When it comes to capitals many countries across the world will put their best efforts into making their own capitals a place that showcases great culture, importance and patrimony. This is no less the case for Switzerland’s Bern. It is an impressive and a unique town. What probably makes it most noteworthy is that instead of going for big, imposing and domineering architecture as many countries do, Bern is in fact a delightful old town capital, whose features focus more on elegant details than on monuments to grandeur.
The city is the fourth largest in Switzerland and its modern sections are spread over a large area. The main reason the historic center has been so well preserved is that it sits atop a peninsula on a very steep hill. There really is no room to replace any of the exquisite medieval structures. These ornate and colorful buildings, classical streets and antique shops and squares give the town a distinctive atmosphere and preserve a long and proud Swiss heritage. The great hill on which the city is built is surrounded on three sides by a steep gorge in which the local river Aare flows. The beautiful nature of this area deserves a fitting human compliment and Bern is the best one could give.
The best way to arrive to Bern is via car or train. There is an airport nearby, but it does not serve near as many destinations as Zurich does. If arriving by train which is a popular way to get around for tourists the Bern railway station is your stop. The town is set on a hill with sloping edges. This means that the roadways are set at various levels of height. Mobility is quite easy in any case as streets are wide and well cared for. The river around town provides for many picturesque bridges, which connect the peninsula to surrounding hills. The town has been named a UNESCO world heritage site for its preservation of history and notable design.
The best way to experience the city is to approach from the main thoroughfare, an ancient street which cuts right down the center of town. Right from the beginning it starts to unravel its fascinating wonders. The first thing you find might surprise you. A zoo type pit that wanders down the mountainside full of holes, mounds of dirt and what’s that? Bears? Indeed you have met the bears of Bern. Consider them mascots, in fact, the name Bern is purportedly derived from the word bear and the city itself possesses many statues, artwork and even the town crest makes reference to the famous bears. Continuing down the main street the historic center of town really comes alive. The rich cobblestoned streets bring one back to an aura of older times. At various points the center of the roadway is decorated with fountains like the Schutzenbrunnen fountain or the Vennerbrunnen. Each of these fountains are topped by statues of various warriors, virtues or mythological creatures covered in a multitude of colors and excellently carved.
On both sides of the roadway one can notice a very peculiar marketplace. It is known locally as Lauben and it is one of the longest weather covered shopping promenades in Europe. The shops are built into the ground floor of every building and a pristine arch covered walkway allows one to browse the inviting windows in any weather. Shops feature a vast array of world famous Swiss watches in every design and price. There are also places where one may purchase artesian crafts, local produce and alluring Swiss chocolate. The street gently slopes up the hillside and its most famous icon sits at the top as a symbol of the city. It is a masterwork which showcases in grand proportions the Swiss tradition for art and ingenuity. This is the Zytglogge a fantastic medieval clock of massive proportions complete with all kinds of chimes, bells, puppets and figurines. The clock is the centerpiece of this charming street and fantastic city.
The attractions do not end here. The city continues in a maze of streets that cover every inch of the peninsular landscape. It is really not too much to walk, but there are plenty of buses and many picturesque trams which move about the hilly terrain. The city Cathedral with its towering dome is certainly a place worthy of a visit. There are many street café’s, bars and boutique stores scattered everywhere to enjoy a relaxing break on your trip through this marvelous borough. The Rathaus is a majestic town hall that sits quietly on a side street close to the river and it is a pleasant place to enjoy a stroll. The more modern government facilities which serve the whole country are located at the Swiss Parliament building and this may be visited on most days during public hours. The Bern City Theater is a great old style arena complete with red carpets and gold balconies, a timeless place to see all of the great classics of music and theater.
Fans of science and history may also find the Einstein house very attractive. This house is an apartment really. It is here that Albert Einstein worked on his theory of relativity while he held down a full time job at a local patent office and raised his young family. There is much in tribute to a man whose intellect shaped so much of our current technological age. Bern is a city that is full of museums. These are not the boring kind, even if you don’t like museums. The most recommendable is the History museum. The building itself is like an old mansion located just outside the city. It has an excellent collection of all kinds of historical, anthropological and otherwise fascinating material. The collections range from ancient to classical to medieval arrangements all presented in state of the art facilities. Other notable museums are the art museum, Zentrum Paul Klee, communications museum, Swiss alpine museum and the Swiss National Library. Some of the most recommended walks would have to encompass the many bridges that connect the city. From these impressive spans one can get a glimpse of the whole city from its highest turrets to its deepest ravines and the whole magic of this ancient capital is portrayed beautifully.
There are a great many things to see and experience in Bern, but the nicest part about it is that this city feels welcoming and manageable. The monstrous and imposing capitals of great empires may be awe-inspiring but they never make one feel at home. Here in Bern not only does one feel at home, but one feels immersed in the great and colorful history of Switzerland. Bern literally is a town that sits in the middle of the woods. It feels like an oasis in the forest, a tranquil place where one can experience the finest Swiss culture surrounded by nature’s silence.