Bern

Picture of zytglogge The city of Bern sits on a small promontory carved out by a U-shaped bend in the Aare river. The result is a series of long narrow parallel cobblestone streets crowded by high contiguous buildings, like these. The prominent clock here is the Zeitglockenturm. On the hour, a bunch of mechanical figures to the right of the lower clock do a variety of things. It's not worth waiting very long to see it, but if you do, the rooster is clearly the highlight.
Picture of parliament Bern is the capital of Switzerland and this is the Bundeshauser, or Parliament building. Despite all the cars in this picture, the center of Bern is a nightmare to drive in. Nearly all the roads are necessarily one-way and they seem to be designed primarily to get you out of the center of town. If you're trying to get from one part of the city center to another it can be very difficult. Ultimately though, all of Bern's attractions can be seen easily on foot as nothing is very far from the clock tower in the center.
Picture of parliament_back From across the river you can actually see how large the government complex is. Switzerland is a confederation of 23 cantons and is strongly decentralized. The President serves only a one-year term and is always replaced by the Vice-President (who is then replaced from the federal assembly). Furthermore the President doesn't actually have any special authority over the federal council. Towns in some cantons, notably Appenzeller, hold an annual meeting of all citizens and take voice votes on any legislative issues.
Picture of munster_door Dominating the skyline of Bern as the tallest building in Switzerland is the Munster (cathedral). This is the panel above the main door depicting the Last Judgement - on the left is heaven and on the right is hell. The gold figure with the sword is the archangel Michael. All 170 of the small figures in the center panel are originals from the 15th century.
Picture of gargoyle The Munster is rather elaborate. This, for instance, is a gutterspout. If it were raining there would be a flood of water coming out of this statue's mouth and I would not be standing underneath it taking this picture.
Picture of stained_glass Inside the cathedral the highlight are the stained glass windows which once again depict a favorite Swiss topic: the Dance of Death. Many of the sculptures that are located high on the walls of the Munster are original, those that were lower down were primarily destroyed during the Swiss Reformation.
Picture of dogs_fountain The real highlight of the cathedral though is the tower. From the lofty heights you can look back down on the square outside and this fountain featuring a statue of Moses pointing to the commandment which forbids idolatry - built during the Swiss Reformation of course. All fountains in all Swiss cities are safe drinking water for human consumption, so of course it's okay for dogs as well. Most fountains do in fact have a lower drinking area like this one in dog-friendly Switzerland.
Picture of bern_above The climb to the top of the tower is not for the faint of heart. An initial stone staircase leads out to a high platform from which another spire with an exceedingly tight spiral staircase ascends to the top. There are 254 stairs in all. The top section features long narrow windows that extend down to the stair you are standing on which gives the unnerving illusion that you could walk right off the edge. Actually, you could if you were narrow enough. It was rather hazy on the day we went to the top but as you can see the view is still worth the effort.
Picture of munster_top
Picture of munster This is the view of the Munster from across the river, with scaffolding of course. (But no crane other than the one on the far right). The enormous stone platform jutting out from the near side of the cathedral is the Munsterplattform and took a hundred years to build in the 14th and 15th centuries.
Picture of aare This is the reverse view of the previous one - looking at a bridge over the Aare river from the top of the Munster. Just across this bridge is a small square filled with an assortment of museums. We visited the Bern History Museum primarily because it holds the Burgundy Tapestries. Periodically, such as while we were visiting, these tapestries are displayed in dim lighting (rather than practically no lighting) so that they can be viewed in detail. Some of these tapestries are unbelievably large. A four-tapestry sequence on the life of Julius Caeser dominates an entire gallery. Also off this square but not visited by us are the Natural History Museum which supposedly features the stuffed remains of some of the original Swiss Mountain rescue dogs and the Swiss Alpine Museum featuring (drum roll) ... dioramas of the Alps.
Picture of ogre_fountain This is known as the Ogre fountain and since we had to show a close-up of some fountain sooner or later, it might as well be this one. Just for the record, yes, he is in fact devouring small children. It is more interesting than certain famous fountains in say, Brussels though.
Picture of bear Here it is, the symbol of Bern. Legend has it than when the Duke Berthold V arrived in 1191, the first animal he killed while hunting was a bear ('Barn' is the dialect of the time) and thus the city got its name. Just across a bridge from the center of town are the bear pits of Bern, a tradition ever since (Actually it dates from around 1440).
Picture of bear_pit There are two bear pits although all three bears were in the same one while we were visiting. There is a nice view of Bern from the bear pits and an even nicer view from the top of the hill above the pits, where the Bern Rose Garden is located.
Picture of bears
Picture of munster_tower Of the cities we visited in Switzerland, Bern is probably the place where we could spend the most time. There are numerous other museums that we did not visit and one could easily spend a couple days wandering through the streets. It's a fairly pricey place to stay but no more expensive than Zurich or Lucerne and the transportation costs once you get there are non-existent.

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