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Biel/Bienne, Switzerland

Biel Bienne - Bernese Mittelland - Switzerland

ABOVE: The Ring, Biel/Bienne.

The Bernese Mittelland is divided by an imaginary line that separates German-speaking Switzerland from Suisse Romande, where French is the dominant language. The town of Biel (German) or Bienne (French) is on that linguistic border, and the integration of the two cultures is reflected in the URL of the city's official Web site (www.bielbienne.ch) and the bilingual street signs.

Biel/Bienne has long been a center for Swiss watchmaking. Local brands include classic names like Movado, Omega, Rolex, and Tissot, along with the equally famous (if cheaper and trendier) Swatch. Manufacturers of machine tools and electronics are also important, and the town is home to a major architecture and engineering school.

But don't get the wrong impression: Biel/Bienne isn't just a modern industrial center with 53,000 residents. It also boasts a picturesque old town and has a lovely lake at its front door.

Sights

The Ring (see photo) is the historic center of Biel/Bienne, with a fountain dating back to 1546. From here, it's only a few steps to the Burggasse/Ruhe de Bourg, where you'll find the Town Hall (1534), a theatre that once served as an armory (1591), and the Fountain of Justice from 1714.

Once you've explored the old town, you might want to visit some of Biel/Bienne's museums, such as the New Museum (art, archaeology, and other topics) and the Omega Museum (clocks and watches). The lake is another attraction, with steamer cruises from late spring through early fall. And if you're partial to views, take the Magglingen and Leubringen Funiculars, which climb the local hills to scenic overlooks and walking trails.

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