Welcome to Bern in winter! Bern is most definitely a picture perfect city in a picture perfect country. I was there in January of 2015, and I came away from the place with a new appreciation for Switzerland and its people and very pleasantly surprised with how much I liked it there.
As home to the Federal Palace, seen here, Bern is the federal capital of Switzerland. However, the structure of the Swiss government puts the emphasis on local government, in its collection of cantons, over federal. Bern is a relatively small city too, with only 141,000 people, which gives it a very approachable and charming feel.
The Zytglogge is a very old clock tower that has stood in Bern since the 1300s. It is a major landmark and is close to the border between the newer part of town and old medieval town. The old medieval center is perfectly preserved and sits on a thin tongue of land surrounded on three sides by the River Aare.
Not as bad as the crowd for the one in Prague, Bern's astronomical clock nonetheless draws a crowd of tourists to see the mechanical show at certain times during the day. Astronomical clocks are really quite amazing devices, especially considering they are purely mechanical. In addition to telling the time of day, these clocks are synchronized to Earth's position in its orbit around the sun and how that then affects the length of the day and the stars that are visible in the night sky. For fun, the designers also added in the little mechanical figures at the right, which come to life and put on the show. The frieze at the top shows Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, and Mercury
Bern's classic European architecture is flawlessly preserved; it must help to have never been in any modern war since the early 1800s. The place has an incredible feel about it, since it is actually authentic. One of the neatest things about the old city are the arcades that run on either side of all the streets.
Bern can also boast being the city that spawned some of the most famous advances in physics during the 20th century. It was there in Bern that Albert Einstein worked as a clerk in the patent office and wrote his papers on Brownian motion, the photoelectric effect and the concept of photons (light as quantized particles), special relativity, and the famous mass-energy relationship. One piece of legend goes that Einstein had his epiphany about the speed of light being constant in all reference frames while riding on one of Bern's street cars and gazing out the window at the Zytglogge. So basically, Bern is a special place if you are a fan of science and history. Einstein's old flat in Bern is now a museum focussed on the life and work of the great physicist.
The bear is Bern's symbol, so you see plenty of them around town. Bern even has a bear pit, where they keep live bears and execute prisoners (OK... only one of those two points is true).
The Knight Bear. Seriously, I have no idea.
The canton of Bern also has the bear as its symbol and a prominent feature on the canton's flag.
The city surrounding the old center doesn't seem like it is one of the country's largest nor like the national capital. It is a relief to be able to see so many trees and so much open space around the city.
Bern's cathedral tower dominates the skyline. And the view from the top is spectacular.
This guy is up on the observatory deck of the cathedral tower... I'm guessing he must be the architect
Like I said, the views from the top are brilliant. It really gives you a good sense of how the old town is laid out and surrounded by so much new. It's funny though since you can only see the river in one direction and can't really tell that it surrounds the old city on three sides!
Bern has some very nice museums too. This is the art museum, which is a really nice one. It has a good combination of Swiss and foreign artists. While I was there, they had a special extended exhibit from Paul Klee.
I just loved this sign. Retro classic.
The light in Bern around sunset is beautiful on the rid tile roofs.
As expected, there are nice little charming touches on so many things around the city... like these striped shutters.
I was surprised to find there was some good street art around too... though this was only really in the new parts of town.
If you find yourself in Bern, you must check out this place: Brasserie Lorraine. They have a brunch buffet which is just fantastic.
The brunch buffet at Brasserie Lorraine.
The Swiss cuisine is really good, though it is also super heavy and rich. After a week of it, you find yourself craving a salad and fresh fruit. Swiss cooking is an interesting mix of surrounding culinary styles too, French, Italian, and German... but I guess it is the cheese that makes it so uniquely Swiss.
If in Bern, the other place you must seek out is Au Trappiste... a beer cafe in the old center. The beers on tap are carefully handpicked by the owner and bartender, Olly. Thanks to his love of beer and attention to quality and detail, he has put together the perfect biercafe, and yes, that bread and charcuterie and cheese plate was even better than it looks.