Bern, the capital of Switzerland, was a handy stop on our way to the Berner Oberland from the Black Forest. With its lively market squares, it was a fun urban afternoon. The city was founded in 1191 and has avoided war or major fire damage since the 1400s, unlike most of Europe’s cities. Located within a bend of the Aare River, you can see how Bern expanded over the centuries as you pass each tower.
From the autobahn, follow the signs for Zentrum and the Bahnhof (train station). There are several Parkplatz in the vicinity. It cost us around $8 to park for 2½ hours. Inside the train station, you will find a shopping center and a TI where you can get a free city map with a suggested walking tour.
If you walk through the city from the train station, it is downhill all the way, and then you can ride tram #12 back up.
From the station, go down to the church and turn left on Spitalgasse. This street runs all the way through town, even though it changes names several times.
Bern has 11 colorful, historical fountains built in the 16th century. Stroll down the street through the outdoor markets and cafes, encountering fountains and towers—many with clocks—until you arrive at Parliament. If you are interested in Swiss government, you can take a tour. Children were quite interested in the fountains of water spouting up from the brick square. Behind the building are terraces with excellent views of the Aare River and a huge public swimming pool. They say you can see the Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau peaks from there on a clear day. Alas, it was too hazy when we were there.
Follow the sidewalk on down to the Kirchenfeld Bridge. From the middle of the bridge, you have great river views for picture-taking. If you cross the bridge, you will find several art museums. On the breakwater you will see a bear (Bern’s symbol), but you must look closely.
Leaving the bridge continue to Kornhausplatz. Ornamenting this square is the most unusual fountain, with an ogre eating a child. I wonder why the city would commission such a gruesome scene. Perhaps they used it to scare their children into minding? Here also is Bern’s famous clock tower with the Zytglogge-turm. The jester, Father Time, and the rooster all perform 4 minutes before the hour. This tower marks the original town wall.
As you continue down the main street, which is now Kramgasse, there are many shops at street level and below street level. Prices are really high here, and there was also a lot of construction.
Bern’s cathedral has interesting artwork above the door. The Last Judgment shows the dividing of the saints and sinners with some humor. Note the little devils. Behind the cathedral are free public WCs.
Across Nydegg Bridge are the Bear Pits. Several bears are kept here in two pits. You can buy feed at the kiosk. There are also restrooms, restaurant, and a souvenir shop.
Drug use is fairly widespread here. You may see some junkies, but we certainly didn’t feel threatened in the afternoon.