You Are There: (Bern, Switzerland) Bärengraben

by Jay HOLLEY
 

You are an American tourist orbiting between the large pits that comprise the Bärengraben (Bear garden) in Bern, Switzerland. Both of the pits are about twelve feet deep, though they are of differing area. You’re leaning against the steel rail of the large pit watching a sparrow hop toward a brown female. She is eating an orange. You hear a grunt from behind and turn to see a bespectacled tech setting up a television camera. You attempt to act nonchalant while continuing your observations, aware your image is being digitized. You wonder if you’re going to be in a human-interest news spot.

A group of school children who are standing near the fir tree erupt into chorus of oohs and aahs. Their refrain seems off kilter because you still haven’t adjusted to the French-Germanic accent. They’re pointing at a pair of sunglasses near the front left paw of a particularly scraggly Pyrenean brown. A child with a blue cap has a look of embarrassment and concern. Those are his shades, you surmise. You say a little prayer. God, you say, I promise I’ll believe forever and ever if only make that bear put on those sunglasses. You look at her claws, hopeful.

You check the corner of your vision to see if you’re still in the camera’s eye. To your relief, you are not. The camera man has focused on the scarred fir tree that the bears reportedly climb when they want to peer over the lip of their sunken home and catch views of the Nydegg chapel and Aare river. You see the bears and the torn bark, but you don’t quite believe they climb it. These beasts seem very lazy and it’s hard for you to imagine them braving daring feats of acrobatics.

You wander to the smaller enclosure. Twigs are floating in the concrete wading pool. There are two platforms in the pool that a bear might sit on. These platforms are at distinct heights, so a bear can choose the shallowness of his bath according to his mood. Like a Jacuzzi, you think. There is only on bear in this pit—a male, and he’s settled down for a nap next to a banana peel. You repeat your prayer as you walk back to the larger enclosure, but it goes unanswered.

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