Quirky Little Bern, Switzerland

Switzerland is kind of boring. And that’s okay! Swiss people, or those just with an affinity for the country, don’t have to get defensive about that. It is incredibly beautiful – it has that. And accordingly, there are a lot of outdoorsy activities that are fun for a lot of people. But, culturally? Throughout history, the Swiss have been too busy avoiding conflict to get overly involved in that whole art thing.

Right now, though, the town of Bern is having a bit of a moment. A playful moment, even, and we applaud them doubly for that, as light-heartedness can be a bit of a strain for the traditional Swiss. (And I mean that with only the highest degrees of affection.) Even the bears, the symbol of the city, are having more fun, now that they’ve been let out of their pens and onto a rolling hillside by the river.

See how they gambol! For centuries the bears of Bern were kept in the accurately-named pits, but the current mascots, Ursina, Bjork and Berna, get to roam relatively free. A visit to the Bear Park is a lovely riverfront stroll with the occasional grizzly popping up to say hi.

As it is a university town, Bern has a bit of a hippie streak, proven nowhere better than at the annual Busker Bern festival. The city doesn’t pay street performers from around the world to appear at the three-day event, but it does reimburse them for travel expenses and give them lodging and feed them AND throw an after-hours party “until at least 3:30am.” Also festival attendees are expected to fill the passed-around hats to the brim. It’s a global bacchanal.

So, animal lovers, nature lovers, hippies and musicians are accounted for … what about the big weirdos? Bern has you covered, too, what with the space invasion that’s taken over the town. The artist known as Invader has been placing his little spaceman icons in cities all over the world for a couple of years now, but Bern seems to have suffered the biggest attack (ohnoes!). Following the stencils actually makes for a great walking tour through the town center, which, by the way, is an UNESCO World Heritage site.

Switzerland, you’re kind of fun after all.