Who let the bears out? The bear park in Bern!

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!

Thank you very much for reading and please like, subscribe and share!

In other news, I have been added to the list of (expat) blogs at A humorous guide to Switzerland. Be sure to check out their blog for more excellent tips on life and travel in Switzerland!

Sincerely yours,
Albert

Three museums for (rainy) days

The weather in Switzerland is still terrible. It starting pouring down on Friday morning and continued to pour down throughout the weekend. On the bright side, it seemed as if today is the day summer starts to force its way into consciousness again. I’m really hoping the warm season will arrive soon. Due to the unfortunate weather and the fact that I have finals this week, I wasn’t able to seek out a spot in Switzerland and take pictures. So today, I’m keeping the post short and sweet while talking about three museums worth checking out if summer should be delayed further more.

Kunsthaus Zürich

The Kunsthaus is the premier art museum in the city and has welcomed some extraordinary exhibitions in the last years. They have included great artists as Monet (my favorite), Chagall and Gauguin. The museum also features large collections by Edward Munch and Alberto Giacometti. You can find an overview of its programme on their website. The future is also bright for the Kunsthaus, as the residents approved a credit for an annex to the museum. The new annex, which is scheduled to open in 2017, will allow the Kunsthaus to show more pieces from their extensive collection and the addition of the collection E.G Bührle will make it a leading spot for French Impressionism.

Located near the Old Town you can easily reach the museum by tram or foot.

Verkehrshaus Lucerne 

In the city of Lucerne in Central Switzerland you’ll find the Verkehrshaus, one of my favorite museums in Switzerland growing up. The English translation for Verkehrshaus is Museum of Transport. I haven’t visited the museum in a while, but the last time I visited their explanation of the construction of the Gotthard tunnel, which links the german-speaking part of Switzerland with the Ticino, left a lasting impression on me. With the new railroad tunnel to be finished in a few years, you should take your time to learn from its storied history and to marvel at this extraordinary feat of engineering. Other excellent pieces include their large collection of airplanes from times past and their planetarium, where you’ll be treated to a journey through space and time. As a visitor, you’re able to walk into these older planes or go on simulated ride taking you back to the time of the vehicles in question. You can reach the Verkehrshaus by bus or boat on the Lake Lucerne from the Lucerne main station.

Museum of Communication Bern

Another favorite from my formative years is the museum of communication located a few meters from my former high school. The great strength of this place are the interactive exhibitions highlighted by “As time goes byte”, a history of the computer and digital culture. The permanent exhibitions starts out with the first computers and flows through time ending with a glimpse into the hopefully not so distant future. Also worth a visit are the sections about the evolution of the post and telephone as well as the large stamp collection in the basement, which features most if not all stamps issued in Switzerland. As a former collector myself, seeing the stamps from the 19th century is a fascinating look into times long gone. Similar to the Verkehrshaus, most of his exhibitions are interactive, so children and adults alike have buttons to press, videos to watch and gadgets to try to out.

You can reach the museum of communication by taking a bus or a tram from the main station or on foot by taking a stroll past the federal palace and over the Kirchenfeld bridge.

Please note that most museums in Switzerland are closed on Mondays in Switzerland. I hope you can

That’s it for now, I’m back to studying. Feel free to share your tips for museums or exhibitions in Switzerland in the comment sections or by tweeting @AlbertGubler!

Sincerely yours,
Albert

Take a stroll through Zurich’s Old Town: the Niederdörfli

For the third installment of Mountains and more we are returning back to the city of Zurich to explore its Old Town: the Niederdorf or Niederdörfli.

When thinking about the premier shopping district of the city, most people think of the Bahnhofsstrasse where most of the illustrious and high-end fashion brands show off their products in fancy flagship stores. For another kind of retail and sightseeing experience, it is recommended to cross over the Limmat and explore the Niederdorf.

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View of the Grossmünster and Niederdorf (today)

The Old Town’s charm lies in his unique blend of shops, bars, coffeehouses and nightclubs. Walking through the narrow alleys built from medieval cobblestone gives you a glimpse of medieval times. And always close-by is the sight of the river Limmat, always ensuring you’re not getting lost!

The Niederdorf boasts a few traditional attractions for tourists. The most prominent one is the Grossmünster (“Great minster”), a protestant church built between 1100 and 1220 AD. It is famous as the birthplace of the Swiss reformation under the tutelage of Ulrich Zwingli, who held the pastoral office in the sixteenth century. Architecturally the Grossmünster’s twin towers looking over the Niederdorf are an impressive sight and a major landmark.

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The two towers of the Grossmünster

The Zentralbibliothek (central library) in the middle of the Niederdorf is the fifth-largest library in Switzerland. On a normal day you’ll be able to get to know lovers of literature browsing through the books and magazines found in the countless shelves. In May, June, December and January however most visitors to the library are tired students clutching their textbooks and laptops, reading and highlighting at a frantic pace desperately longing for a break.

In the Niederdörfli you’ll also find a few of the “Zunfthäuser”, halls of the various medieval guilds such as the “Haus zur Schmiden” (House of the Blacksmiths). During the rise of the “Bürgertum” (bourgeoisie) artisans around Europe rose to prominence and they organized themselves in guilds. Many of these guildhalls today are restaurants serving traditional Swiss cuisine. The city of Zurich has a holiday dedicated to its guilds, the famous “Sächseläuten” which takes place every year in April. During the festival, the guilds participate in a parade around the city culminating in the burning of a giant snowman called Böögg at the Bellevue. As the legend states, the longer the snowman burns, the worse the summer will be. This year it took an astonishing 35 minutes (the third longest time ever) until the snowman’s head exploded. And his prediction has been proven true so far as temperatures have hovered around 10 degrees for the last few weeks.

The Niederdorf is also the place to be for coffee lovers as you’ll find inviting cafés almost everywhere along the way. The American chain with the green logo operates three shops in the vicinity of the Old Town, but the real treat are the small neighbourhood coffeeshops standing out through great service, excellent cakes or beautiful latte art. Personally, I’d take a look at Cafe Grande along the Limmat or at Henrici in the middle of the Niederdorf.

During the night, this part of the Old Town turns into a hub for the city’s nightlife which many of the pubs and clubs hidden in the alleys come alive. With a fair share of English pubs, Swiss inns and trendy scene bars to choose from, visitors are sure to find a cosy place to start their night out. Among my favorites is the Oliver Twist Pub which stands out through is familial atmosphere and fantastic pub food.

The Niederdörfli is located around five minutes on foot from the Central Station. Walking through the district without stopping at its sites should take you between 30 and 45 minutes at a leisurely pace. The Niederdörfli is a great place to capture a bit of the feel and vibe of the city and is must-see during any trip to Zurich.

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Exam time is upon us at Swiss universities, so I’ll be pretty busy the next few weeks. I should still be able to reach my writing goals. As you might have noticed, I’ve also made some minor improvements to the website as you can see with the fancier twitter feed on the right hand side. More improvements will follow after finals! Please leave your feedback in the comments! If you’d like to support my writing, please click on follow on the right hand side.

I’m back on Wednesday with my obsession for this last week of May. Until then, I hope you enjoy the spring weather!

Sincerely yours,
Albert

Mountains… and more: Bern Marzili

For this week’s installment of Mountains… and more I would like to tell you a bit more about one of my favorite spots in Bern: the Marzili.

Bern is located close to the center of Switzerland and only one hour away from other cities such as Zurich, Basel, Lucerne or Lausanne. It is famous for it’s wonderfully preserved old town with their medieval fountains, the seat of the Swiss government and the bear park, where the city pays tribute to their heraldic animal. I grew up in a little village outside of Bern and graduated from high school in the city. So I would like to talk to you about the place I spent many lunch breaks, lazy afternoons and summer evenings relaxing: the Marzili.

The Marzili is an outdoor swimming pool near the river Aar. Rather uncharacteristically for expensive Switzerland, there is no entry fee. It boasts various basins such as a lap pool and diving area. Very generous lawns are able to accomodate the guests. If you’re not only interested in swimming, you will find beach volleyball fields and on most days you will also have enough space to set up a small football game. Another treat is the great view of the Federal Palace of Switzerland and cathedral. The Marzili is a great place to spend a few hours enjoying good company and terrific weather.

The greatest asset is the river Aar, as it gives guests the opportunity to swim and drift away in the refreshing waters of the river. As a word of caution, the Aar should not be underestimated and only experienced swimmers should attempt to go in. There are no lifeguards and swimming in the the river is definitely something to attempt at your own risk. Personally, I’m a terrible swimmer, so I spend most of my days there enjoying the sun, scenery and sports without venturing into the river. But most of my friends still living near Bern cannot wait for their first river swims of the year, even going in at temperatures well below the pool average. The Marzili is a Bernese institution and adored by locals.

A typical day in the Marzili for me consisted of arriving with a group of friends and looking for a spot near the volleyball field. A bit of swimming in the pool to cool off the heat was followed by a game of beach volleyball or by trying out the newest tricks with a football. Then my friends went off to enjoy swimming in the river, while I stayed back to guard their  valuables and read a great book. When the gates were closing and the sun was setting, we then walked a bit upstream to the Eichholz,  a riverside camp site with various fireplaces. The evening was then spent relaxing with a barbecue partying before heading back.

Similar to the Polyterrasse in Zurich you can reach the Marzili by taking a furnicular to a station very close-by. The upper station is located three minutes from the central train station in close proximity to the Bundeshaus, the Federal Palace of Switzerland. If you feel like walking, getting to the Marzili from the old town area is a fifteen minutes downhill walk with several staircases leading to the Marzili.

One of the great pleasures of Bern is that so many interesting attractions are in walking distance of each other. From the Marzili, you can take a ten-minute (uphill) walk to the museum district of the city. The most interesting places are the museum of history with a fantastic exhibition on Albert Einstein, the Swiss Alpine museum which has recently been modernized and the museum of communications, my favorite museum growing up.

Even closer to the Marzili and across the low bridge where most people actually enter the Aar, is Bern’s version of a zoo, the Tierpark Dählhölzli. I haven’t visited the Tierpark in a while, but I remember enjoying their penguins a lot. With miles of open space and a petting zoo, it is a great attraction for families with young children.

As you can see, the Marzili is a great place to take a short break from a day of sightseeing or an excellent venuefor a day-trip if you’re staying in the region anyway. Of course, as it is an outdoor swimming pool, I’d only recommend stopping by on a sunny summer day as otherwise you’ll find a rather deserted area.

Thank you for reading and as always, any feedback is greatly appreciated. Unfortunately I haven’t received my new camera yet but I will update the posts with photos as soon as it arrives, so stay tuned. If you have any questions about the Marzili or Bern, just let me know and I’ll be glad to help you out.

Sincerely yours,

Albert

Mountains… and more: Zurich Polyterrasse

Welcome to the first installment of Mountains and more!

My goal with this series is to share some knowledge about the country I’ve spent more than half of my life in: Switzerland. Every Monday, I’ll discuss either a beautiful place to visit or an interesting bit of Swiss history. If you’d like to know more about a specific topic, just let me know!

For today, I’ve decided to write a little portrait of one of my favorite spots in Zurich, the city I studied and worked in for the last four-and-a-half years. Zurich is the largest city of Switzerland and located in the northeastern part of the country. Most tourists know the long shopping mile Bahnhofstrasse which spans all the way from the central train station to the border of Lake Zurich. Along the way are shops by most major fashion brands, Zurich’s premier department store Jelmoli and of course the Paradeplatz, the seat of Switzerland’s two biggest banks. Other famous landmarks include the newly built Prime Tower (the highest skyscraper in Switzerland) and the Uetliberg (the hill overlooking the city, lake and alps). I don’t believe  this will be the last time I write about Zurich, so I’ve picked out a special spot to use as an introduction to the city: the Polyterrasse.

The Polyterrasse is a terrace located by the Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) and a great way to start a tour of Zurich. Right next to the ETH lies the University of Zurich (where I currently visit Grad School). The ETH and the University of Zurich are two of the biggest tertiary institutions of the country and always worth a visit. Notable former students include Albert Einstein, Pierre de Meuron, Erwin Schrödinger or Wolfgang Pauli. If you visit the schools during the academic year (semesters span from March to June and September to Christmas), you should be able to sit in a lecture about computer science, economics, law or mathematics without registering beforehand. A lot of basic courses are taught to 100 or more students, so even unknown faces can listen to esteemed professors easily. However, in undergraduate courses most classes still are in German. On a graduate level almost all courses are taught in English. Even if you don’t happen to be interested in the lectures, just having a stroll around the quarter with many of its villas housing university institutes or offices can be relaxing. After this short introduction to the university, let’s have a closer look at the Polyterrasse.

From an architectural point of view, I do not believe the Polyterrasse to hold any special value. The university buildings close-by are more interesting if you’re looking for architecture. It is a large square terrace with steps leading to the ETH and also serves as a roof for a building. Beneath the terrace lies the bqm, a bar/bistro with moderate prices frequented by students and tutors alike. Next to the bistro is the official cafeteria of the ETH, a book and stationary shop as well as one of the fitness studios for university students. There are a few modern pieces of lighting and a handful of benches to rest on.

One of the main reasons to check out the Polyterrasse is the fantastic view of downtown Zurich. If you’re particularly lucky, you’re also treated to a panorama of the alps. For me, there’s no better spot in town to get a quick overview of the downtown area. The view includes the main station, many of the cities churches and the buildings of the Old Town. Additionally, you can see the beautiful lake and the river Limmat.

I particularly recommend visiting the Polyterrasse during the spring or summer during nice weather as clouds, rain or snow take away a lot of its charm. And its charm is what makes the terrace stand out as one of the special places in town. In summer, the platform is filled with students enjoying the sun, studying their textbooks or discussing their newest projects. It is bristling with youthful energy and it’s a place where you might even be able to catch a glimpse of the next Mark Zuckerberg. For me, it is the perfect place to just relax with a good book or to meet up with friends for an after-work drink. On a sunny day, the atmosphere on the Polyterrasse and its wonderful view never fail to inspire and motivate me.

To reach the Polyterrasse, you can use the polybahn furnicular, an automatically operated train line connecting the old town with the ETH since 1889. The cost of taking the five-minute ride with the furnicular is 2.30 CHF. Alternatively, there are multiple sets of stairs leading up to the Polyterrasse or you can take trams 6 or 10 from the main station to the station “Haldenegg”.

For your next visit to Zurich, I can only recommend to start your city tour at the Polyterrasse, taking in the atmosphere and exploring the two schools close by. You can then continue to stroll down to the old town (Niederdörfli) or the Kunsthaus art museum. Or you could take the Polybahn furnicular down to the river and Bahnhofstrasse. Zurich has a lot to offer and discover!

To end this post, I wanted to thank all the readers of Chapter 2 who have sent me valuable feedback on my writing. I hope to include the tips in chapter 3 on Friday.

Feel free to connect with me to share your ideas via the comments, e-mail or on twitter @AlbertGubler! See you Wednesday with this week’s obsession.

Sincerely yours,

Albert