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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Kade

It's a bear's life!

"Brown bears in the heart of the city of Bern, in a generously-sized, humane enclosure - a unique experience. On the banks of the river Aare, opposite to the old town, live three brown bears.

You can observe the bears from the upper terrace or from the Aare how the powerful bears search out food, laze around in the sun or take a cool bath.

From summer to late autumn, the bears are preoccupied with searching for food and finding enough to eat. A bear’s life also includes regular bathing and taking naps in the afternoon sun or in the shade.

My Jellie Beanie does this same pose.

The bears are fed in keeping with the seasons, with a lot of vegetables and little fruit, and sometimes there is also meat or fish. As autumn approaches, they are fed an increasing amount of fruits and berries, which contain sugar, as well as nuts with a high fat content, so that the animals can build up a fat store for the winter.

The Bern BearPark is a unique recreation area at the lower end of the old town of Bern. It is open around the clock and free for all visitors. Brown bears have been living in this generously-sized enclosure on the banks of the river Aare since 2009.

He was pacing because he wanted to get to the enclosure for some treats. Unfortunately, he had to wait. He is smarter than the average bear!!!

The bears are not fed at fixed times of the day! The food is distributed and hidden in the enclosure, always in different places and at different times of the day. So the animals search for the treats and are often kept busy with that for hours on end, as is appropriate to the species.

Visitors are strictly forbidden to feed the bears. If you feed wild animals the wrong things, it can harm them. On top of that, we do not want the bears to beg but to be as natural as possible, so they have to find their food themselves and work for it."

Here is a "little bear biology" the park distributes.



Body length 170-220 cm, weight 100-340 kg, fur color from light brown to almost black. Young animals have a light colored ruff. They have powerful canine teeth but in contrast with other predators, their molars feature wide, flat crowns, in keeping with their mostly plant based diet. They have stocky legs, their feet each have five claws, but they cannot sheath them as cats do. Bears walk on their soles and are good climbers and swimmers.


Brown bears originally colonized most of Europe as well as northern America, north and central Asia. These days the few remaining European brown bears can be found in Abruzzi, in the Austrian-Slovenian Alps and in the Balkans. Larger communities live in the Carpathian mountains, Scandinavia and western Russia.


In our part of the world, bears live mostly in forests, right up to the forest borders. Had it not been for human interference, central areas of Switzerland (Schweizer Mittelland) would have been dominated by mixed beechwood forests, the perfect habitat for the brown bear, for over 3000 years. In the forest's glades and borders, where rich layers of herbs and berry bushes thrive, and where oak trees push their way through beside the dominant beeches, the bear gathers beechnuts, acorns and berries.

Daily and seasonal cycle of activities

The brown bear is diurnal and nocturnal, more nocturnal when there is an increased level of danger. Adjusting to the reduced availability of food during the winter months, they often hibernate from October through to March, but hibernation can be interrupted if it is particularly mild. Hibernation is triggered by food shortages and when temperatures fall to below 0°C.

Animals in captivity only hibernate if they are fed intensively during late summer and autumn, so they can build up their fat reserves.


Brown bears are typical omnivores but are in essence vegetarians. They eat berries, roots, fruit, buds, seeds and grass. They also feed on insects and their larvae, and love honey produced by wild bees. Occasionally they prey on other animals; rarely they attack unprotected livestock, such as sheep and cows, and would not turn down carcasses of animals that have died in the woods.

Reproduction, social behavior

Outside the mating season (May to June), brown bears are solitary and live in fixed areas, not necessarily for their exclusive use. After a gestation period of 7-8 months, bear mothers dig out a hollow and give birth to litters of 2-3 cubs, weighing about 300 grams each. The cubs are born blind and only open their eyes after about 4 weeks. They suckle their mothers for 4 months.

The mother guides her cubs until the end of their second year; during this period she strictly avoids any contact with males. The mother teaches her young many food-finding skills. After this period, the cubs ramble around until they reach reproductive age, at around 3 to 4. A female can bear up to 10 litters. In captivity, brown bears can live for up to 30 years."

"Björk (Swedish for birch) was born on 19.12.2000 in 'Djurpark Boras', Sweden. From there she moved to 'Skandinavisk Dyrepark’ Kolind in Denmark, and in May 2004 she came to Berne Animal Park.

She came to the Dählhölzli animal park with her sister, Barba, on 6 May 2004. Barba went to the Wildnispark Zürich-Lagenberg on 10.01.2008, and was replaced in Bern by Finn. Björk and Finn moved into the BearPark at the beginning of October, 2009."

"Finn was born in Helsinki Zoo in Finland on 15.01.2006.

He came to the Dählhölzli animal park on 17.03.2008 and struck up an immediate friendship with Björk. Finn likes to have a bath. He is the father of Ursina and Berna."

"Ursina is the twin sister of Berna. Both were born in the den of their mother Björk in December 2009. Their father is Finn. Ursina is very curious. She is always looking for something to explore. She likes to play with Finn; having a bath is one of her favourite activities.

Bears have been kept in Bern since 1513. Up until 1857, they were in the city itself, then in the bear pit and, from 2009, in the BearPark.

Münster of Bern

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.


"The Minster of Bern is located on the southern side of the Aare peninsula. The cathedral is oriented east and west like the rest of the Old City of Bern. To the north, Münstergasse runs along the side of the building. The west façade of the Münster dominates Münsterplatz. On the south side of the cathedral is the Münster platform.

It is a three nave basilica without a transept. The entire cathedral is 84.2 meters (276 ft) long and 33.68 m (110.5 ft) wide. The central nave is 39.37 m (129.2 ft) long by 11.10 m (36.4 ft) wide and is 20.70 m (67.9 ft) high. The two side naves are very similar in dimensions, the north nave is 52.50 m (172.2 ft) long, while the southern one is slightly longer at 52.72 m (173.0 ft). They are both 6.45 m (21.2 ft) wide and 10.40 m (34.1 ft) high. The altar house and choir together are 25.20 m (82.7 ft) long, 10.92 m (35.8 ft) wide and 19.40 m (63.6 ft) high. The cathedral has a single tower in the west, which is 100.60 m (330.1 ft) high. Below the tower, there is a 10.15 m (33.3 ft) long by 10.46 m (34.3 ft) wide, tower hall.

There are a total of ten bays in the building. The central nave has five of these bays. Each of the side naves has two bays, with side chapels built against the exterior walls. The last bay is within the choir.

I wrote prayer intentions and I lit candles.

The central nave walls are supported by fourteen flying buttresses. Each buttress starts at a decorated column which rises above the roof of the side naves and side chapels. The buttresses rise at an angle of 43° 30’. The lower side of the buttresses are decorated with egg-shaped cut outs, with vesica piscis and spandrel designs.

The majority of the building is built from local sandstone The vaults are built of brick. In the 18th Century, limestone sheathing was added to the pillars. Most of the sandstone came from a quarry at Ostermundingen. Additional material came from three other quarries, each with differing color and quality. The various stone types were used more or less randomly throughout the entire building. The pillar bases, capitals, windows and sculptures are all from the highest quality, blue sandstone from the Gurten quarry, south of Bern. During reconstruction projects in the 19th and 20th centuries, several other sandstone types were used."

"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 Judgement 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 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 Sheeba 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.

Colorful figures, skillfully crafted pillars and detailed decorations – those are the characteristics of Bern’s fountains. The medieval works of art were once important meeting points for locals and still form an essential part of Bern’s image.

"There are over 100 public fountains in Bern’s Old City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Apart from their decorative character and interesting history, Bern’s fountains obviously also have a functional aspect. The cool water flowing from their spouts is drinkable and free for everyone. And the pragmatic locals have combined the useful with the beautiful, placing some of the fountains on busy streets and therefore making them – as people call it – the world’s most charming traffic blocks.

The history of Bern’s public water supply dates all the way back to the Middle Ages: in the 13th century, there were already several standpipes in the city of the Zähringen people. The water came from the city’s underground stream, wells and probably cisterns. The main supply was the city’s creek. It was used as sewage, transported water to fight fires and connected – and still connects – Bern’s fountains. Around 1550, the city replaced the then wooden fountains with elaborate stone ones.

In the past, the public fountain played an important role in the everyday hustle and bustle of the city. Apart from supplying water, it also had an important social role.

It was a watering hole where people met up, chatted, exchanged news, settled disputes, discussed politics and made deals. Women and maids carried large copper pots to the fountains to bring back water for household use, water carriers filled their containers and brought them to people’s homes for a small fee, and waggoners came to water their horses. The lower, smaller basins were built specifically for animals and are a reminiscence of the times when cows and horses were led through the streets and alleys of Bern.

Bern’s eleven historical fountain figures are eye-catchers. Be it in remembrance of heroes, historical events or social ideals: every fountain has its own history and special meaning. What most of them have in common is the creator: eight of the eleven figures were made by sculptor Hans Gieng from Freiburg, who seems to have lived and worked in Bern in the 1540s. The fountains remain the same as when they were constructed and are magnificent examples of Renaissance art. The designs and pompous figures are indications of the prosperity and wealth of the bourgeoisie at the time.

Kindlifresserbrunnen (Ogre Fountain, Granary Square)

Besides the bears, I absolutely love this fountain!!!!

High up on a pillar looms a terrifying ogre. There are some defenseless, half naked children in a bag next to him, others are crawling around on the scary man, probably trying to escape him. His crazy stare and wide-open mouth as well as the fact that he is depicted devouring a baby tell us that he is not to be messed with. There are different theories as to the meaning of this fountain, the most plausible one being that the fountain was built to have an educational effect and that the monster was meant to scare little children into behaving."

The Zytglogge (Clock Tower).

Once a city gate, the Clock Tower now attracts spectators from all over the world.

Zytglogge bellworks

"The tower's two namesake bronze bells hang in the cupola at its very top.

The great hour bell, cast by Johann Reber, has remained unchanged since the tower's reconstruction in 1405. It has a diameter of 127 centimeters (50 in), a weight of 1,400 kilograms (3,100 lb) and rings with a nominal tone of e'. The inscription on the bell reads, in Latin:

"In the October month of the year 1405 I was cast by Master John called Reber of Aaarau. I am vessel and wax, and to all I tell the hours of the day."

When the great bell rings out every full hour, struck by a large clockwork-operated hammer, passers-by see a gilded figure in full harness moving its arm to strike it. The larger-than-life figure of bearded Chronos, the Greek personification of time, is traditionally nicknamed Hans von Thann by the Bernese. The wooden bell striker, which has been replaced several times, has been a fixture of the Zytglogge since the renewal of the astronomical clock in 1530, whose clockwork also controls the figure's motions. The original wooden Chronos might have been created by master craftsman Albrecht von Nürnberg, while the current and most recent Hans is a 1930 reconstruction of a Baroque original. The bell-striker has been gilded, just like the bells, since 1770."

Almost four minutes before the hour, a rooster crows and a fool sitting in a niche rings two bells hanging above him, and then a procession of armed bears moves out of the tower and disappears into it again. Then the rooster crows a second time and lifts its wings. The bearded Chronos , god of time, turns an hourglass, raises his scepter to command the strike of the hour and counts the strokes that the gilded knight in the tower helmet, known as Hans von Thann , strikes with a hammer on the big bell while being a standing lion Head turns as if listening. As soon as the hour bell has stopped, the rooster crows for the third time and announces the beginning of the new hour.

"Below the hour bell hangs the smaller quarter-hour bell, also rung by a clockwork hammer. It was cast in 1887 to replace the cracked 1486 original.

Both principal façades, East and West, are dominated by large clock faces. The Zytglogge's first clock face was likely located on the plinth, but was moved up to the center of the shaft during the tower's 15th-century reconfiguration.

The eastern clock face features an outer ring of large golden Roman numerals, on which the larger hand indicates the hour, and an inner ring on which the smaller hand indicates the minutes. The golden sun on the hour hand is pivot-mounted so that it always faces up. Below the clock face one sees an idealized profile of city founder Duke Berchtold V of Zähringen. While the exact decoration of the clock face has varied from renovation to renovation, the current (post-1983) layout is generally that of 1770.

The western clock face has similar hands, but is an integral part of Victor Surbek's 1929 fresco "Beginning of Time". The painting depicts Chronos swooping down with cape fluttering, and, below the clock face, Adam and Eve's eviction from Paradise by an angel.

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 Jukian 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 yearon February 29th. 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 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.

Albert Einstein lived in Bern from 1903 to 1905 and developed his Theory of Relativity here.

He came to the Swiss capital in 1902 and took up a post at the federal patent office. In 1903, he and his wife, Mileva, moved into an apartment on the third floor of Kramgasse 49, in the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Today, the apartment is open to tourists. It is furnished in the style of Einstein’s time and documents the life of the physicist during his years in Bern. This period included 1905 – Einstein’s annus mirabilis (extraordinary year) – which was his most creative period of scientific discovery.

View up the street from Einstein's house.

Thanks to its six kilometers of arcades, Bern is in effect home to one of the longest covered shopping promenades in Europe. This has its benefits not only in rainy weather, but also in high summer, when the shade is cool and pleasant. I love window shopping under the arcades. My favorite butcher shop, Kauffmann, has permanently closed. I'm saddened to hear the news. I loved stopping by for their apple tarts and the chicken.

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