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Remarkable clocks and watches: Bern's Zytglogge

The carousel on Bern's Zytglogge (in new window)

The carousel on Bern's Zytglogge© swissworld.org

One of the main tourist attractions in Bern is the clock tower, or Zytglogge. The tower itself was part of the original city walls at the beginning of the 13th century. The great bell was cast in 1405. The clock is more recent, but it is nevertheless one of the oldest town clocks in Switzerland: its mechanism dates back to 1530.

That was when the first elements were built: the golden cockerel which crows three times and the man who turns the hour glass, as well as Hans von Thann, the knightly figure at the top of the tower whose hammer strokes beat out the time.

The revolving bears – dressed in the colours of Bern - were added in 1610. They symbolise the power of the city. The procession is opened and closed by bears on their hind legs, carrying musical instruments or weapons. Between them comes a bear on all fours wearing a crown and a knight in armour on a horse.

The jester was added in 1642. He strikes his bells and kicks his legs when the cock crows.

For those who know how to read it, the astronomical clock beneath the main face shows not only the hour of day, but also the day of the week and of the month, the month itself, the zodiac and the phases of the moon.

If the legend is to be believed, this venerable clock inspired a revolution in our concept of time itself. Albert Einstein, who lived not far from the Zytglogge, was allegedly led to his theory of relativity when he looked at the buses coming round the tower and wondered what would happen to them if they moved at the speed of light...

In summer the Bern tourist office arranges a daily tour to see the inner workings of the clock.

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