Bear pit, Bern
Some people think the bear pit is a tourist trap. For me it just belongs to the history although it could be improved... (see travellog for the history)
For several years now the bears live in their new home next door called Bear park. They have a much bigger area to move around and look for their food and also a big swimming pool by the Aare river.
You can look at the bears for free. But keep in mind that they tend to sleep inside in winter, so they may not be seen all year round.
We came down to the riverside since I was curious about the beer brewed in the touristy Tram Shed restaurant which was said to be close to the bear pit. It was in fact next to it and it is hard to find a more touristy place in Bern which is a shame in a city with so many other things to see. Amongst the resturant tips, you can see what we thought about the Tram Shed. The bears live on a slope down to the river just outside the restaurant and this is a great improvement since previously they really did live in a pit but that has been turned into an art exhibit which you can get into if you like. Daddy bear looks as if he still wants to get back into it too, probably to protect his old habitat. He walks back and forth to the gate to it in his new enclosure and looks quite stressed. Never a nice thing to see in civilised countries. Mummy bear and the cubs we saw during our visit had a nicer time, the cubs know of nothing else and were happily playing. I overheard some people saying that the enclosure was too steep for the bears to use all day long and whilst I am no bear expert, I too wondered if they won't use their bodies all wrong, being up and down it constantly?
Unique Suggestions: Have a photo session down by the river - you get great shots of the slopes and roof tops of Old Town Bern with the cathedral from here. As for the bears, well - read up about bears on the signs by the enclosure. Funnily enough it mentions illnesses that hit captive bears more often than wild ones, yet they still want these bears for historical reasons. Bern has got its name from the bear as in medieval days one was shot here and then the city was founded, but how about making a proper bear park then if this is something to cherish?
Fun Alternatives: The Old Town spreads out on the hill on the other side of the bridge - just take your pick. Alternatively, hop on the trolley bus from here to the Paul Klee centre.
Even taking in consideration the historic importance and symbolism of the bear in history of Bern, it's just sad to see the conditions in which those beautiful animals are kept on display.
For me, it was not the best of the welcome cards, standing right at the entrance of town and in front of the Information Office.
Update: These thoughts are related to my visit last year. Thankfully, Sonja alerted me to the facto that the bears are now kept in a much better space, near the river.
The bear has been proudly displayed in the the coat of arms of the Bernese flag. I always found that it was not fair to the bears to be housed in this pit, especially it being one of the favourite attractions in Bern.
Up to 24 bears occasionally could be found in this three and a half meter deep stone enclosures
Unique Suggestions: Thank goodness! After 550 years the bears will finally be removed from their bear pit. For us who care about animals, we are happy to know that 2.75 Million SwissFrancs have been set aside to build a 10'000 square meter park along the Aare river.
On the meadow beside the river Aare,the brown bears should enjoy a natural surrounding , on which they may live the whole year - bathe in the Aare , fish or sleep or dig their own caves
The Berne Bears, the symbol of Berne are in their own trap and I felt really sorry for them they looked so sad and fed up and well trapped! I hate to see animals in situations like this. I'm sure they are well fed and looked after but it didn't really seem enough space fo them to move around in.
A big hole in the ground where they keep several living specimens of the city's mascot... the European brown bear...
Unique Suggestions: Close your eyes.
Fun Alternatives: Walk PAST the pit and either go into the Alt Tram Depot and have a beer (cheaper than the water there), go to the left and up to the Rosengarten, or go down the ramp to the river and have a relaxing walk along the Aare. Or turn around and head back into town.
The name of the city is derived from the Old High German word for bear. According to legend the founder of the city, Berthold V duke of Zähringen, named the city after the first animal he killed in the year the city was founded. A famous landmark in Bern is the bear pit where live bears have been kept on display since 1480 to commemorate the legend. Bern’s coat of arms includes also a bear emblem. However, to see the bears down there in captivity is a sad sight.
Barengraben (the Bear Pit). There have been bear pits since 1513, and yes bears are very cute. But poor animals look so sad down there!