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You must have seen this in Bern - city centre

Published: 02 August 2020

In the new video series "You must have seen this in ...", I introduce you to well-known sights and insider tips from Swiss cities and regions. With this series, I would like to give you an even better understanding of the beauty of Switzerland and hope to encourage one or the other to go on an excursion. In the first part I will focus on the city centre of the federal capital Bern. I will introduce you to what I consider to be the most important ones and some insider tips.

In the following you will find the content of the video also in text form. More entertaining and richer in images is of course the video with English subtitles.

The Bundeshaus (The Federal Parliament)

Here beats the heart of Swiss democracy. The seat of the Swiss government and parliament is a true magnificence from the outside as well as from the inside. Parliament meets under its mighty dome, while parts of the national government and the federal administration are housed in the west and east wings. The building is also a symbol of national unity. To express this, 30 types of stone from 13 cantons were used to build and decorate the Federal Palace. On the spacious forecourt there is a water feature with 26 fountains, one for each canton. The water splashes in time, sometimes in a very different way in the air. From my point of view, it also reflects the cantonal spirit a little, but that is only my interpretation.

In the entrance hall, the Federal Palace pays homage to the myth of Switzerland: a huge sculpture shows the forefathers taking the Rütli oath, just as Friedrich Schiller describes the fictitious founding scene of the Swiss Confederation in his drama "William Tell". Outside of sessions and on 1 August, Switzerland's national holiday, guided tours are held in the Federal Palace. Highly recommended. On the first floor is the National Council Chamber with its characteristic mural "The Cradle of the Swiss Confederation". The smaller hall of the Council of States is also located on the first floor. The rectangular room with its dark wood panelling is reminiscent of the council chambers of the Old Confederation, as is the oval council table in the middle of the room. This room is also decorated with a well-known fresco, "The Landsgemeinde". As the crowning glory, one should not miss the walk through the foyer with its view of the Aare and the Swiss Alps. Those who do not have the pleasure of viewing the inside of the Federal Parliament building can enjoy an almost equally beautiful view from the Federal Terrace located at the rear of the building.

Berne Cathedral

The second building that makes a striking impression on the silhouette of the city is the more than 100m high Gothic tower of the Bernese cathedral. Located on the edge of the old town, it is worth taking a short break in the park on the cathedral platform, with a wonderful view of the Aare. The interior is also worth seeing. Artfully crafted stained glass windows, sculptures, frescoes and an exceptionally valuable collection of bells. Among them is the largest bell in Switzerland, with a diameter of 248 cm and a weight of almost 10 tons.

Matte lift, Marzili cable car, Marzili outdoor pool and Aare

If you want to get from the elevated old town to the Aare, the idyllic Mattequartier or Marziliquartier, the Mattelift or the Marzilibahn is the quickest and most impressive way to get there. The Mattelift or also popularly called Senkeltram is located directly at the edge of the Münsterplattform and is operated by so-called Liftboys. The Marzilibahn is a cable car and connects the federal terrace with the Marzili quarter. Once downstairs, it is worth taking a walk along the Aare or, in hot weather, visiting the Marzilibad. Various pools, sunbathing lawns and direct access to the river make the Bernese bath a popular meeting place. The attentive visitor will also discover plenty of inflatable boats in the Aare in summer. The river of the city is not just a body of water for the inhabitants. Aare swimmers and Aareboeties are simply part of the townscape in summer.

Bernese Old Town

Bern's old town is something very special and rightly a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the shape of a peninsula and bordered by the River Aare, it towers well above the river. The Kramgasse, the beautiful figured fountains and the baroque house facades are a real feast for the eyes. A special feature are the cellar shops. In the Middle Ages, storage cellars were built underneath each house on both sides of the wide alleys. Today these cellars serve as business premises for boutiques, art galleries, bars, restaurants and wine shops. There is even a theatre and a small cinema in the cellar vaults. The 6-kilometre-long arcades invite you to go shopping and protect visitors from rain and sun while strolling. There are always wonderful opportunities to linger in the charming cafés. Within the old town there are many other famous sights and lots of insider tips. More on this later.

Coloured road signs

Attentive visitors will quickly notice the colorful street signs. These date back to the time of Napoleon's occupation. For better orientation, the French occupiers divided the city into colored quarters. Legend has it that drunken French soldiers quickly got lost in the winding old town and found their way home better with the coloured street signs. As many soldiers were illiterate at that time, colour was a practical invention and has remained so until today. A single coloured street sign is an exception. The sign by the Kornhausbrücke is orange, or should I better say oranje, and bears the inscription Korenhuisbrug. This street sign commemorates the 2008 European Football Championship, when some 60,000 party-goers from the Netherlands gathered on the Bundesplatz and crossed the Kornhaus Bridge peacefully towards the Stade de Suisse. This is the way football should be.


The Zytglogge, in English Time bell, is the old city gate of Bern and is one of the city's landmarks. The oversized dials are the first thing that catches the eye and can be easily recognized even from a distance. Below the clock and above the gate, the hands of the astrolabe slowly turn. The complex representation of the northern hemisphere always shows the current sign of the zodiac, the phase of the moon, the date and time of sunrise and sunset. Very impressive.

Always at the full hours a wonderful spectacle takes place. Shortly before the change of hours a crowing cock announces a puppet show: Bears dance their hourly rounds, a fool deliberately rings the hour too early according to his character, the quarter-hour beats ring down from the tower and Chronos, the god of time, turns his hourglass over. Finally, the golden figure of Hans von Thann strikes the hour bell, naturally in time with Chronos' swinging sceptre.

Inside the tower, time seems to have stopped. Here you can marvel at the impressive musical mechanism of the astrolabe from 1530. Those who still climb the 130 steps inside will be rewarded with a beautiful view of the roofs, terraces and alleys of the city.

Very special but from my point of view unique is the urinal right at the Zytglogge. Where else can one do one's business legally and free of charge right at one of the main attractions of the city?

Albert Einstein House

In 1902 Albert Einstein took up a post at the patent office, lived in Bern for 7 years and developed the world-famous theory of relativity here. The brilliant physicist lived in this house in Kramgasse from 1903 to 1905 and turned our ideas of space and time upside down. The house is open to the public. Einstein's apartment on the 2nd floor is furnished in the style of that time. If you want to learn more about Albert Einstein, I can recommend a visit to the historical museum of Bern.

Bern and its fountains

The 11 historical figure fountains in Bern's old town are still today a colourful relic of medieval times. Around 1550, the ornate examples replaced the wooden fountains and presumably represent the social values prevailing at the time. In addition to their decorative character and exciting stories, the fountains also have practical functions. The cool water is drinking water and is available to everyone free of charge. Some of the fountains are also located in the middle of busy streets and are therefore a very charming traffic obstacle. The water is supplied by the mostly underground city stream.

I will introduce the fountains only briefly, otherwise this would exceed the length of the video. The locations of the wells I have put you in the video description. The most famous is probably the Child-eating fountain (Kindlifresserbrunnen) on the Kornhausplatz. Around whose meaning many myths exist. The most plausible one is that the well was an educational measure and was meant to scare the children and teach them good behaviour. Graceful and beautiful Justitia stands blindfolded on her pedestal. In 1986 the figure was unfortunately destroyed by Jura extremists. Since then, only one copy remains on the pillar of the Justice Fountain (Gerechtigkeitsbrunnens). The original can be seen in the historical museum of Bern. The figure of the Moses Fountain (Mosesbrunnen) depicts Moses with his 10 Commandments. With his right hand he points to the second commandment.  On the Corinthian column of the Venner Fountain (Vennerbrunnen) stands a proud Bernese banner bearer in full regalia. At the Zähringer fountain (Zähringerbrunnen) an upright bear with a golden helmet overlooks the street. The Bernese heraldic animal commemorates its founders, the Zähringer. The fountain figure of Samson's Fountain (Simsonbrunnen) shows the biblical hero Samson in Roman garb opening the mouth of a lion with his bare hands. Somewhat off to the side stands the runner fountain (Läuferbrunnen), with a messenger in the colours of the city and a coat of arms on his chest. Between the legs of the crossbowman on the column of the fountain (Schützenbrunnens) sits a small bear, cheekily aiming at the passers-by strolling in the arcades. The figure of the Anna-Seiler-Fountain (Anna-Seiler-Brunnen) reminds of Anna Seiler, who donated the Inselspital to the city of Bern. The parents of the famous Swiss painter Ferdinand Hodler are said to have met at the foot of this fountain. The fountain figure of the crossbowman on the Ryffli Fountain (Ryfflibrunnen) is shrouded in legend. The soldier is said to represent the Ryffli marksman who, according to tradition, defeated Knight Jordan III of Burgistein with a single well-aimed shot. The Pfeifferbrunnen (Pfeifferbrunnen) radiates lightness and joy and shows a musician playing merrily on a bagpipe. He is accompanied by a golden goose and a monkey.

Four funny insider tips

In the middle of Bern station there is a figure that is constantly looking at you. No matter whether you come from the right or the left. "Dr Loubegaffer", in High German I would say to the balcony gawker, is probably the most famous work of the artist Sandro Del-Prete and the first inversion statue ever to be publicly displayed. You have to look for the location a bit. The easiest way to find it is to go down the escalator from the tram stop Bern Bahnhof to the Christoffel underpass and then go straight to the second shop window on the right.

Those who want to have a look at the subterranean canal system of Bern should in any case visit the Kaffee Montag. After a short coffee break, a visit to the quiet little place reveals something very special. The floor of the toilet is made of glass and thus offers a view of the former sewerage system of old Bern. A very special highlight.

Anyone who discovers a five-franc coin in the alleys of Bern should be careful. Unsuspecting visitors might get wet when trying to pick them up. The coins are screwed into the ground and they are only a lure. From a roof spout high above the alley a small gush of water splashes at regular intervals on the cobblestone pavement.

Many myths and horror stories entwine around the abandoned ghost house in Junkerngasse 54. At midnight, a woman dressed in black is said to walk through the rooms that are now used as a camp. In former times the house was also used as a stable and the horses are said to have become nervous and crazy after only a few hours. The house was apparently never inhabited.

Berner and Insider will now certainly say: "Something is still missing". In this episode I have dedicated myself to the city center, because otherwise the video would have been too long. For all the nice things outside the city center I will take care of in a future part of this series and at the same time give you the opportunity to participate in the creation of the video. 

So if you have more sights and insider tips, please write them in the comments. If you like the video, you can support me with a like and subscription on YouTube.

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