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Bern / Berne canton (Switzerland)
Last modified: 2002-01-12 by pascal gross
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by T.F. Mills
Description of the flag
Gules, on a bend or, a bear passant sable, langued, armed and vilene'
of the field.
On a red field a yellow diagonal band charged with a black bear
walking upwards toward the hoist. It is important to note that the
official "blazon" specifies that the tongue, claws and penis are red
-- and by extension it is important to always depict the bear as
Symbolism of the flag
The bear is one of the oldest religious and totemistic symbols. It
dominated Switzerland in prehistoric times, and although now extinct
is still considered the king of beasts in the region. The city of
Bern maintains to this day a bear pit to perpetuate the symbolism of
its name, but the bears are imported. The red and yellow field are
thought to have come from the Holy Roman Empire battle flag, which
was "per pale gules and or" (divided vertically red and yellow).
History of the flag
Count Berchtold V of Zahringia founded the city of Bern in 1160.
According to legend he killed a large bear in the forest near his
new town and named the town for the beast. The city's flag was
originally white with the bear in its current diagonal position.
After the battle of Schlosshalde in 1289, the flag was changed to
its current red and yellow form. The red in the new flag is
sometimes said to represent the blood of the men who died in that
battle defending the old banner. The first documented evidence of a
Bern flag is in 1208, and the current one certainly dates from no
later than 1365. The maleness of Bern's bear was officially
established by law in 1957.
Bern became a sovereign state in the Holy Roman Empire in 1226, and
joined the Swiss Confederation in 1353. Bern was a major imperial
power, conquering neighboring areas and forming its own regional
alliances (including expansion into French-speaking areas) before it
joined the Swiss. It remains today the second largest canton even
after the loss of territories which seceded. Since 1848 it has been
the federal capital. (From 1798 to 1848 Switzerland had a weak
confederate government with rotating institutions, and prior to 1798
there was virtually no institutional evidence of a Swiss
T.F. Mills, 18 October 1997
by Pascal Gross
Flaggen, Knatterfahnen and Livery Colours
Flaggen are vertically hoisted from a crossbar in the manner of gonfanon, in ratio of about 2:9, with a swallowtail that indents about 2 units. The chief, or hoist (square part) usually incorporates the design from the coat of arms - not from the flag. The fly part is always divided lengthwise, usually in a bicolour, triband or tricolour pattern (except Schwyz which is monocolour, and Glarus which has four stripes of unequal width). The colours chosen for the fly end are usually the main colours of the coat of arms, but the choice is not always straight forward.
Knatterfahnen are similar to Flaggen, but hoisted from the long side and have no swallow tail. They normally show the national, cantonal or communal flag in their chiefs.
Zeljko Heimer, 16 July 2000