Thursday, January 28, 2010

Bern

We headed towards Bern passing Lake Thunasee on the way.  I put this video in (which was tak

en by accident) since, often, this is the way we experience the things we see – out of the window of the car.

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Why Bern? Well, it was kind of on our way home and we hadn’t seen it yet.  Actually it is the capital of Switzerland and, most exciting of all – they keep bears in pits!

We didn’t really have many plans, just sort of parked downtown and looked for maps.  I’d say, in general, that Bern is a very tourist friendly town. It is also situated (like Besancon) on a peninsula formed by a river (in this case, the river Aare).   And there are lots and lots of bear symbols here. Like, everywhere.

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First we walked to the main cathedral (spire above left), the Munster. It is the highest church tower in all of SwitzeResized_HPIM4489rland, and though a church existed in this spot from around 1100, the larger construction was started in 1423 and it was not completed until 1893.  Here are shots of it, inside and out!  I loved the sculptures and woodworkResized_HPIM4496.  They just take so much time to make every pew a work of art. Does anyone recognize the mythological beast shown right?  It seems to be part weasel, part bird and perhaps part snake???  The seats along the side all featured initials and symbols Resized_HPIM4494indicating whose seats they were.  I thought it was great, the way that so many of them had obviously changed hands over the years and new layers of carvings had to be attached.  I really liked the moon and star shown left.  Also check out the ancient alms box!  It is a heavy metal box literally carved into a niche in the wall and locked with two large padlocks.  I guess even back then, you could never be too careful.  So much for the good old days!

It is a gothic cathedral – and since Switzerland has remained neutral through two World Wars, it is amazingly intact – the best part was the lacy artwork all over the ceiling!    Thanks to André for the shot of that – it is hard for me to take good cathedral interiors!Resized_HPIM4484Resized_HPIM4482Resized_HPIM4493 Resized_HPIM4497 Resized_HPIM4504Resized_HPIM4499Resized_HPIM4488     

We wandered off stopping for a pee break.  If you are ever in Bern, make sure you pee in the bathrooms right next to Munster Cathedral.  I felt like I was in a space ship – they were awesome.  There is also a small park there with a whole bunch of people engaged in spirited ping pong contests. We continued in the direction of the bear pits seeing lots of interesting things along the way.  The center of the city is largely medieval and there are tons and tons of running fountains all over the city.

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Resized_HPIM4518Finally the Barengraben!   This city has had some version of a pit filled with bears (the symbol of Bern) since at least 1441.  That’s almost 600 years of bears in pits!  This is obviously the draw of Bern and the place was crowded with tourists. We only got to see one bear (guess the rest of them are hibernating) and there was some debate over whether it was a brown bear or a grizzly.  Random stranger on the street (who claimed he worked at Yellowstone) insisted it was a grizzly but all the literature and signs referred to them as brown bears.  I looked it up and I was right – they are European brown bears and are apparently occupying new and improved digs after years of protests (used to be able to see about 10-15 and toss scraps of food down – now that Resized_HPIM4535would have been cool…) The kids loved to see a real bear – even if only from afar. I also looked up the symbolism of bears.  Apparently they represent calm, stoic strength.  Well – who doesn’t need more of that?  

We wandered back through the town center.  On this street (Kramgrasse), water flows through a channel in the middle.  Periodically there are statue/fountains, including the giant armored bear pictured below.  Finally we saw an ancient clock with an absolutely fascinating history. It is called the Zytglogge  and it was built in the early 1200’s.  At one point it housed “a women's prison, notably housing Pfaffendirnen – "priests' whores", women convicted of sexual relations with clerics.” Nice – wonder where the priests got sent to jail??? Here are some last photos –it's off to home and the end of this adventure….

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PS –The last two pictures above are of a fountain located right outside the building for a government official.  It seems it must be a nice place to give speeches since there is a platform above the fountain and benches below. There is also a pig in a nearby window.  I can only assume this is political commentary.  Do Swiss refer to government excess as pork?  On a totally different note, see below.  Isn’t it neat how this fountain is kind of like this ice sculpture???  I think the ice is a bit more intricate….

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