilors is head of one of the government's departments or ministries and is elected for a four-year term.

Unlike in many other countries, the members of the Federal Council are not elected by the Swiss people but by the Federal Assembly. Parliament also elects the Federal Chancellor, the Attorney General and the judges of the federal supreme court and courts of first instance.

Since parliament elects the government, it also elects the Swiss president from within the seven federal councilors. He or she serves for one year only and doesn't have any more powers than his or her peers but is considered ‘the first among equals'. The president chairs meetings of the Federal Council and has special duties to represent Switzerland when necessary.

Only Swiss nationals may vote at the federal level.

Any Swiss citizen over 18 may vote in parliamentary elections and referendums. While men got the right to vote in 1848, women were only granted suffrage at federal level in 1971, with one canton holding out on granting women cantonal voting rights until 1991.

Foreign nationals without Swiss citizenship are not allowed to vote at federal level however long they've been in the country, but some cantons and communes allow them to vote on local matters. Swiss citizens abroad may vote in Swiss parliamentary elections.

MPs are voted into the National Council under nationwide rules that specify proportional representation. However rules for Council of States elections vary between cantons, with most – but not all – favoring the first-past-the-post system.

Elections are mostly held by secret ballot, apart from in Appenzell Innerrhoden where the people vote for their Council of States representative by a show of hands in a traditional gathering organized by the so-called Landsgemeinde, or people's assembly.

The major Swiss political parties in parliament are the Swiss People's Party (UDC/SVP), the Social Democrats (PS/SP), the Liberal-Radicals (PLR/FDP) and the Christian Democrats (PDC/CVP).

The water display located right in front of the Parliament Building, with 26 fountains representing the cantons, is an attractive sight. The Parliament Square is a vibrant square in the heart of Bern. Special events attract the public and draw visitors.

Children had fun playing in the water.

On this very hot day, I believe the dog had the most fun. She was trying to catch the water in her mouth.

Today, Bern is characterized by its numerous fountains that lend a certain sparkle to the city's image. They call to mind the heroes and past historical events of Bern.

The incomparably beautiful scene of Bern’s medieval streets would be incomplete without its fountains (also dating from the Middle Ages), whose colorful figures and columns brighten up the grey of the long rows of building facades.

These elaborate fountains, erected in around 1550 to replace the previous wooden examples, reveal the wealth of the era’s bourgeoisie. As always, the Bernese practical approach combined the useful with the artistic. Today, the fountains preserve for posterity the memory of heroes and historic events from the Middle Ages.

The fountains’ colorful paintings have been repeatedly freshened up using the original colors. Some fountains can be found in the middle of busy roads: the most charming traffic obstructions in the world.

Bern has well over 100 fountains, eleven of which still retain the original tableaus with their beautiful allegorical figures.

The fountains (Justice Fountain or Gerechtigkeitsbrunnen, Ogre Fountain or Kindlifresserbrunnen, Zähringen Fountain or Zähringerbrunnen, and many more) dating from the mid-16th century bear witness to the wealth of the era’s bourgeoisie.

My favorite fountain has to be the ogre. If children don't behave, then the ogre will eat you. Quite a novel way to get your children to behave!

More than 140 years ago, public fountains played a key role for Bern’s water supply. They were a meeting place where people gossiped, washed, and of course drew clean drinking water.

The city stream – used as an open sewerage system – was equally important. It still links the fountains together to this day, sometimes visibly and sometimes underground.

Deep in the state chancellery basement lies the city’s oldest cistern: the Len Fountain (Lenbrunnen). Shielded from the public, it is only accessible as part of a guided tour.

The Zytglogge (Clock Tower) was Bern's first western city gate (1191-1256) and is now one of Bern's most important sights. Built in the early 13th century, it has served the city as guard tower, prison, clock tower, center of urban life and civic memorial.

On the hour, many people gather in front of the Clock Tower to watch the clock mechanism from the 16th century perform its unique spectacle.

Einstein could see the clock tower from his apartment.

The painted frieze above the astronomical clock shows five deities from classical antiquity, each representing both a day of the week and a planet in their order according to Ptolemaic cosmology. From left to right, they are: Saturn with sickle and club for Saturday, Jupiter with thunderbolts for Thursday, Mars with sword and shield for Tuesday, Venus with Cupid for Friday and Mercury with staff and bag for Wednesday. The painting of the entire clock area was refurbished in 1983. Only the matte areas on the clock face are from the earlier coat of paint.

The dial of the Zytglogge's astronomical clock is built in the form of an astrolabe. It is backed by a stereographically projected planisphere divided into three zones: the black night sky, the deep blue zone of dawn and the light blue day sky. The skies are crisscrossed with the golden lines of the horizon, dawn, the tropics and the temporal hours, which divide the time of daylight into twelve hours whose length varies with the time of year.

Around the planisphere moves the rete, a web-like metal cutout representing the zodiac, which also features a Julian calendar dial. Above the rete, a display indicates the day of the week. Because leap days are not supported by the clockwork, the calendar hand has to be reset manually each leap year on the 29th of February. A moon dial circles the inner ring of the zodiac, displaying the moon phase. The principal hand of the clock indicates the time of day on the outer ring of 24 golden Roman numerals, which run twice from I to XII. It features two suns, the smaller one indicating the date on the rete's calendar dial. The larger one circles the zodiac at one revolution per year and also rotates across the planisphere once per day. Its crossing of the horizon and dawn lines twice per day allows the timing of sunrise, dawn, dusk and sunset.

The Bern Cathedral

Built in the Gothic style, its construction started in 1421. Its tower, with a height of 100.6 m (330 ft), was only completed in 1893. It is the tallest cathedral in Switzerland.

Over the main portal is one of the most complete Late Gothic sculpture collections in Europe. This collection represents the Christian belief in a Last Judgment where the wicked will be separated from the righteous. This sculpture shows the wicked naked on the right, while the righteous stand clothed in white on the left. In the center is Justice, with Saints and the wise and foolish virgins around her. In the center stands Michael the Archangel with a raised sword.

The sculptures of the Last Judgement were the only statues in the Minster to survive the iconoclasm of the Protestant Reformation. The 47 large free-standing statues are replicas (the originals are in the Bern History Museum), and the 170 smaller figures are all original. The Last Judgement was the work of one sculptor, Erhard Küng from Stadtlohn, Westphalia, which gives the collection a unity of design. The Justice sculpture is the only one that was done by another artist. It is signed by Daniel Heintz, who was the master builder after 1571. The rest of the statues were carved some time between 1460 and 1501, most likely between 1460 and 1480.

The trumeau to each side and between the doors has thirteen life-size figures. The middle figure and the two figures on each side of the door are raised by about half their height above the other figures. The figures on the left of the door represent the five Foolish Virgins while the ones on the right are the Wise Virgins. Below the outer two Wise Virgins and the two Foolish Virgins, two faces peer out of the wall on each side. On the wise side, they represent the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon. On the foolish side, they represent Zephaniah and, maybe, Isaiah. In the center, between the two doors, is Justice flanked by two angels. Below Justice and the angels is a scroll commemorating the laying of the cornerstone in 1421.

The archivolt features three rows of figures. The inner two rows are attached to the wall and lay at an angle which follows the curve of the portal. The outer, third row features statues that stand upright on individual platforms. The inner row contains five angels with the instruments of the Passion. The second row contains eight Old Testament prophets. The outer row is Jesus, Mary and the Apostles, including John the Baptist and Paul, but not Judas Iscariot.

The tympanum is 4.75 m (15.6 ft) wide at the base. It is made up of thirteen individual sections. The bottom row is made up of three plates located about 10 cm (3.9 in) above the lintel. It is 38 cm (15 in) deep and about 50–60 cm (20–24 in) high. On the left side of the tympanum, it contains two rows of figures and on the right, three. The lower figures are nearly fully three-dimensional, while the upper figures are mostly carved in relief, with only the head and shoulders projecting out of the stone. Above these three plates, the remaining ten plates are arraigned in three rows. The bottom row is made up of four plates which rest on a 30–40 cm (12–16 in) high base. The plates are high relief carvings, each about 38 cm (15 in) deep and an average of about 1 m (3.3 ft) high. The figures were all carved with a rock pick. In the center of the tympanum is the Archangel Michael. He stands on his platform which is projected forward from the rest of the figures. The entire tympanum represents Heaven and Hell in the Last Judgment.

Love the gargoyle waterspouts.

Watched some students sketching the cathedral.

Prayed and lit candles in both the Cathedral and at St. Peter and Paul

Who needs the sea? On hot summer days, the Bernese will find any excuse to jump into the Aare and float down it, enjoying the majestic cityscape of the Old Town high above them. In fact, swimming in the Aare is an official activity on the UNESCO list of Swiss traditions. It’s part of the authentic Bern experience, even for visitors to the city.

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