Bern: Seat of The Swiss Federal Government

Bern (or Berne, or Berna) is usually referred to as the capital of Switzerland, which it isn't. The first mistake lies in calling the Confoederatio Helvetica Switzerland; Switzerland doesn't exist. And of the Helvetian Confederation, it is the seat of the Federal Government and as such is quite simply called Federal City and never capital. The Swiss constitution shuns the term capital. Bern's history goes back quite a long way before all that happened, and part of that history allows you to go shopping in town on a rainy day without getting wet.





Bern's historical city is cradled by a large bend in the Aar River which further down will join the Rhine River to flow towards Rotterdam and the North Sea. The city was founded in 1191 by the Dukes of Zaehringen like many other towns and cities in Southern Germany and Northern Switzerland. When the last of the Dukes died without issue, Bern was made a free imperial city under direct control of the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. As such, it joined the relatively newly formed Swiss Confederation in 1353. Swiss Confederation is a term coined by historians as a retronym; at the time it was simply known as the Oath Fellowship. Bern became the seat of the Federal Government in 1848, after the restored Swiss Confederation conjoined to form a single State.



Bern's city center dates mainly from after 1405, when the Great Fire burned down virtually all buildings in the city. It was rebuilt in the Renaissance style of the time, and its main feature became the arcade walks. Almost all buildings have an arcade running alongside the streets on the ground floor and the shops are inside these arcades. It makes for the perfect shopping experience on a rainy day.



Apart from many other views of interest, e.g. City Hall and Minster, the Zytglogge (Time Bell) clock tower is a magnet for tourists. Every full hour its elaborate figurines dance to the tune of the clock's bells. It is well worth spending time just to have witnessed and watched it. The tower is probably the most depicted view on postcards sent by tourist from Bern, and it has become a trade mark of the city.


Obviously, one must have seen the Bundeshaus (Federal House) where government and the two chambers of parliament dwell in cohabitation. Standing in front of the entrance, you can turn left to reach the Hotel Bellevue; it is the most renowned of local hotels. Its terrace has a breathtaking view over the Bernese countryside; and taking a drink there is mandatory.



As a bear forms part of the coat of arms of the city, there is a legend that the name of the city was derived through the founding Duke of Zaehringen killing a bear on the peninsula the city was built on. In 1857, a bear pit was built which currently housed bears from the Pyrenees Mountains. As these premises were too constrictive for bears to live in, the city built a new home for them. This new feature cost a lot of money; stones for building it were sold to the public in the city to finance it. (Then) Russian President Dmitry Medvedev brought two young bears as a gift during a State Visit to Switzerland to repopulate it.



The spoken language in Bern is Alemannic (commonly referred to as Swiss German), though you hear all four national languages spoken due to the federal importance of the town. The rest of Switzerland makes fun of the Bernese because their Alemannic dialect is spoken very slowly. The people of city and canton are referred to as Bernese; ‘Them in Bern’ generally means the Federal Government up to its usual stupid pranks and not the inhabitants of the city.



Bern’s best known inhabitant of all times was Albert Einstein who published his first writings on the electrodynamics of moving objects while working for the city's insolvency offices. The most apocryphally quoted inhabitant is probably Elisabeth de Meuron. Known simply as ‘Madame’, the quote attributed to her was directed at a person coming to look for work in her household. Madame asked: ‘Are you somebody or do you expect a salary?’ While Madame was alive, it was estimated that each flower in her garden was taking up space for 10,000 US Dollars worth of real estate.



For further information on the city of Bern you may want to go to the official homepage of the city's government site bern.ch.



Further reading
Switzerland Doesn't Exist
What Happens When God Grants Your Wishes?
Saint Sylvester in St Silvester