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Legend of the the Duke and the Bear Pits

Old Bern Bear Pit and Pedro photoBern is the capital city of Switzerland. Bern is a version of German for Bears (Bären). The legend is that city got its name from the Berchtold the Fifth, the Duke of Zahringen in year 1191. The duke was an avid hunter as was the pasttime of nobles of his day. At that time Switzerland didin’t exist as a country, but was actually part of western Burgundy (France). France wasn’t really a country yet, either. The Duke and his fanily were actually from a German family, but Germnay wasn’t a country yet, either. Berchtold wass hunting one day in the rich forested land where the Ruess River makes a sharp bend around a flat topped hill. Bertold thought it would make a splendid spot for a town with a castle (a burg) which could watch over the river. The duke vowed that he would name the city after the frist animal he came across on his hunt. It was a bear.

Bern Coat of Arms imageSo today the name of the city is Bern, and a bear is the heraldic symbol on its coat of arms and flag. To honor its namesake, the City of Bern has had live bears on display in the city since the 15th Century. A bear pit (Bärengrabe) where the bridge crosses the river, has been the location for the bears since 1857. The last bear long time bear mascot named Pedro, grew old and tired. He would try to put on a show for kids who would come to visit, but was eventually in a lot of pain. He was put to sleep in April of 2009, just as a brand new bear park was being built to replace the old bear pit. The Bear Park has lots of open space and greenlawns along the river bank with lots trees, and has new residents new residents, two brown bears, Finn from the Helsinki Zoo and Björk (the bear and not the singer), from Sweden.

Bern Bear Park
Bern Coat of Arms

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