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Bern’s Museums

Published: 16.05.2024

Looking for a museum to visit in Bern? You’re spoiled for choice! From internationally renowned special exhibitions to private collections to interactive events – here’s an overview.

Museum of Communication

You won’t find any “No touching” signs here: At the Museum of Communication, visitors are allowed, even encouraged, to try out and interact with the objects! Making communication accessible in an innovative, participatory, and playful way – that’s the institution’s motto, and it’s also the reason why the museum was awarded the 2019 Council of Europe Museum Prize.

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“Lights, camera, action!” You will feel as if you were in a movie studio when you reach the station “Movie Karaoke” and start re-enacting a scene from “Lord of the Rings”. A bit of stage fright, a hint of movie star – everyone loves the spotlight! It comes as no surprise that “Movie Karaoke” is a favourite at the Museum for Communication, a museum that is known for its fun exhibitions.


Bern Historical Museum

One could easily mistake the Bern Historical Museum for a castle. However, the impressive building on Helvetiaplatz (Helvetia Square) with its ornate oriels doesn’t house a princess, but rather one of Switzerland’s most important museums of cultural history. In permanent as well as temporary exhibitions, the museum focuses on historical issues that are still relevant to the world today.

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The Belvedere Tower Room sits enthroned above the 3rd floor of the museum and offers a fairy-tale view that leads from the snow-white alpine panorama in the Southeast over the Rose Garden and the Bernese Minster to the Parliament Building. But don't worry: unlike Rapunzel, you can easily leave the tower via the spiral staircase.

And then came Bronze!

Today, technological progress is space travel and artificial intelligence – five thousand years ago, the invention of bronze revolutionized human life. The current special exhibition at the Bernisches Historisches Museum takes visitors on a journey to an era in which, for the first time, it became possible to mass-produce efficient tools and weapons thanks to the ground-breaking mixture of copper and tin. The new metal also prompted the permanent establishment of wealth, dominion and war – even in Bern. On display exclusively at the exhibition is the “Bronze Hand of Prêles”, a sensational discovery that places the Bernese Seeland on a level with advanced civilizations of that time in Babylon, Crete and Troy.


Einstein Museum

This unique museum is part of the Bernisches Historisches Museum and houses one of the world’s largest Albert Einstein collections. The famous physicist spent seven years of his life in Bern, and what he came up with here became world-famous: the theory of relativity. The interesting exhibition presents to the visitors the genius, physicist, husband and father that was Albert Einstein and shows his life and work in the context of world history.

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You should take a close look at one of the large photographs on the wall. It was taken in the 1890s and shows little Albert’s class at his school in Munich, where his family was living at the time. All of his classmates are making serious faces, as was common and decent at the time. But there’s one boy who’s smiling at the camera: young Einstein. He probably already enjoyed challenging the authorities, even at his young age – at least that’s what his witty expression suggests.


Zentrum Paul Klee

The building by architect Renzo Piano alone is worth a visit, but great architecture is by far not the only thing the Zentrum Paul Klee has to offer! It houses the most important Paul Klee collection in the world, showcased in changing exhibitions. And the children’s museum Creaviva has interactive exhibitions to give the youngest visitors a fun approach to art.

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At the very back of the Zentrum Paul Klee, below the third arch of the Renzo Piano building, you’ll find a colourful, interactive installation by Swiss artist couple Sabina Lang and Daniel Baumann. You don’t need a ticket, every visitor is welcome to move around inside, outside and on top of the installation, to read, listen, climb, watch, chat or just relax and enjoy.


Kunstmuseum Bern (museum of fine arts)

Bern’s world-famous museum of fine arts, with its works by artists ranging from Picasso to Hodler to Oppenheim, is also one of Switzerland’s oldest art museums. Whether you’re there for the classics or for a special exhibition – at the Kunstmuseum Bern, art fans are sure to get their money’s worth.

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Adolf Wölfli (1864–1930) probably didn’t think that his drawings would someday be hanging on a museum wall. Wölfli grew up as a servant and farm hand in the Emmental region and eventually landed in the Waldau mental institution, where he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. In his cell, he filled thousands of pages with drawings, patterns, words and musical notes, creating his own universe. Today, his drawings and collages are collector’s items, exhibited all over the world. They are a highlight at the Kunstmuseum Bern, where they are looked after by the Adolf Wölfli Foundation and shown year-round in different exhibitions.


Alps

The Alps's (Swiss Alpine Museum) focus are all things mountains. In addition to the historic collection, exhibitions touch on current issues such as climate change, tourism, identity, mobility, and spatial development. Active participation is welcome!

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This is a hands-on museum: 1,500 kilograms of wood are waiting to be chopped and turned into shingles. Visitors are encouraged to participate and help shingle parts of the museum in the same traditional way that Swiss alpine huts have been shingled for centuries.

Heimat. Tracing the Story of Mitholz

Leaving one’s home, one’s “Heimat”, for ten years: that is reality for the people of Mitholz. In 2020, they were told that they had to leave their village to make way for a clean-up operation to remove live munition left over from World War II. The people of Mitholz and the Swiss Alpine Museum have come together to develop the museum’s new special exhibition in which they explore the meaning of “Heimat” (home) and address the uncertain times that lie ahead of them. At the same time, the exhibition touches on highly current topics such as handling risks and responsibilities of our time and what it means to remember and to forget. One thing is certain: Mitholz concerns us all.


Natural History Museum Bern

Every child in Bern knows the Museum of Natural History with the golden elephant on its roof. Inside, you will find everything from taxidermy of native and African animals to an impressive collection of giant crystals to the huge skeleton of a finback whale. The museum’s exciting and diverse collection has turned many a rainy day in Bern into a little adventure.

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Barry, the legendary Saint Bernard, is probably the museum’s most famous object. The loyal rescue dog lived over 200 years ago in a hospice on the Great St Bernard Pass, almost 2,500 metres above sea level. Crossing the alpine pass was extremely dangerous at the time, and countless people were buried alive by rocks or avalanches or got lost in snowstorms. Thankfully, Barry was there to help! He was involved in the rescue missions and is said to have saved the lives of 40 people. Barry became a Swiss legend and, in 2014, was awarded a permanent exhibition in his honour – including a golden display.

Insect Decline — It’s Going to be All Right

In his song “Der Weltuntergang” (Apocalypse) from 1983, Swiss writer and songwriter Franz Hohler already predicted that the disappearance of a beetle in the southern Pacific could lead to the end of the world. The special exhibition at the Natural History Museum of Bern, too, tackles the subject of global insect decline, but takes a surprising and provocatively optimistic approach. Visitors are catapulted into the year 2053 to learn how to manage a future without the great catastrophe. In the special exhibition, the exhibition organisers focus on solutions and inspiring humans. And it becomes clear: There is still cause for hope!


Kunsthalle Bern

Where art history was made: legendary director Harald Szeemann made this art museum world-famous by letting it be the first building that was covered by artist Christo. It has been and still is an important platform for contemporary art and a mecca for art fans. 

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Initially, the bar Module #5 next to the main building was a temporary gift on the occasion of the museum’s 100-year anniversary. But the locals fell in love with the artistic building by Swiss couple Lang/Baumann with its romantic view of Bern’s Old City and the delicious drinks, so the bar will remain until at least 2021. In the warmer months (May to October), all of Bern gathers here for drinks.


Einstein House

During his time in Bern, Albert Einstein developed one of the most important and famous theories in the history of physics: the theory of relativity. The physicist is still present all over the city, but nowhere will you be able to get closer to the great scientist than at the Einstein House at 49 Kramgasse. 

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When Einstein was living in Bern, he wasn’t working at the university as a renowned professor, no – he had a very boring, low-salary job at the Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property, testing the patents to see if they were functional. He called it being a «third-class ink shitter». But the job meant a stable monthly income, which allowed him to bring his fiancée Mileva Maric to Bern and finally get married.


Franz Gertsch Museum

A collection this complete of works by an artist as internationally renowned as Franz Gertsch is quite unique. The museum showcases the mostly large-format paintings and woodcuts by the Swiss artist in a dialogue with temporary exhibitions of contemporary art from Switzerland and abroad. The focus lies on figurative contemporary paintings, prints, and drawings.

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For Franz Gertsch, reality was not only an artistic, but also a conceptual challenge. Even though he worked from photographs and slide projections, his paintings follow their own logic, striving for absolute coherence in all elements. Particularly significant in Franz Gertsch’s work are his woodcuts. With previously unseen precision in terms of execution and in formats so monumental that they push the limits of what is possible – starting with paper production –, Gertsch has entered new dimensions of this traditional medium.

Karin Kneffel – Face of a Woman, Head of a Child

Until 1 September 2024, the works of one of the most successful and independent contemporary painters in Europe will be on display at the Museum Franz Gertsch in Burgdorf. Monumental paintings dominated by ripe apples and grapes brought Karin Kneffel international fame. In the exhibition “Face of a Woman, Head of a Child”, fruit plays an underlying role for once. The new works of the German artist feature mainly Madonnas from the 15th to 16th century and present a modern, complex exploration of this both religiously and art historically charged subject. Her representations focus on the faces and heads of the Virgin and baby Jesus. Other works in the exhibition are dedicated to Joseph, Jesus figures, and fruit.


Kunsthaus Langenthal

This art museum shows contemporary art with a focus on Swiss artists. The ongoing group exhibition addresses current issues and different events focus on a broad variety of topics. Be it performances, art events for families, or guided literary tours – the Kunsthaus Langenthal offers everything a culture fan could want.

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The late baroque building with its four historic four-beat clocks that houses the museum was built from 1790 to 1808 by Joseph Purtschert. Known for their master builder skills, the Purtscherts were a prominent family of the 18th and early 19th century.


Vreneli Museum

One of the most famous Swiss folk songs comes to life in the Vreneli Museum. The tragic love story of Vreneli and Simes Hans-Joggeli can be traced in the rooms of the historic house. Enriched with traditional and lovingly preserved objects, visitors travel back to the 18th century.

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The Vreneli Museum houses a complete household for seven people. Anyone wandering through the rooms will be amazed at how such a large family could live in such cramped conditions. The parents' bed is also on display. It is tiny, because in the past people did not lie down in bed all the way. This was only possible in a coffin.


Museum Castle Laupen

«Without Laupen, there would be no Bern!» Indeed, the small town played a major role in the formation of the federal city as we know it today. Especially the thousand-year-old castle still bears traces of the famous Laupen war. The vivid exhibition offers insights into the life back then and recounts the castle’s exciting history, from the eleven-day siege in the 14th century up until today.

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You can also find the Käfigturm (cage tower) in the museum. In its basement you can hear the sad story of Barbara Weber – back then known as «the child murderess». She was locked up in one of the «murder boxes» (prison cells) which can still be visited today.

There are only a few public guided tours of Laupen Castle. So make sure you mark the next date in your calendar now.

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