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Swiss City Bears a Closer Look

<i> Merin is a New York City free-lance writer</i> .

Switzerland’s capital city of Bern was founded in 1191 by Berchthold V of Zahringen, a German duke who proclaimed that his new city would be named for the first animal killed during the first local hunt. It was a bear.

Hence the name Bern, derived from the German word baren , meaning bear, and the city’s emblem, a black bear striding across a gold banner on a red shield.

The Bern bear is proudly displayed throughout the city on flags, license plates, street signs and over doors. And the variety of souvenir bears--stuffed bears, carved bears, bear cookies and candies, along with dozens of other bear forms--is astonishing.

Merkur (Zeitglockenlaube 6) has wonderful sweetie bears, including gum bears ($1.20 per 100 grams), big chocolate bears ($38), chocolate bears with white chocolate baby bottles ($6.50 for a package with six), bear cookies with chocolate centers ($7.50 a package), bear-shaped filbert cookies ($7.50 to $29 a package) and gingerbread bears ($1.50 to $10 a piece, depending upon size).

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Stuffed Bear Souvenirs

The Kiosk next to Bern’s bear pits (a one-species zoo where the town houses its two or three brown bears and their cubs) has amusing and inexpensive stuffed bear souvenirs, including tiny clip-on and hang-up bears ($2 and up) and stuffed bears ($5.50 and $16, depending on the size), including funny little hockey player bears with sticks and blue caps ($12). The Kiosk also sells bread and other snacks that may be fed to the live bears.

Several shops along Bern’s main shopping street--an arcaded road that stretches from the bear pits to the town’s famed Clock Tower (clock, completed in 1530, features dancing bears)--have unusual bear items. Rathaus-Apoteheke-Bern (Kramgasse 2), a drugstore established in 1571, sells bear hot water bottles ($13) and strong, somewhat medicinal licorice sticks called barendreck ($1 each).

The shop also displays unusual kinetic sculptures of bears walking tightropes, riding bicycles and involved in other playful activities. These pieces are not for sale, but the shop can tell you how to get in touch with Charles Martin, the Bern sculptor who created them.

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Oberlander Heimatwerk (Kramgasse 6), a shop with items from all over Switzerland, features carved bears ($33 to $67), ceramic bears ($15 to $25), bear toys ($13 and up) and pewter bears ($2 to $10) as well as ceramic tableware, baskets and weavings.

Schwyzer’s Zinn-Zentrum (Kramgasse 21) has pewter bears ($6 to $15) tucked in among its stock of fine pewter plates, candlesticks and chess sets.

Kunsthandwerk Anderegg (Kramgasse 48) has delightful bear puzzles ($19) hand carved out of pine and other woods, as well as wonderful hand-crafted bread boxes and dish racks ($19) and hand-painted ceramic cats ($7 to $38).

Tschirren (Kramgasse 73) is a charming tearoom that sells colorfully packaged chocolate bears ($3 to $5) and hazelnut and honey bear cookies ($1.50 for 75 grams to $19 for 800 grams).

Vitrine (Gerechtigkeitsgasse 73), a home decorating shop, has wine bottles with beautiful etchings of bears ($79) and small metal bear pins ($15), plus beautiful hand-blown glass and chairs.

Boutique Regina (Gerechtigkeitsgasse 75), a souvenir shop, has plenty of stuffed bears ($5 to $19), bear clocks ($13), fake fur bear handbags ($18) and hangars ($13), and a variety of bear brooches, magnets and pins ($7 each).

Of course the people of Bern do not live by bears alone. The main shopping street, which changes names several times, is lined with marvelous boutiques that reflect the town’s elegant and affluent life style. The shops sell clothing and accessories, home furnishings and gift items. Here are some of the best:

Ciolina (Marktgasse 51) is a bastion of fashion. The three-story shop carries the best of several pricey designer collections, including Krizia, Montana, Jil Sander, Gianni Versace and Jean Paul Gaultier, among others.

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Everything in the boutique is tasteful, elegant and fairly expensive. Outfits cost an average of $600, but individual items, especially the shop’s unusual accessories, are quite affordable.

Belts, for example, range from $38 for a band of neatly woven leather to $238 for a spectacular dressy cummerbund of leather covered with beads and with ribbons folded like flower buds. Silk raincoats in black, tan and subtle earth tones and heathery colors cost $360 and matching skirts cost $123. Silk dresses with delicate floral prints are $490, large wool and cashmere shawls sell for $248.

Sturzenegger Broderie’s (Marktgasse-Passage 1) collection of attractive underwear features panties, bras and camisoles by Hanro, the Swiss manufacturer noted for high quality and design.

Prices are less than in the United States: panties cost $12 to $13, cotton camisoles in cheerful colors are $19, fancy camisole and panty sets are $53 and the latest-model plaid panty and bra sets $44.

Superb Antique Shop

Zeller & Cie (Kramgasse 29) is a superb antique shop with a great selection of glistening etched-glass decanters from the 18th and 19th centuries. Prices depend on the bottle’s age and the intricacy of the etching: an 1817 bottle costs $1,375, one from 1834 is $1,313 and another from 1868 sells for $1,038. These fragile items are priceless.

In addition, the shop has magnificent Swiss cabinets (about $22,000 for one dated 1770), dining tables ($35,000 for a long, rectangular table with the date 1710 carved into the design on its base) and benches (a pair dating from 1720 sell for $8,750).

Wohnform Kilchenmann (Kramgasse 64) has home accessories, including red, white or black stackable shoe cases ($223 for three; enough to hold 15 pairs of shoes), coffee tables made of optical glass ($160) and canisters showing Bern’s picturesque cityscape ($6).

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Streit (Kramgasse 47), one of many watch shops near Bern’s Clock Tower, features inexpensive, easy-to-read watches made by Swatch ($38 and up) and other manufacturers.

Watches with attractive wooden faces cost $150. The latest item: backpacks, rucksacks and over-the-shoulder carry bags with big, colorful plastic clocks on them. The bags are by Millet, a French company and the clocks are Swiss by Swissbee. Prices from $67 to $93.

Bleu Felin (Gerechtigkeitsgasse 49) is where fur and leather designer Rolf Stauffenegger makes and sells his elegant and somewhat exotic coats. Exciting, yet practical, is his Persian lamb great coat in black or brown, with leather on the outside, fur on the inside and peeking around at collar and cuffs. Flawless, it costs $4,700.

A matching Persian lamb shoulder bag, bearing an impressive shield made of leather, costs $218. Another Persian lamb coat is reversible, with creamy beige fur on one side and matching leather on the other. The leather side is trimmed with strips of water snakeskin in a slightly darker tone. The coat costs $8,125. The shop also carries models by Gianfranco Ferri and other top international designers.

Casual Clothes

Lobsang Roosens (Gerechtigkeitsgasse 77) has unusual casual clothes designed by the shop’s owners and made especially for them in Indonesia. The fabrics used are exclusive. They are designed by Thomas Bertschi, a graphic artist with a sense of humor and an Escher-esque eye. Swirls of lizards are connected by their tails, legions of flying horsemen gallop across the fabric leaving a wild geometric pattern in their path and spacemen shoot through galaxies of stars.

These fabrics are stitched into stylish T-shirts, oversize shirts ($30 to $50), baggy pants and tight-fitting trousers ($50 to $94).

The very nice children’s clothes include lined cotton tops and pants with cute tiger prints and other fabrics ($36). The shop also sells buttons (25 cents to $19) galore, with more than 2,000 to choose from. The most expensive buttons are antiques with silver embroidery, or real silver items.

Prices quoted in this article reflect currency exchange rates at the time of writing .


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