Interested in a little history today? Well settle in, here's your lesson for the day.
The City of Bern was founded way back in the day before such things as television, record players, or personal hygiene had ever been invented. The year was 1191, and Duke Berchtold V von Zähringen was itching to expend his little empire. He decided to claim the peninsula along the River Aare, and it was there the Duke decided to build a stronghold in order to keep out pesky, barbaric, and presumably smelly Middle Ages invaders. That was to be his territory, and as such a city needed to grow.
A castle was built, a clock tower was built, and a name was required. The myth goes that old Berch sent a hunting party into the woods, and the first animal they killed would lend its name to their foundling city. A bear was killed on the banks of the Aare, and Bern was christened.
Just over three hundred years later, in the year 1513, some testosterone fueled Bernese soldiers returned from war and were carrying with them a live bear. The first bear pit in Bern was built to house their trophy, and probably to also serve as a visible reminder that you don't want to cross a Bernese soldier.
Now today, 2010, the bear pit isn't actually a 'pit' any longer, but rather a brand-new and extensive knoll where the bears can fish, forage for berries, and roll in the dirt.
You would think that coming from British Columbia, I've seen my fair share of bears. And it's true, I have. But there was no way I was going to miss having the chance to see these powerful animals grazing on the side of a hill, in the middle of town, while their babies rolled and played at their feet.
The bear park.
The very first thing I noticed about this park is that it is designed to keep the bears in, but not to keep the people out. There isn't huge glass walls, or wire netting, preventing you from hopping a fence and taking a swim with Momma or Poppa bear. The Canadian in me wants to gasp and say "How unsafe! People will get hurt!"
But there's something still in practice here in little Switzerland, and that something is called personal accountability. Isn't it refreshing? How novel that you can't be sued because someone else is just stupid. When building the park, it was assumed that the average Joe would be able to employ deductive reasoning to conclude "me in bear pen=me dead".
Unfortunately there was one person who was literally (*literally*) insane, and he jumped the fence, only to be on the receiving end of what a bear's claws can really do. The bear was shot, but has made a full recovery. One area of the pen was revamped, but generally speaking everyone is respectful of the bear's space (no garbage is tossed at them, etc..) and it is a wide open area where you can watch these beautiful creatures amble about their day.
And the biggest attraction at the park right now are the baby cubs Berna and Urs. They are so cute. Hundreds of people surrounded the park, and a collective laugh would run through the crowd like the wave whenever the cubs did something cute like, oh I don't know, BREATHE. Gawd. The sweetness was intense.
Hey sister, want to play?
Get away from me brother!
Do you see what I mean? So sweet!
Hahaha, Urs you're so funny!
Nothing like a dip in the river after a hard day of being a cub.
Look Ma, I'm swimming!
These cubs ran and played non-stop, and the crowd watched in absolute awe and fascination. They chased each other, hid from each other, and bawled and cried when they couldn't find each other.
He'll never catch me.
Where'd she go?
And patiently grazing while her babies played was momma bear, who's called Bjork. At one point she took a swim herself, and the babies jumped in with her. You could tell poor old Bjork just wanted to take a bath without being interrupted.
Finally, a second alone.
Soon enough though, it was time for the bears to get a little summer treat. You should have heard the cries of the cubs, they were so loud! And very excited for the chance to break apart ice to get at the fruit that had been frozen inside.
Momma watched us all carefully, as we crowded near the fence to watch her and the babies eat.
Back off. It's bad enough I have to share with them. You're not getting any.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the fence on the other side of the park was poppa bear, otherwise known as Finn. Poor Finn was the bear who was shot when he had his own close encounter with the socially inept.
As you can see, he has thankfully recovered and is enjoying his June day.
He was a beautiful bear, with a coat that was almost red in the sunshine.
Hey girls, I'm Finn and I'm fabulous.
Bjork couldn't resist me, she was putty in my paws. Look at my profile.
And my piercing brown eyes.
Now she's on the other side of the fence with our offspring, and I get my icy-fruit all to myself.
This park was really spectacular, and it was nice to see that the bears have such an open area to roam, a place to splash, and numerous caves to disappear into when they wanted to escape the prying eyes of the irritating little humans.
It was also nice to know that on the banks of the Aare, bears are once again roaming on ground where their kin was taken in the name of A Name.