Today, we‘d like to take a closer look at one of Switzerland’s most important cities, Berne. Berne, with a population of approximately 140’000 is, together with the other „Gmeinde“ (en.: communes) of Zurich Basel and Geneva, one of the largest in Switzerland. Approximately 390’000 people live in the metropolitan area of Berne. The city of Berne is also the economic centre of the whole Berne and Swiss Central Plateau region as well as the administrative centre of Switzerland.
A short history of the city of Berne
According to early lore, Duke Brechtold V. von Zähringen founded the city in 1191 and the name Berne was first documented on 1 December 1208. The origin of the citiy’s name is still unclear, but there are many „Legände“ (en.: legends) and theories about how the name originated. The most known legend is the „Justingerchronik“ that tells of how the founder, Duke Brechtold V. von Zähringen, decided to name the city after the first animal to be killed in the nearby forests; this first animal was a bear.
In 1849, the Swiss Confederation was formed out of the 22 cantons who joined and Berne was declared to be the seat of the central federal authorities. Industrialisation reached Berne in approximately 1850 with the opening of the gas works, the building of the first high bridges and the founding of the first industrial companies. In the 1950s, the booming economy lead to many workers from the „Usland“ (en.: abroad) coming to Switzerland and the first high rise apartments being built to accommodate these migrants.
What to do in Berne
Berne has a rich cultural heritage and there are many interesting sights. Those who prefer to be active outdoors in „früsche“ (en.: fresh) air can visit the nearby forests, the Emmental and the Gantrish National Park.
From mountain biking to hiking, from skiing to sledding in winter, Berne offers a wide range of „Freizitsportarte“ (en.: recreational sports). The beautiful old town of Bern which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a must-see; the oldest building in Bern has been standing since the founding of the city in 1191. Of particular interest to families and animal lovers is the animal park Dählhölzli which features a bear park as well. Most visitors to Berne are interested in visiting the „Bundeshuus“ (en.: parliament building), the seat of the Swiss Confederation. The Bundeshaus is a listed architectural complex that is over 300 m long and is considered to be one of the most important buildings in the country. The building is fronted by the Bundesplatz, which delights with its water feature; the water is only switched on between spring and autumn. Without question, Berne offers so much to see, too much to list in this short introduction.
How do I find out what’s on town?
Unlike many other large cities, Berne doesn’t publish a what’s on guide. However, there are a number of internet portals, easily found by googling, where you can get information on events, etc. One such portal is the „BKA“ (Berner Kulturagenda), which lists all events in theatre, dance and film.
When is the best time to visit Berne?
Berne is always worth a visit, but there are times where a visit to the capitol is particularly worthwhile. Between December and January, the Bundesplatz is turned into an ice skating rink for thousands of locals and visitors to enjoy. Ice skating can be done in any town, but it is a special pleasure to skate with the spectacular backdrop of the parliament building. To herald the start of spring, all cultural houses open their doors for a night. During this museum night, you can enjoy „kulturelli und kulinarischi“ (en.: cultural and culinary) presentations in an unusual setting. For all those interested in sports, the largest running event in Switzerland, the Grand Prix of Bern, takes place in May. Whether you are a participant or a spectator, this is a show that should not be missed. In 2015, 32’000 men and women joined to run the „die 10 schönsten Meilen der Welt“. There are also plenty of reasons to visit in „Summer“ (en.: summer), the first and foremost being the national day celebrations ( 1st August is the Swiss National Day). The celebrations kick off with a brunch at the Münsterplatz and many institutions in town open „ihri Türä“ (en.: their doors). There is also a children’s programme and an official celebration at the Münsterplatz. The day ends with marvelling at the fireworks on the Gurten or the sea of lights at the Bundesplatz.
„Bärndütsch“ or the Bernese dialect
The Bernese speak an unusual dialect that is classified as a High Alemannic dialect. One unusual feature of this dialect is that it doesn’t use the standard German polite form of „Sie“, which is the third person plural; it uses the same form as in French, which is the second person plural. In the Bernese dialect, you would say „Was weit‘ er esse?“, meaning “What would you like to eat?”.
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Here’s the list of the Swiss German words used in this article:
Gmeinde – communes
Legände – legends
Usland – abroad
Früsche – fresh
Freizitsportarte – recreational sports
Bundeshuus – parliament building
Summer – summer
Ihri Türä – their doors