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September 1, 2011

What To Do In Bern, Switzerland

by Anne Paddock
Bern is the capital of Switzerland and is almost halfway between Geneva (80 miles) and Zurich (70 miles). Easily accessible by train or car, Bern is a fun place to spend a day. The old part of the city has the most character with traditional architecture and old streets that are interesting to explore. Don’t miss the “Time Bell” which is called the “Zytglogge” in Bern: a clock tower with moving parts that was probably the inspiration for kitschy Swiss clocks popular with tourists (as I’ve never seen one of them in a Swiss home).

canstockphoto10235817There are many museums in Bern but there are two that are especially interesting:
  • Museum fur Kommunikation (Museum for Communication)
  • Einstein Museum
Museum fur Kommunikation

The  Museum for Communication is a great museum to take children.  Divided into three areas (Types of Communication, Computers, and the Stamp/Postal System), the museum provides an interactive overview of communications where the emphasis is on actual communication, not a regurgitated history.

12a9a0bba4Starting with face to face communications (verbal and sign) and moving on to telegraphs, telephones, radio, televisions, the postal system, and the internet, the museum is full of hands on exhibits. My daughter’s personal favorite was the quasi-bank tube communications (that you see in American drive through banks) where she would send a note to someplace in the museum via the air tube and someone she didn’t know would answer her back through the tube.

Guided tours are available but a self-guided tour with kids is better as this is a place that encourages hands on exploration where kids can touch, listen, and use the exhibits. There is a museum shop and a cafe that provides salads, sandwiches, pastries and soft drinks.

Museum fur Kommunikation
Helvetiastrasse 16
3000 Bern
41 031 357 5555

Open Tuesday – Sunday from 10:00 – 5:00 pm.  Tickets are purchased on-site.

Closed Mondays, December 25, January 1, and the Fourth Monday in November for Zibelemarit (the annual onion market fair and festival in Bern).

Einstein Museum

The Einstein Museum is my favorite museum in Switzerland and generally appeals to older children and adults because most of the information is transported in words or film that requires very little interaction.  Located just a block from the Museum fur Kommunikation, the Einstein Museum is a 13,000 square foot building devoted to Albert Einstein, a German born physicist who is regarded by many as the Father of Modern Physics. Even if you are not a fan of physics or are intimidated with the mention of the Theory of Relativity, don’t skip this museum as the exhibits tell as much about the man as mankind.

eisntein-museum-bernIt’s no secret that Albert Einstein carried both a German and Swiss passport and that he was denied refuge in Switzerland prior to World War II because the Swiss claim he accepted the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics on German soil as a German citizen.  Fearing for his life, Einstein moved to the United States in 1933 where he held a position at Princeton University until his death in 1955. All of the exhibition texts are in English, German, and French.  Audio guides come in 9 languages.  The museum takes approximately 2 hours to go through although it’s easy to spend much more time here.

The Einstein Museum is laid out chronologically beginning with Einstein’s Jewish heritage in Germany in the 1800’s that led to his birth in Ulm in 1879.   Einstein’s early education in Germany and later years of education and early career in Switzerland are presented followed by his career progression and final years in Princeton (1933-1955).

Einstein Museum
Helvetiaplatz 5
3005 Bern
41 31 350 7711

Open Tuesday – Sunday from 10:00 – 5:00. Closed Mondays, Dec. 25 and January 8.

There is a cafe:  Bistro Steinhalle which is open every day except Monday from 9:00 – 10:00 on weekdays and 9:00 – 5:00 on weekends.  Reservations can be made by calling 41 31 351 5100.

Note:  The Einstein Museum is part of the Historisches Museum Bern which is the Historical Museum of Bern, a separate building on the same grounds that displays archaeological artifacts, tapestries, silver, Asian art, American Indian artifacts (really!), ancient Egyptian artifacts, and a history of the city of Bern.

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