Bern Switzerland is the lovely, historic capital of the country. It is located on a steep ridge that is virtually encircled by a sharp bend in the Aare River. Berthold V, (Duke of Zähringen) founded the city in 1191. The city prospered and joined the Swiss Confederation in 1354. In 1848, it became the Swiss Confederation’s capital. After a 13th century fire, the city was rebuilt in sandstone, which generally stands today.
Bern Old Town
Bern’s Old Town lies primarily inside the river bend. Its multi-story red-roofed buildings have arcaded, street-level shops with residences over them. The cobblestone streets are primarily dedicated to pedestrians and public transport. A series of bridges connect the streets to the newer parts of the city. Public fountains, statues, and towers are interspersed among the medieval buildings.
Among the most historic and interesting of the buildings and monuments that we found during our visit are:
- Bern Munster (The Bern Cathedral) is Switzerland’s largest and tallest (328 feet) church. It began life in 1421 as a Gothic structure but wasn’t completed until 1893. The west entry has striking painted sculptures, the 16th-century choir stalls are beautifully carved in Renaissance style, the nave and several chapels have lovely stained glass windows, and the organ pipes are nicely displayed.
- Bundeshaus is the seat of the country’s Parliament. This a relatively new (1902), Neo-Renaissance structure has a dome that is decorated with historic paintings and stained glass panels with emblems of each of the country’s regions. The plaza on the south side of the huge building provides a view of the cliff down to the river and, in the distance, many of the tallest peaks of the Alps stretch across the horizon.
- Rathaus is the Town Hall. The 15th-century Gothic building has an elaborate entrance that is surrounded by a double stairway.
- Kornhaus used to be the town granary. It has been recycled as a cultural center with a theater, library, media and design centers. It has kept retains its carved pillars (representing musicians in traditional attire) and its vaulted wine cellar that now houses a restaurant.
- Prison Tower was built in 1250 as the city’s main gate, was subsequently used as a prison, and now a center for political meetings and exhibitions.
- Clock Tower, or Zytglogge, is a 75-foot tower built atop the original Western Gate. It was was built in 1191, burned down, rebuilt and later used as a prison. It is now graced with a lovely, 16th-century astronomical clock that foretells (by three minutes) each hour with a rather lame procession of carved figures and chimes.
- Guild Houses, some of which, such as that of the Weavers Guild, are ornately decorated.
- Bundesplatz, or Federal Square, whose buildings are adorned with paintings of historic scenes and events;
- Einsteinhaus is where the famous physicist lived from 1903-1905 while working as a patent clerk. He developed some of his most important theories here, such as that of relativity, the relationship between matter and energy (E = mc2 )and wrote his Annus Mirabilis papers on the photoelectric effect. The apartment (only one room of which is open) is furnished in period furniture. Another floor provides a movie and a series of panels that describe the physicist’s life, from his birth, education, marriages, role as a patent clerk and part-time scientist, through his theories and how the proof of his theory of relativity established him as a global celebrity. It discussed his multiple university appointments, his growing pacifism and provides highlights of his contributions. A separate Einstein Museum (which we did not visit) explains his work in greater detail.
- Historic Fountains, many which are from the 16th century, are located throughout old town (especially on Marktgasse and Kramgasse), are topped with statues representing biblical scenes (such as Moses passing down the Ten Commandments, Samson and the lion), the power of the city (as with an armored bear and a musketeer), justice and legend (especially of an ogre devouring an infant).
- And let’s not forget the Bear Park. Bern has kept bears since 1513. They were originally in the city itself. In 2009, bears were moved to Bear Park, a large forested enclosure next to Rose Garden parks (which has acres of flowers, in season) just outside of Old town, on a ridge over the river.
Somewhat further afield are a couple of interesting art museums (the Kunstmuseum and the Paul Klee Center), an Alps museum (the Schweischeg), and several other specialty museums, none of which we were able to visit during our one day in the city.
Another spot to visit is Gurten. This high mountain (864 meters) is just south of the city. It provides 360-degree views of the city, the Alps, and, on a clear day, into France and Germany. Below lies the gorgeous city with its towers and domes, while the spiky Alps jut from the countryside beyond. You can also see across the Three Lakes Region all the way to the Jura mountains. Be sure to climb up the tower–it’s free, and the views improve with every step. Several trails around the mountain offer leisurely hikes through flowery meadows and into thick forests.
- Klotzlikeller is a a pleasant, very good basement restaurant where we had lunch. We started with a “corn” salad (which, was very good despite having nothing to do with corn) with lamb’s lettuce, scotch egg, pumpkin seeds, curried pumpkin and pumpkin seed dressing. We followed by sharing one of the best cheese fondues we have had so far.
- Barenhafli is where we had a wonderful meal that began with pumpkin soup with amaretto cream and progressed to two main dishes. Both were good. One was a fried, ham and cheese-stuffed veal cordon bleu with a medley of properly cooked vegetables. The other was pumpkin agnolotti with pumpkin chutney and caramelized apple. Our dessert, which was a restaurant specialty, was the only disappointment. The deep-fried apple rings were more like unsweetened doughnuts that was served with a vanilla sauce. Our wine was a pleasant, slightly acid 2017 Yvorne Feu d’Amour from Chablais.
We stayed at the Savoy Hotel Bern. This 4- star hotel is just steps away from the train station in old town. Our king-bed room had a private balcony, although the view wasn’t much. But it gave us several windows without street noise to open as the room was too hot for us. The room had a hot pot for tea and a coffee maker. The staff was very good. But we did find a few issues. The comforter on the top of the bed was one piece and barely covered the bed. When 2 people were in the bed, we had to sleep towards the middle to be covered. We did not have bathrobes in the room. I guess you had to ask for them. Wifi access was only for 3 devices. Again, you had to ask for more. As most people travel with 2 devices each, this was annoying. We did not take breakfast there for 18 CH each as it seemed expensive. Still, I would recommend this place. Just ask up front for bathrobes and more wifi access.