The bear has been the mascot of Bern since 1480. According to legend, when the duke of Zähringen established the town in 1191, he sent his hunters out into the surrounding woods, which were full of wild game. The duke promised to name the city after the first animal slain, which was a Bär (bear). Since then, the town has been known as Bärn (Bern).
Bern loves its bears, and has kept live ones here since 1513 when victorious soldiers brought one back from the Battle of Novara. Today, they have been moved from their former pits to a beautiful park, surrounded by forests. They even have a cave in which they can retreat.
Plaques in English describe the "lifestyle" of the bears, which mostly seems to consist of eating and sleeping, perhaps occasionally climbing a tree or going for a swim. These pampered bears always seem to appreciate a treat such as a fresh carrot on which to munch. The Bear Park is at Grosser Muristalden 4, Bärengraben (tel. 079/250-89-80; www.baerenpark-bern-ch). It is open at all hours, and admission is free.