There is something really special about visiting a place where you have roots, a deeper connection, and a special link to the land, the place, the town. Visiting the capital city of Bern, Switzerland was a special experience for me, because of my genealogical ties to the city. I have Bernese ancestry in me. So walking around and exploring this beautiful, incredible city was especially captivating and poignant for me. It was truly a rewarding experience walking the same streets my ancestors walked, seeing the sites and (some of the buildings) they saw. They left Switzerland to come to America a long time ago (we’re talking around the same timeframe as the founding of America) but we saw plenty of architectural wonders that were dated back to medieval times. What a wonder to marvel at the same gorgeous streets that they did. Even the churches, did they go here?
I particularly love traveling to Switzerland and Germany because the majority of my roots are tied to these places. My mom is our family historian and has dated our family back as far as the 1100s. The best part is, she’s discovered the specific towns our ancestors lived in. Like Zinswiller (since World War II it was given to France but was previously and historically a German town) or Bern, as well as many more I can’t recall off the top of my head! Most of my ancestors came from Bavaria and the German Rhine region as well as Switzerland. So, yeah, a LOT of Johann’s and Anna’s in our family tree and a lot of funny, long German surnames! My ultimate goal is to take a European trip to visit all the villages and cities my family hails from. I even have some roots in Ireland I have yet to explore! It’s important to immerse yourself in new and foreign cultures- I wholeheartedly believe it helps each of us to become a more well-rounded and open-minded person. But there is a special charm in visiting a place you have those ancestral ties too as well. I say do a mix of both! Immerse yourself in your own family’s history while also immersing yourself in cultures you may know nothing about or not be familiar with. One helps you to connect with your roots and discover a special part of yourself, it connects you to your heritage and your family which is so important to keep that culture and history alive. And the other connects you to someplace previously unknown, a culture and heritage you knew very little to nothing about before and allows you to create a different bond with a place that can be just as meaningful, you’re expanding your geographical, cultural and historical horizons. Either way, as a person you are growing and expanding.
If you can’t guess by the name, Bern means bear. And Bern totally embraces the bear as their emblem. Bears are everywhere. There is even a Bear Park with real live bears to take a look at. Bears hold a special place in the heart of this city, and they are treated very well. Bern is also known as the City of Fountains because there are over 100 fountains throughout the city (fun fact). The city is split up into the Old Town (or Altstadt) and, you guessed it, the New Town (modern). The Altstadt is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as it is a fantastically preserved medieval town from as far back as the 12th century. The bright turquoise Aare River runs through this colorful city and it is spectacular. The color is astounding because it plays off well with the vibrant red-orange, terra cotta colored rooves through the Old Town! They complement each other so perfectly that it makes the city really pop and shine. There is a gorgeous Rose Garden at the top of the city that I HIGHLY recommend where you get a perfect top-side view of this city. The view is heavenly and rousing. I truly hope my ancestors came up here and saw this too!
Walking through the Old Town I was really caught up in how striking it was. This medieval town looked like it was brand new, everything so beautifully preserved. It looks like it did, probably, when my ancestors left, I bet! The stones streets and beautiful stone row homes, everything so neat and tidy (in perfect Germanic fashion). Everyone knows Germans like to keep things organized, tidy and clean- they’re a very structured, grounded and punctual people (now I know where I get it from). Throughout the walk you see plenty of brilliantly painted fountains and statues, many of which include bears. You may even see a bear statue in a costume in the center of any square. The statues and fountains add a quirky and whimsical energy to this historical wonderland- a mix of imagination and history! What a great combination! There is color everywhere, even though the homes are mostly grey stone, there are plenty of colorful, lively details through to feast your eyes upon and admire. It’s tastefully flamboyant. I absolutely enjoyed checking out all the intricate details throughout the architecture. There is also an 800-year old Clock Tower that you really have to check out specifically 3 minutes before each hour to enjoy a show! Get ready for an enchanting circus of creatures who come out to put on a little dance and show for onlookers.
Bern is a great city to just walk around all day in and look at, especially the Old Town. From the clock tower several streets branch out that give Bern, yet, another special title as having one the longest covered promenades in all of Europe. So, you can absolutely promenade in the Promenade for up to 6km! There are plenty of fun shops and chocolatiers to check out. Toblerone is based in Bern for my chocolate lovers but there are plenty of chocolate shops to enjoy and savor. I would also recommend checking out the Berner Muenster, it is the great cathedral of Bern. It is absolutely breathtaking and also totally overwhelming. The elaborate details throughout are so abundant you can’t possibly take it all in at once. It’s incredible to think what artisans of the 15th century could do without all the fancy tools we have. This was all done by hand which makes it even more special and beloved. These artists put their passion into their creations. This goes throughout Europe in every building or architectural marvel. I’ll just come out and say it- what our ancestors built is way more gorgeous and durable than the stuff we build. I find a lot of our architecture today kind of stark, dull and cold comparatively to what previous generations created. Our buildings probably won’t last and won’t inspire and uplift future generations the way Gothic, Art Deco, Georgian, Classical, Victorian, Neo-Classical, Colonial, etc. does today for us. And you also think how much these buildings have endured over hundreds, and sometimes thousands of years, and yet they still stand strong and beautiful. It’s incredible to think about, how many buildings survived wars, fires, plagues, struggles, conquests and just basic weather. I doubt our architecture will do so and I highly doubt future generations will look at our buildings with the same awe and wonder that we experience looking at a Gothic building, for example. They just put more of their heart and soul and way more effort and energy into these stunning creations. And I wholeheartedly appreciate the countless artisans worldwide who shaped these masterpieces for us and all the time it took to do so. From the brick layer, to the painters, to the sculptors, to the gardeners- you are an inspiration to us in the 21st century still.
Bern is just a wonderful city. I may be biased because of the Bernese blood and passion that runs through me, but even without that connection is really is an amazing place to explore. It is a genuinely attractive and laid-back city. I was amazed how easygoing it was for a city. The pace was slow but at the same time dynamic and energetic. Not all high energy needs to be loud and boisterous, the high energy this city carries is a contentedness, a deep-seated joy and delightfulness with a love of life peaceful energy. It’s a city that says, Hey, sit down enjoy some good food and beverages in a comfy chair on a beautiful city corner, check out the view while you sip and nibble, walk at your own pace and admire our city! Look around, look up and down and side to side and then keep doing that. You will inevitably find something amazing to catch your eye and interest everywhere you look. Stop in at a café or bistro, enjoy Swiss cuisine. Even though this city is in many ways very ornate and intricate in its architectural design, it has a very unpretentious air to it. It’s just simply delightful and worthy of lots of praise!