The charming town of Biel in canton Berne is the largest bilingual city in Switzerland. Walking through the streets and listening to the chatter in both Swiss German and French lends a unique pleasant atmosphere to the town. Hallo/Grüezi and bonjour, auf Wiedersehen and au revoir – you don’t need a dictionary in Biel as most residents speak both languages fluently.

Biel – Capital of the Swiss watch industry

Biel is the capital of the Swiss watch industry. Rolex, Swatch, Omega and Tissot are „alli sind do dihei“ (en: all are at home here). There is no better place to explore the traditional Swiss watchmaking industry.

A city that is steeped in the moderen and the medieval

A long walk through the city centre gives you the feeling that two „Wälte“ (en: worlds) vie for the heart of Biel. The old town enchants with its medieval charm whereas the modern city centre dazzles with its countless modernistic buildings.

Three lakes region

View of Lake Biel
View of Lake Biel

The countryside around Biel is simply stunning. The city is in the middle of the scenic three lakes region; it lies on Lake Biel and Lake Neuchatel and Lake Murten are both nearby. The residents of Biel live where others like to go on holiday. It’s a wonderful place to take some time out for „Ruehi und Erholig“ (en: rest and recreation) inmidst the beautiful unspoilt nature.

A charming historical old town

The 15th century gothic church is the heart of the old town. It is surrounded by a maze of charming cobblestone lanes lined by colourful house facades.

Fountains – each with their own powerful symbolism

  • The Venner fountain which is located on the outer ring of the old town, is the oldest fountain of the city and stands for the ability to fight and the right for own troops. The pedestal was built in 1546 and the standard bearer in 1557.
  • The justice fountain on Burgplatz was built in 1535. It owes its name to Justitia; the Frenchman Jean Boyer named it in 1714. It symbolises own jurisdiction.
  • The angel fountain is located on Obergasse and is the symbol for protection of the human soul from evil. It was built in 1563.

Modernist new city

Biel
Biel

The newer parts of Biel cannot be „z vergliche“ (en: compared) to the old town; it is a whole different facet of the town. Around the train station and the Zentralplatz of the city, amazing buildings were erected in the Bauhaus style of the 1920s and 1930s. „D Hüser“ (en: The houses) were built out of white and beige Jura stone and designed in the modernist style. In 2004, Biel was even awarded the Swiss Wakker prize for the special treatment of the outstanding 20th century structures. The 21st century is also represented by new buildings, luxurious high-rises and smart company buildings.

Meeting points: the Bieler „mushrooms”

If you meander through the streets of Biel, you are sure to come across one or two of the famous Bieler “mushrooms” so called because of their resemblence to these vegetables. In actual fact, they are tram shelters built in the 1930s. Today, they are often used as bus shelters or meeting points for the locals.

For art and culture lovers

The Centre PasquArt is one of the most impressive museums of sculpture, graphics and photography. In 2000, it was „erwittert“ (en: expanded) by a whole new complex. This museum hosts a variety of changing exhibitions. Whether you love modern art or are inspired by extraordinary photographs, „ä Bsuech“ (en: a visit) to the Centre PasquArt is always worth it.

If you want to find out more about watchmaking, you should meander over to the Omega Museum. The museum houses Louis Brand’s first workbench where he started his company as well as some unique timepieces. One of these watches was worn by a king and another time keeper has even made „ä Usflug“ (en: a trip) to space!

A city full of life

A quick glance at Biel’s event calendar will prove to you that this city is full of life. Countless art, culture and sports events take place „jedes Johr“ (en: every year). The Biel Fasnacht, the Biel Marathon, the Biel Braderie and the International Chess Festival are just some of the highlights of the year.

The Tissot Arena, a modern structure well suited to host large events, is another attraction in this city. The building is home to a shopping centre, an ice rink, a football stadium and much more.

St. Petersinsel – an oasis of relaxation

St. Petersinsel -Biel
St. Petersinsel -Biel

If you would like to enjoy „ä chlini Uszit“ (en: a little time out), St. Petersinsel is nearby. Just a short boat trip away, the island is a haven of breathtaking unspoilt nature. The magical monastery hotel is just a short walk from the shoreline; it is the perfect stop to enjoy a cup of tea whilst appreciating the surrounding nature.

Jean Jacques Rousseau was a frequent visitor to the island; it is said that he never wanted to leave the tranquility of the island. If you want to know about the fascinating history of St. Petersinsel, you can take a guided tour of the island.

All in all

Biel certainly is not the largest or most glamorous city in Switzerland, but the many in this article mentioned aspects surely make a visit worthwhile. The bilingual society is a phenomena that we Swiss often encounter. It was not for nothing that we, when we were still  „chlini Chinder“ (en: small children), learnt French at school. But the language we Swiss Germans spoke from birth, is a wonderful one and we would like to pass it on to you. Let’s go!

 

Vocabulary list

 

Swiss German English
1 alli sind do dihei All are at home here
2 Wälte worlds
3 Ruehi und Erholig rest and recreation
4 z vergliche compare
5 D Hüser The houses
6 ä Bsuech a visit
7 ä Usflug a trip
8 erwittert expanded
9 jedes Johr every year
10 ä chlini Uszit a little time out
11 chlini chinder small children

 

Herzlich Willkommen or Bienvenue to Charming Biel
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