Bear Park and Bear Pits of Bern
Bärenpark and Bärengraben
Bears have enjoyed--or suffered--a long and largely one-sided relationship with Switzerland's capital of Bern. According to one legend, Berthold V of Zähringen named the Bern after the first animal killed during a hunt when the city was founded in 1191. (If the story is true, the Duke must have decided to honor the victim's entire species, since "Bären" is the German plural form of "bear.") The 1923 edition of Muirhead's Switzerland explains:
Frommer's Switzerland describes the city's bears as "beloved, pampered, and fed by both residents and visitors." Everything is relative, of course, but when we first visited the historic Bern Bern Pits in 1975, we couldn't help thinking that the Bärengraben had more in common with Alcatraz than with the animals' natural habitat.
We're happy to report that shame, international pressure, and animal-protection laws finally brought the city authorities to their senses. In 2009, a spacious Bärenpark or "BearPark" replaced the old pits.
The park of 6000 square meters (or about 65,000 square feet) is along the River Aare, where the bears can enjoy a grassy hillside and views of the rushing water below. (If the bears are feeling nostalgic, they can wander to the old Bear Pit, which was built in 1857 and made slightly more bear-friendly in the 1990s.)
When to visit: The park is open daily from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Admission is free.
For more information about the Bärenpark Bern, including photos and videos, visit the official Web site (German only).
Top photo © iStockphoto/Andrea Baumgartner.
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