Legend has it that the founder of Bern, Duke Berthold V of Zähringen (1160-1218), decided to name the city Bern because a bear was the first animal he saw when he went out hunting in the vicinity. In any case, there is a bear in the city’s coat of arms, and the city has been keeping live bears on display since 1513.
At first the bears were kept in cages in the city center, for instance at a square which is still called the Bärenplatz.
From 1857 to 2009 the bears were kept in two pits at the end of the Nydegg Bridge. This was entertaining for the people who came by and looked in from the top, but was a tremendous bore for the bears. Towards the end of the twentieth century there were numerous complaints from people who said the bears were being mistreated, which they were, so from 2006 to 2009 a new bear park was built on the banks of the river, just below the old bear pits.
Now the bears have the run of the new bear fields sloping down towards the river and they also still have access to the larger of the two bear pits. The smaller bear pit is now for people and for bear statues and serves as the entrance to a bear souvenir shop.
We didn’t see any bears when we were there in December 2012. A handwritten daily update board informed us that there were now four bears in the Bear Park, and if we didn’t see them that meant they were hibernating, as bears tend to do in the winter.
By the Bear Park at the end of the Nydegg Bridge, in a building that was formerly a tram depot, there is a Tourist Center with information and souvenirs. For sixteen years, from 1999 to 2015, there was also an automatic three-dimensional multi-media “Bern Show” that started three times an hour, on the hour and at twenty- and forty-minutes past.
About half the shows were in German. The rest were either in English or French, and there was a sign at the entrance telling which language would come when. Groups could also arrange for special showings in Italian, Spanish or Japanese.
The Bern Show lasted a quarter of an hour. It included a few corny ideas such as a talking chair which claimed to have been the favorite chair of Duke Berthold V of Zähringen, but otherwise we found the show to be quite informative — although technologically it was a throwback to the 1980s, when ‘multi-media’ was new and popular.
Bern turns out to be a surprisingly young city, since it was only founded in the year 1191.
In 1218 Duke Berthold V did the Bernese a great favor by dying without leaving any heirs, so the Zähringer dynasty ended and Bern became a free imperial city within the Holy Roman Empire. This essentially meant that Bern was an independent city, since the emperor was little more than a figurehead.
The Bern Show included a large three-dimensional model of the city center. Parts of the model were illuminated to show the development of the city, or individual buildings were illuminated as they are being described and shown on the screen.
This computer-driven multi-media show originally included several slide projectors, which were replaced by DVD-technology in 2007. This remained in use until 2015, when the show was discontinued. The newspaper Der Bund quoted a city official as saying that the presentation technology was getting on in years and was therefore expensive to maintain. And: “In the age of high-speed Internet, DVD presentations are no longer up-to-date.”
My photos in this post are from 2012. I revised the text in 2021.