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Out of a pit, into a park for Swiss capital’s bears

Geneva — Bern’s emblematic bears, a big tourist draw in the Swiss capital, completed their move out of a 16th century pit on Sunday into a spacious, specially built riverside park.

City authorities said about 40,000 people turned up to celebrate Finn and Bjoerk’s move into a 6,000 square metre (65,000 square foot) enclosure that includes a 100-metre swimming pool on the banks of the river Aare.

Passers-by on Nydegg bridge will be able to watch the bears clamber around their enclosure — which at 24 million Swiss francs (15.8 million euros, 23.8 million dollars) cost twice much as originally budgeted.

Bears had been kept in a small pit in Bern from 1513 as a tribute to the city’s founder, Duke Berthold V of Zaehringen, who decided in 1193 to name his settlement after the first animal he would kill while hunting.

His victim turned out to be a local brown bear — "Baeren" in the German language — and thus a male bear became the centrepiece of the city’s coat of arms.

Since bears now are extinct in Switzerland, Bern has imported its mascots from abroad. Bjoerk and Finn are Danish and Swedish respectively; they are soon to be joined by two orphaned cubs donated by Russia.