The legend goes that that the duke who founded the city of Bern (Berthold V, Duke of Zähringen) proclaimed that he would name the city after the first animal he came across on his hunt. This turned out to be a bear, therefore he christened the city “Bern” (derived from Bär the German word for bear). Apparently, though, this story is nothing more than folk etymology and the name is actually connected to the Italian city of Verona which was translated into Bern in German.
Regardless, this folk tale resonates throughout the Swiss capital. Its canton’s crest features a black bear with sharp red claws and a long red tongue sticking out of its open mouth. Bern is also home to 3 captive bears (Björk, Finn and Ursina). They live in the BärenPark, a large enclosure next to the River Aare. It was opened in 2009 due to pressure from the public to keep them in a larger enclosure. They had previously been kept in a small pit, which still exists next to their new enclosure.
I know keeping animals in captivity is a controversial and heated subject, especially considering recent tragic events with a group of bears at Bern’s Dahlholzi Zoo (these are not the same group of bears that I’m writing about), but I do love these bears. It’s just a short 10 minute walk for me to reach their enclosure from our apartment. I can watch them for hours and usually visit them a couple times each week. When I first arrived in Bern in January, they were out of sight, hibernating in their dens. It wasn’t until my birthday in March that I got my first glimpse of them. They may have been out of their dens, but they appeared to still be in hibernation mode: