As summer is taking another break this week with temperatures hovering around 15 degrees, I’ll would like to introduce you to one of the most famous tourist attractions in the city of Bern: The bear park.
I wrote a bit about the city in my post about the Marzili, the best place to spend a hot summer day in the capital. But for tourists, one of best known places to visit is the former bear pit, today’s bear park.
The heraldic animal of Bern is the bear. The animal doesn’t only grace the flag of city and canton, but it also used in the logo of many big sports clubs like the current Swiss hockey champion SC Bern . Bears are revered in Bern and have been held in the city since 1513. From 1857 to 2009, the bears were held in the (in)famous bear pit. However, the cold, concrete pit didn’t provide the bears with the highest quality of life. Holding them in the Bärengraben (as it’s called in German) was not considered appropriate for the animals. So Bern decided to build them a beautiful new park spanning around 6’000 square meters for the bears to roam and climb around. The hilly park is now green and full of trees and pond for the bears to move around, a far cry from the narrow scope of the former bear pit.
Currently, four bears live in the bear park: Björk, Finn, Berna and Ursina. The latter two were born in the bear park and were the main attraction in the initial months after the inauguration of the park. Visitors of the park could watch them play around, discover their surroundings and take a swim in the pond accessible to them. Watching them grow up was a major draw for visitors as their playful nature delighted tourists and citizens alike. At the beginning of their life, they had to be kept separate from their father Finn, so the bears could not be seen together. Since August 2012 however the four inhabitants of the bear park have been brought together.
To get to the bear park, visitors can take a bus from the main station to the bear park and take a stroll around the whole compound. Another way to reach the park is by taking a scenic walk down the old town of Bern, past the famous and somewhat gruesome fountains as well as the medieval clock towers. The walk should take around 30 minutes at a leisurely pace.
At the park, the bears can be watched from all angles as you walk around the whole park. The remnants of the old bear pit have not been destroyed, so you can still imagine how life used to be for the bears before the new project was completed. Next to bear park you can find also a large souvenir shop for anyone eager to show their allegiance to bears and the city.
Another reason to venture down to the bear pit is the restaurant Tramdepot, which is known for their local cuisine and homebrewed beer. The beer is a specialty known around the region. On Friday and Saturday evenings, it is difficult to get a seat without a reservation. Right across from the bear pit lies another restaurant, the Brasserie Bärengraben. This restaurant however is rather upscale and expensive. However the cuisine is excellent and the place is famous for their dessert buffet which features many wonderful cakes and pies.
After watching the bears and having a quick drink or meal, many options to continue your journey in Bern exist. You can either venture down to the river Aar to see the oldest part of the city or walk up to the rose garden, which will give you a complete view of the Old town. Should you have walked down to the bear pit on the main road, you can another route back to the main station, this time walking past the medieval cathedral and its platform, where you can take in the view of the alps and the Gurten.
Bern was listed as one of the top ten destinations of Europe for 2013 by Lonely Planet, so I can only recommend you to visit the city and the bear park. For more information on the park, please check out their website!
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