MY IMPRESSIONS OF SWITZERLAND
by John A. Minger
Uncle John, Fred Fankhauser, Joe Steinauer 1 and I boarded a Rock Island passenger train at Bern, Kansas on June 27, 1891. Each of us had a through ticket to Berne, Switzerland.
We arrived in New York after three days and two nights of almost continuous travel. We had stopped one day for sight-seeing in Washington, D. C. In New York we had to wait for two days for our ship. Then on the third of July, word came to us at the Hotel Gruettli, that our ship, LATOURAINE, would sail at four o’clock in the morning.
We boarded the ship on the Fourth of July. I was so excited that I didn’t sleep any the night before sailing. The ship was all decorated with French and American flags and looked wonderful. It was almost as long as a city block. We had third class passage as it was a new ship and was very neat and clean. At three-thirty o’clock we were at the wharf which was so very crowded that we had to push hard to get around. There were dozens of wagons on the grounds unloading trunks, boxes and people. I don’t think I had ever seen such a jam before. At four o’clock the big fog horn blew a blast that vibrated through every bone and muscle. Then the gates swung open and a stream of humanity, over one thousand people, poured up the gang plank. I thought surely they would sink the ship. The gang plank which had run up at an angle of about twenty-five degrees was nearly level after all those people were on the ship. Of course more than half of the people were friends of passengers and got off before the ship sailed. The LATOURAINE didn’t leave the wharf until eight o’clock. Since we had had no breakfast, you can imagine how hungry we were when they served dinner at two o’clock. The second cook or steward told us this is done as a precaution against seasickness.
When we got aboard, a little French boy in uniform, who was very polite, spoke to us in French. We looked at one another like dummies. Then he motioned for us to follow and he took us to our quarters down in the hold of the ship. This was a room about fifty or sixty feet long and about thirty feet wide. Both ends of this room had beds built in, three tiers high, something on the plan of a pullman. Then along the hull of the ship was a long table hinged to the wall which was folded up between meals. We could look out upon the ocean as we sat at this table, through round windows about eighteen inches in diameter. In fine weather these windows were opened and we got the sea breeze which was very refreshing. Everything was attractive and clean. The floors were scrubbed every day. There were mostly French and a few American men in these quarters. Each of us paid one dollar extra to have our meals served to us here, otherwise one would have to go to the kitchen and carry his tray cafeteria style. The meals were very good. For dinner we were served a large bowl of soup, meat, potatoes, butter, mixed nuts and a tin cup of excellent wine. After we were out three days they served five meals a day and yet I was always hungry. Luckily I never had a touch of seasickness.
Of course we didn’t stay in our quarters except for meals and to sleep. We were allowed on the main deck at all times. Here we saw the wealthy class entertain themselves. Old and young played like kittens. They danced, sang, played croquet, read books and promenaded about the deck. All were as happy as a little boy with his first long pants. Some were very friendly, too. I had a speaking acquaintance with several men that appeared to be millionaires. They wanted to know all about the wild west, the grasshoppers, the buffaloes and the Indians but never a one asked my name or my business.
After eight days of this pleasant ocean travel, we landed at Havre, France. It took about four hours to unload the passengers. The tide was low and we could not enter the harbor, so we were taken ashore in small boats. A representative of the company took us to a hotel, HOTEL DE VILLE DE NEW YORK. This at least was a home-like name. It was night when we arrived at our hotel. There was a noise about the city, not loud as in New York but a hum that seemed to come from a distance. The brilliant lights, flags, people, soldiers, bands, and thousands of small round tables were out on a board walk. People sat at the tables drinking or eating and talking excitedly. I felt like it was all a dream. I was simply overwhelmed. How I wished that some of my friends were there so we could talk and express our wonder at the strangeness of these things. There were Uncle John and Fred Fankhauser, both of them past sixty years, sitting on chairs as if it was an everyday occurrence but I, who was only twenty-four 2, was bursting for expression. I wanted to holler out loud. Not a soul except those two could understand me nor could I understand the others. Finally a tall man who had taken our bags came out and told us that we might have supper if we wished. He spoke English, German, and French, so now I felt better for he was a companionable fellow about fifty years old but spry as a kitten. He and I had quite a talk for he knew all about New York and the east. He had worked in a hotel there for six years and could swear and use our slang, so I felt almost as if I’d found a brother.
After supper he took us to see the sights but he told us that we would have to stay six months in order to see all of Paris. It was two o’clock in the morning when we got home and we were all terribly tired. I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. The next morning he took us out again. We paid him five francs apiece and then he paid all expenses such as carfare. While sightseeing we even took a ride on a merry-go-round. The guide told us the reason for this unusual merrymaking was that it was the fourteenth of July which is a great day in France, and the people nearly go wild in their celebrating. He begged us to stay over, as we had intended to leave on the fourteenth for Berne, Switzerland. I wanted to see the spectacle so John and Fred Fankhauser agreed to stay one day longer. Our guide also told us to be careful of having anything to do with strangers who might represent themselves as Americans or friends of some well known men of America. He told us that they were probably crooks.
Early in the morning our guide rapped at our bedroom door “Sieben schlafer perons.” he said in good German. “Es ist seit fur den trupen umzog.”
We hurriedly dressed, got our breakfast and went out on the board walk which was already crowded but our guide found us some good seats in front where we had a full view of two streets at an intersection. Presently we heard trumpets blowing. A division of cavalry, then infantry, headed by a brass band then more cavalry, bands and infantry and so on, went by for almost two hours. They were all dressed in brilliant red. The cavalry wore black shakos with large white plumes. After dinner there was a band on the platform at every cross street, playing dance music. The people, old and young, danced like crazy on the street. Our guide insisted that we join in the dance. I told him I didn’t know anyone but he just said, “Shucks, you don’t need an introduction here like in America. We are not so finicky.”
Our train for Berne left at 10 o’clock that night. We were in the waiting room at about 8 o’clock. A tall, well-dressed, middle-aged man confronted me, held out his hand and in perfect English asked me, “How is everything in America?” Then he introduced himself as a resident representative of the Thompson Houston Electric Co. of America.
“I’ve been here for six years and I see so few Americans that it is a pleasure to meet you.”
I introduced Uncle John and Fred Fankhauser. He talked pleasantly for a while on American topics then he invited us to a glass of wine. He was so nice we just couldn’t refuse. After that he insisted that we go to his rooms in the hotel where he would show us that he really was what he represented himself to be. Just then I remembered what our guide had told us about confidence men and we turned cold toward him. He was so sorry that we wouldn’t trust him, he said.
We left him without ceremony. I can still see him in his plug hat and diamond shirt stud, with disappointment written across his face as we left him.
We boarded our train at 10 PM for Dijon where we had to change cars at 2 o’clock in the morning for a train that ran to the Swiss border. Dijon seemed to be a large railway town. There seemed to be a train every fifteen minutes. Since none of us could speak French, we could not get any information about our train, so we started to get on every train that came in. They looked at our tickets then motioned us back into the waiting room. Finally they tired of this so the depot master looked at our tickets then took out his watch and put his finger on the hour hand moving it to three thirty. Then we understood.
A little after daylight we arrived at les Verrières on the Swiss frontier. Our baggage was examined and we boarded a Swiss train. To our delight, it was just like an American train. You entered the car at the end just like we do here. There was an aisle the full length of the car. The French cars have from eight to ten doors on the side of the cars which open into small cubby holes. You could not pass from one end of the car to the other for you are shut in a box-like stall with your knees almost touching your fellow passengers who sit opposite.
As the Swiss train was about to start, two young girls with jaunty hats decorated with Edelweis entered our car and began to sing a Swiss song. Uncle John said:
“Now I feel at home. I am tired of the French language.”
The railroad followed the Jura Mountains. As we looked through the windows, we could see many Swiss villages with their red tile roofs. They seemed to be centered around a church. We arrived at Berne about noon. Here we heard the familiar “Ja wohl.” We got our dinner at the depot restaurant. I began to feel at home here where everybody spoke the Swiss language 3.
From the stories that Father and Mother had told us of Berne, I had made a mental picture of what I expected to see. Now I had to change that picture, for Berne was not like that. The newer part of the city resembled an up-to-date American city, with wide streets and now and then beautiful little parks, street cars and electric lights. Well dressed men and women that reminded one of Kansas City.
The older part of the city was really quaint with its narrow cobblestone paved streets and a little brook running down the center in which the women did their washing. And then those queer arcades over the sidewalk. There are no cross streets in the old part of the city. Instead of a street, there is an arched passageway every two or three hundred feet. These are not large enough for a team or a car to go through but are just for pedestrians. Most of the homes are four stories with gable roofs sloping to the street. The windows of the second and third stories are set out from the wall about 18 inches and they open on hinges in half from the center. There are shelves in these windows for flowers. That is what makes the old quarter charming to visitors. There are thousands of flowers of almost as many different shades of color. All these houses are built of stone and most of them are four to five hundred years old, but they do not show their age.
After dinner at the banhoff restaurant (depot restaurant) we asked a guide about hotels, for we intended to stay about two months and wanted to establish headquarters. “Do you want a good one?” asked the guide. Of course we answered, “Yes”, so he took us to the Bellview, the finest hotel in the city, which offered board and room for from three to ten dollars a day. “Does he think we are millionaires?” said Uncle John. That was too rich for us. Then the guide took us to the Hotel de Eagle, down in the old quarter. Here we got board and room for three dollars a week with good service. This hotel was only two blocks from the “beara graba” (bärengraben or bear’s den). The city maintains this den of about ten bears because of tradition that the founder of the city shot a bear on the town site. (This happened 700 years ago and they made a pit 20 feet deep and about 40 feet in diameter walled up with stone. In this pit they keep their bears. These bears multiply and each year they butcher the surplus and have a feast of the bear’s meat. This bear’s den is known all over Europe and perhaps among American tourists.)
I had heard Father and Mother talk about “beara graba” so much I wanted to see it so after we were comfortably located at the Eagle, Uncle John and I went to see the bears. There are several stands around this den that sell carrots, little cakes and other delicacies that tourists buy and toss to the bears. The pit is open with a stone parapet around it about 4 1/2 feet high. You can lean on this wall and toss your carrots to the bears. They stand on their hind legs and beg. They catch the carrots and cakes just like a man would a baseball and eat standing up. Whenever I had time, I always went to the bear’s den. I usually met many Englishmen and Americans there.
After a few days in Berne, we went out to Wohlen, which was the birthplace of Uncle John and my Father. I saw the old house, a great big house built of hewn logs, living quarters, wagon shop (grandfather was a wagon maker), and barn all under one roof. Now don’t think it wasn’t clean. Every bit of manure was cleaned up every morning and put in a pit, to be used at the proper season on the land.
We were strangers here. No one seemed to know or remember John or Christ Minger. It was the young set. Some of them said they had heard of some Mingers going to America long ago. That was rather a cool reception for Uncle John so we went to the village tavern which was operated by Jana, a young man. He thought his father would remember the Mingers, but he wasn’t at home, having gone to the baths. That night we slept in the village schoolhouse. Jana had no license to keep roomers, which was the law. Next morning we went to Ilis Weal where John had some cousins, but they were busy butchering hogs and hardly had time to talk to us. John was discouraged so we went back to Wohlen and had Jana call up Troxel at the Hotel Eagle to come out and get us. By that time the elder Jana came home. He found us at his son’s tavern. Oh yes, he knew all about the Mingers. He (Jana) was a wealthy man and he had a special wagon made by Grandpa Minger. After 50 years it was still going good, he said. Grandpa Minger made wagons for scores of emigrants who used them to drive to Antwerp, from where they sailed to America.
“Who is this young man here?” said Jana, pointing to me. Uncle John told him I was Christian’s son. “Oh-ho, he looks like Christian.”
He invited us to come to his house and stay a few days, but Troxel from the Eagle was there and John didn’t like the reception we had been given, so we went back to Berne. It was late when we got there and Mrs. Troxel had supper ready for us. She was old enough to be Troxel’s mother, but a very shrewd businesswoman. For once, she permitted Troxel to eat with us. She managed him as a mother would her son.
Next day, Troxel took us to Stuckey’s, who lived at Gugisberg. Mrs. Stuckey was a niece of Uncle John’s. Here we stayed one night and strange as it may seem, I slept in a haunted room. It was the same room in which Sam Pauli, our hired man, used to sleep. When we were boys, Pauli used to tell us about how ghosts in that room would pull the covers off of him at night. I halfway imagined I could feel something pulling at the covers that night, because I was terribly afraid of ghosts when I was young, the result no doubt of the many ghost stories I had heard.
Next we went to the Schwarzsee and bargained with a French boatman to take us across for a franc. We learned after the trip had started that our boatman was drunk. Soon he began to rock the boat, trying to frighten us. “Look down,” he said. We looked and saw a weed growing in tangled masses about a foot under the water’s surface.
“Those weeds,” said our tormentor, “are known as death weeds, because if a man ever falls into the water, they tangle around his feet and legs and pull him under.” Stuckey, our host, said that this was true. The following day, Mrs. Stuckey packed me a lunch with a small bottle of wine and I climbed to the top of King Mountain. I don’t remember how high this mountain was, but it was noon when I got to the top. I followed a well worn zigzag path and must have walked seven or eight miles. I know I was tired and hungry when I got to the top.
The top was not flat, but a sharp ridge. I straddled this ridge to eat my dinner. I had one leg in the Simenthal valley and the other in the Sluson valley. It was nice and cool here although it was hot down in the valley. On the lower third of the mountain, the cheese makers had their cheese factories and cows. A little higher up were the sheep herders with their flocks and their funny crooked sticks. Above the sheep were hundreds of goats. There was a solid mat of grass up to the very top. In going back down, I loosened a rock accidentally. This rock, as it gained momentum, jumped as high as a house before it reached the valley below. Luckily, it didn’t strike anybody. One of the cheese makers told me afterwards there was a fine of 50 francs for loosening rocks on this mountain. He said they sometimes started an avalanche.
It was now time to go back to Berne and get ready for the 600th anniversary of the founding of the Swiss government on August 2nd. We had our board paid in advance at Lady Troxel’s Hotel de Eagle, and since we were to be gone a week, we asked to be reimbursed for the period. Oh, no, that wasn’t business; she didn’t ask us to go, she said. Shrewd business, what! Uncle John grumbled, but what could we do? We wanted to see the big celebration. Between ourselves, we made some uncomplimentary remarks about her and let it go at that, and went to the city of Schwyz, where the show took place. In the language of the circus, it was the most stupendous, gigantic and colossal stage show I had ever seen. It was given in the natural open air theater and was all that the above words imply. Every incident of importance that took place in the six hundred years was re-enacted on this stage. Arnold Winklereid, who grasped ten spears within his grasp, thus made an opening in the solid phalanx of the Austrian army, where the Swiss rushed in and cut the Austrians to pieces and won their freedom. Winklereid died a martyr with ten spear points in his breast and Switzerland again was free, hence these lines:
“Make way for liberty, he cried,
Make way for liberty, and died”.
Then came Guesler, William Tell and the apple episode, and thus it continued from eight o’clock in the morning, with one hour intermission at noon, until six o’clock at night, the spectacle kept moving. Always different people to represent the different episodes. There were probably 500 actors, soldiers in glistening armour, brass bands, women representing the styles of the different times, cattle, sheep, goats, even chickens, all appeared and passed over the large stage representing certain epochs in history. The thousands in the audience stood there not realizing how tired they were until it was all over. Uncle John and I went to bed early that night.
Next day we went to the Schuetzenfest at Burgdorf, where the soldiers were showing their skill shooting at targets. My, what a noise! Hundreds of army rifles were popping every second. I couldn’t hear well for a week afterward. We stayed all night in Burgdorf. There is an old castle here on top of a steep hill, dating back to feudal times. We went through every room and also up into the tower, from which the barons would throw stones down on the enemy, we were told, as they had no guns at that time.
We next bought round trip tickets to the French cantons or states. We visited Neuchâtel, Vevey, Lausanne, Geneva, Montreux, and Yverdon. We had Fred Fankhauser’s brother, Karl, with us as a guide and interpreter, as he spoke French. He had many acquaintances in this part of Switzerland. They were jolly good fellows. Even though we couldn’t speak their language, we drank their wine and laughed when they laughed. Our big problem was to keep sober. At least the first day. After that, we drank only beer. All these cities were so neat and clean that one would hesitate to spit on the streets. Geneva was the most beautiful of all, situated where the river Rhone emerges from the lake. It is built on both banks of the river. The river is spanned by many beautiful bridges. One of these runs to a small island in the middle of the stream. The island is made into a small park and from it one can fish in the clear blue water. One can see fish twenty feet below.
From Geneva, we took an excursion steamer to Montreux, a city on the upper end of the lake. This city is built right into the side of a mountain cliff. We visited the historic Castle Chillon, made famous by Byron’s prisoner. Then by coach, we continued to Vevey on Lake Bieluce 4. This is a nice town. Here we got our dinner. I remember as if it happened yesterday. The waitress was, I believe, the tallest woman I ever saw. Karl Fankhauser made some jocular remark as to what might happen to a man if he was of ordinary size. We all broke out in a laugh and the girl turned and disappeared in the kitchen. She did not appear again, so evidently she understood the Swiss language. After dinner we went sight seeing. Late in the evening we entrained for Berne and our home at the Eagle. Old Mrs. Troxel seemed to be glad to see us. It was now the tenth of August and we intended to start home the fore part of September. We hadn’t seen the Bernese Oberland. We couldn’t miss that. Then there was the 700th anniversary of the founding of the city of Berne. We had to move fast to see it all, so next day we took a train for Interlaken, where we stopped for the night. This city is at the junction of two mountain rivers, one carrying black water and the other has white or clean water. So they call one the Black Lütischine and the other the White Lütischine. The rivers run separate for a mile or more, after they join in the same channel the river then takes the name of Zweilütschinen.
Before sunup, we started up the valley of the White Lütischine to see the Stoub Bach. This is a small river that starts back in the glaciers and finally drops down a cliff, probably 1,000 feet high, into the valley of Lauterbrunnen. It is all mist or fog at the valley floor, but its waters collect again lower down and find their way into the White Lütischine. Some of the more credulous believe that this mist has healing powers, especially to remove freckles, warts, and other skin blemishes.
Our next quest was the Grindelwald glacier, just over the Wengernalp, a mountain about 5,000 feet high, but not hard to climb. Uncle John and Fankhauser took the train by way of Interlaken and then up the Black Lütischine to Grindelwald. I wanted to try the mountain pass on foot, but there were no guides at home. Finally the wife of a guide got permission from the staat halter (city mayor) to let her 14 year old son go as my guide. I asked the boy what we’d better take along for lunch and he said “Kirschen wasser ist gut,” so I got a flagon of cherry brandy enclosed in a leather case and a strap to hang it over my shoulder. We started on our climb. He took the lead with his crooked stick. About ten o’clock we caught up with two men and three young women on horseback. A flagman had stopped them. It was an American family from Chicago. Now I could talk English to my heart’s content. We were held up for 15 minutes while some men were setting off a blast. They were building a railroad up to the Eiger glacier. After the blast we started again. Ours was a foot path and we could climb much steeper than those horses. They had to follow what is known as a bridle path, so we parted. About a mile farther on, we came up with a man who held what appeared to me like a long stick in his hands, about 18 feet long. It had a mouthpiece at one end and the other had a large bowl, making it look like a huge smoke pipe.
“Es kast nur a botz,” (“it costs only a penny”.) I handed him 2 botz and he blew that thing till his face turned red and his cheeks puffed out like a toy balloon. The sound that came out of that contraption reminded me of the fog horn on our ship. It was an Alpenhorn. He laid down his horn and looked expectant at an opposite mountain. Then came the echo with that weird sound that echoes have. It died out, then started up again, only there were two echoes now. They died out, then came three echoes, all from different directions. I began to realize why these mountains had fostered so many superstitions. He also gave us a yodel with the same number of echoes. He had another place a little higher up that had a “donner schoene klang” (a thundering nice ring) but we did not have time to listen. I gave him some kirschen wasser and we went on. At one o’clock, we got to the Scheideck Hotel. I ordered dinner. My guide and I saw the glacier not far away. I asked him to go with me while waiting for dinner. We walked out over the ice about 100 yards and, seeing some large crevices, the boy became frightened and would go no further. He said he had no license and if anything happened to me, he would go to jail for a year or two.
So we went back to the hotel where the boy left me. I gave him two francs and a little kirschen wasser. He doffed his cap and thanked me. When I sat down at the table, there was still no dinner ready. The waitress, a rosy cheeked mountain girl, came up to me and asked if I knew what my bill would be. So many from the valley came up, she said, and did not know that every bit of food had to be carried on a horse, and therefore meals were very high. I pulled out my pocketbook and took out a Swiss 500 franc note. She opened her eyes, ran back to the kitchen and brought my dinner out in short order. I had two fried eggs, a slice of American ham, cheese, butter, whole wheat bread, honey and a bottle of beer. It cost 5 francs or one American dollar.
After dinner, I started my descent toward Grindelwald. I got very tired going down the slope and had to rest quite often. I met no horn blowers on this side, but when I was about one third of the way down, two little girls about 8 and 9 years old stepped out of the bushes and began to sing in good voice. They wore pink dresses, embroidered or lace collars and cute little crocheted white caps. Little bouquets of flowers were held by each girl in her left hand, while the right hand was held behind her back. As they sang, they would sometimes turn and thus I discovered that the hidden hand held a tin cup. Of course, I knew what these cups were for. I dropped a franc in each cup and asked them to sing some more while I rested. They acted very bashful, but sang some more, then skedaddled into the shrubbery. I watched them and a few yards back a woman stood up, their mother, no doubt. She took the money.
When I got to Grindelwald, I found John and Fankhauser at Stettler’s store. Stettler was anxious for news of his son who was in America and lived near Bern, Kansas. He was entertaining John and Fankhauser with a bottle of wine and Swiss cheese sandwiches. They asked me to join them, but I had my kirschen wasser and anyway, I wanted to cross the famous Grindelwald glacier, which was only a short distance from Stettler’s. Arriving at the glacier, I saw my American friends from Chicago trying to make the Swiss guide understand Chicago English. When I saw the trouble, I acted as interpreter. We went into the grotto, a large chamber hewn out of solid ice. Here two young ladies sang Swiss songs and sold photographs. Next we crossed the glacier. There were six of us, the three Chicago girls, the two men and me. The glacier was perhaps 50 yards long and we walked along a path cut into solid ice along a wall of ice. The bottom of the gorge was several hundred feet below. On one side of the path, which was about two feet wide, was the glacier, on the other side a thin rope and the precipitous drop into the gorge. Three Swiss guides held that rope, which was tied around their waists. Here we walked this narrow path. One of the girls screamed, whether in jest or fear, I don’t know. At any rate I felt relieved when we were all across. It’s just the daredevil in a person that makes him take those chances. If he didn’t he would feel like a coward. Next day we went up to Mürren, high up on a mountain. You reach this village by cable road. The track is about as steep as the roof of a house. It has plenty of thrills. Sometimes you seem to be suspended a thousand feet in the air in a car about the size of a motor bus. This is the place where my grandmother on Father’s side was born. By the way, her maiden name was Gage 5.
Arriving at Mürren, we saw a sign over a large hotel door, “American Spoken Here, American Cooking, American Drinks.” As it was cold in this altitude, we three decided on a drink of whiskey and a hamburger. It was true, they spoke good American, but they had neither whiskey nor hamburgers, only cocktails and mint juleps, of which we knew nothing. So we admired an American flag which was displayed in one end of the dining room, chiefly to prove that we were Americans even if we didn’t partake of those fancy drinks.
We were pretty well chilled in this high altitude, so we decided to go back into the Niederland (the valleys). At Berne we boarded a train for the south through the St. Gotthard tunnel and into Italy. A most interesting trip, this took us up a valley with high mountains on either side. Now and then we went into a tunnel, made a loop and came out several hundred feet above the place where we had entered. That was to gain altitude. There was a little church not far from the track as we went into a tunnel. When we came out, the church was a hundred feet below us. We went into another tunnel and emerged perhaps 200 feet above the church. After that, the track ran high up on the mountain side where enough rock had been blasted out for a road bed. After a mile or two of this, we entered the St. Gotthard tunnel. We were 20 minutes going through the tunnel. At about the middle of the way, we passed another train. The tunnel was wide enough here for a side track. All windows were closed, yet the smoke penetrated the coaches. There was snow where we entered the tunnel. On the south side of the mountain where we emerged from the tunnel, it was warm, too warm for comfort. We were now in the canton of Ticino, as Italian as Italy, but Ticino belongs to the Swiss Federation of States. The people of this state are a liberty loving class and joined the Swiss Federation many years ago, but their manner and appearance is decidedly Italian. We were just a little suspicious of them. While we were at dinner one of our party, a Swiss from America, came to us and said he had been robbed of $500 while eating his dinner. We reported the theft to a German speaking policeman. He promised to do his best to find the guilty party. We had intended to go south into Italy to Ariolo, but this seemed to put a scare in the crowd and we took the first train north and without a stop we went to Mount Rigi, which is about 10,000 feet high. You go up on a cog road. There are about four large hotels on its summit. We stopped at Hotel Rigi-Kulm. When we finally got up there, both Uncle John and Fankhauser were chilled to the bone. Their teeth chattered so hard they could hardly talk and they wanted to go to bed at once. The change from Italian summer to the top of a Swiss mountain was too much. It was about 7 o’clock in the evening. We registered as Americans, of course. That gave us special attention. The hotel was crowded, but we were given one of the best rooms on the seventh floor, with a lookout where we could see one fourth of all Switzerland. I saw John and Fankhauser were comfortably laid between two feather beds. Then I went down to the main floor, drank a cup of hot coffee and soon felt normal. A good orchestra was playing, there was some dancing and the crowd milled around until the “beleuchtung.” This referred to the lighting of Seven Falls which were just across the gorge from the hotel. This took place at 10 o’clock. These falls are each about 100 feet high, one above the other, quite a spectacle in daytime, but when they are lighted up with seven different shades of light which change every minute, it is truly a wonderful sight. John and Fankhauser missed all of this. I wasn’t lonely, because there were many Americans and Englishmen there. At 12 o’clock I went to bed. John and Fankhauser were sleeping between their feather beds like two babies.
Next morning we went to the lookout and we saw miles and miles of country dotted with cities and villages in a beautiful green background. We could see the complete outline of the Vierwaldstätter See 6, the lake of the woods. About 10 AM a heavy mist formed below us, then we heard thunder and lightning. It was raining down in the valley, while we were above the clouds. After dinner, we started back home for Berne.
When we reached the city, we discovered something had happened in our absence. All the streets were decorated with tall arches of evergreen and flags. Every window was decorated. Our hotel, too, was all dressed up, for tomorrow would begin a festival commemorating the 700th anniversary of the city of Berne, 100 years older than the Swiss government itself. Every hotel was crowded. We were asked to pay 10 francs apiece to look out of the window to see the historical parade. Mrs. Troxel got money while the getting was good, since she had about 50 windows. Our large dining room was crowded with tables and they were filled up two or three times every meal time.
A very embarrassing thing happened to me one day at dinner. I was tired of wine for dinner, so I ordered a bottle of lemonade, about like lemon pop. I took it for granted it was cold. When I pressed down on the cork, the blame stuff shot out like a rocket. It hit the ceiling above another table and spattered down on a dozen or more well dressed men and women. The look they gave me would have crumbled a stone. I’ll bet my face was red. What could I do? I just started eating soup. John, with an angry look, said “Why did you do it?” How did I know? I thought it was cold. Mrs. Troxel helped to wipe the offensive liquid off of the other guests and came to me: “Aha! You did something, didn’t you?” I told her I thought it was cold. She said one of the girls made a mistake and picked up a warm bottle. Anyway, I survived the ordeal.
This celebration was something like the one at the city of Schwyz a couple of weeks before. They re-enacted William Tell. They had wrestling, folk dances, singing, a 160-piece orchestra and the historic parade, the bears parade, Alpen horn blowing and the killing of the bear by Zwingly, when the city was started 700 years ago, strange as it may seem, there was wine everywhere, but among the thousands of people I didn’t see a single drunk. This celebration continued for a week and was open until 11:30 every night and crowded every day.
For the last night of the celebration, they announced the largest display of fireworks ever seen. About seven o’clock, John and I left the hotel for Kirchenfeld, where the celebration was held. We had to cross the River Aar over the Nydeck bridge. This bridge is about 200 yards long and about 75 feet above the water. It is of very peculiar construction. The supporting arches, made of latticed steel, are underneath the bridge. They rise from thin stone pillars near the water line like the half of the rim of a wheel, up to the floor of the bridge, then curve down to the next stone pier. There are three spans like this. Well, as we came near the bridge the crowd increased. We were jammed close together, but moving in military step. There was a band ahead. We were about the center of the bridge and could feel the bridge swing from side to side. The Chinese lanterns along the railing were swinging to and fro. Everyone seemed to feel panicky, then half a dozen soldiers rode in on the bridge, squeezing through the crowd and shouted for everyone to stand still. The swinging motion stopped. They stopped the band and asked people to break step and there was no more trouble. The bridge was strong enough to carry four times the load, but that swinging motion might throw it over sideways, they said.
Next day was Sunday and John decided to go to Gugisberg for a few days to visit his old friend, Stuckey. Before we left America, I had promised Otto Kruger to carry a message to his old boss in Berlin, Germany. So I bought a ticket for Berlin. I stopped off at Strasburg where the international exposition was being held. Here I met many Americans. On learning that I had just come from the states, they wanted to know if I had any Horseshoe tobacco. I happened to have about a pound of it. I gave them each a liberal chunk and they were happy. I spent most of the day here. At about 6 PM I went to the banhoff and got my ticket. I still had one hour’s time so I strolled around town awhile, then went to a restaurant to get my supper. When I paid for the meal, I discovered I was short one 500 franc note, so I went back to the depot where I had bought my ticket and asked the ticket agent if I hadn’t made a mistake when I bought my ticket. “You gave me a 500 franc note instead of 100 francs,” he said. “Here it is. If you had been 10 minutes later, I would have been gone.” Well, I felt relieved.
I rode all that night and arrived in Berlin at about 10 AM During the night I went to sleep in the car. About two o’clock, some self-important German yanked me out on the floor and gave me a lecture on manners. If I wanted to sleep, I ought to go in the sleeping car, he growled at me. I found this attitude among all the people I met in Berlin -- haughty, arrogant. I delivered Kruger’s message and one of the men volunteered to show me the city. We took a sight seeing car, but neither could understand the other, so without ceremony we separated. I went to the famous Thier Garten and spent two or three hours, then took the first train back to Berne, with not a very friendly feeling toward Germany compared to Switzerland. The German people seemed cold, unfriendly. The military spirit, soldiers everywhere. One of the grandest displays of military pomp was in Berlin. The Kaiser’s body guard, I think they called them, about 500 all mounted on big white horses with trappings of gold and silver. The uniforms were white as snow, trimmed in gold and silver lace, golden epaulets on their shoulders. First came the heralds, eight abreast, sitting straight as a stick in their saddles, their left hands on the rein, in their right hands they held a straight trumpet to their lips, probably three feet long and a golden banner suspended underneath. They played a simple but spirited march. Next came the buglers, then the band or musicians. All dressed and mounted alike. They wore tall white shakos with golden plumes. The horses kept step at all times with the music, raising their feet high like circus horses I’ve seen. Witnessing this spectacle, I forgot for the time the cold reception that I seemed to get, for it was the greatest show on earth exemplifying military power.
When I arrived at Berne, John was still at Gugisberg. He had sent word to the Eagle Hotel that he would be home Sunday. Well, I had a few days to while away. I went to the bears’ den and fed the bears. When I came back to the hotel, everybody was getting ready to go to the Münster Platz, a large open place at the cathedral. The soldiers were coming. There was to be a maneuver, sham battles, but no one knew just where this would take place. Anyway, they were marching through the city and the Münster Platz would be a good place to see them. I had formed a habit of following the crowd. I was a glutton for big shows. Well, they came about 20 abreast in double file with bands and banners, about ten thousand, they said. All branches of the army represented. It certainly was an imposing sight, but did not compare with what I had just seen in Germany. The tinsel and glitter were missing.
I wanted to see the sham battle. “Where would it take place?”, I inquired. Some place in the eastern part of Switzerland, probably in St. Gallen, they told me, so I took a train for St. Gallen. Here they knew no more about it than I did, anyway I could get no information. They probably thought I was a spy. I never saw the soldiers any more. Generally these people treated me nice.
I made up my mind to see eastern Switzerland. I even went into Austria on Sunday. I traversed Lake Constance, first on a Swiss boat and then on a German boat. While on the German boat, they hoisted the flags and tooted the old fog horn. I asked the captain what all this meant. He pointed to a ship that was coming up behind us with banners flying. “That ship,” said he, “is Her Majesty’s ship.” He referred to the Queen of Bavaria. “It is the law that we must salute her ship.” I expressed a wish to land and possibly see a queen. “Oh, that old swine,” he said. “I see you Americans want to see royalty, but you don’t believe in them, do you?” He cautioned me not to mention what he had said, because if the queen heard of it, he would get six months in jail. We landed and saw the queen land. There was a double row of flunkies, all in brilliant uniform, from the landing to her carriage. Through this line, we saw a woman, big and fat, loaded down with regalia. Everybody removed his hat. She never turned her head.
From here, our boat went to the city of Constance, a German city. Next I went to Schaffhausen and saw the great Rhine fall, the largest waterfall in Europe, then down the lake again to Rorsach. Here I took the train to Wallenstadt, the Wallen valley, then down to Zurich, a beautiful city, where I spent the night. Next morning I went by first class train to Berne, and to the Hotel Eagle where I found John had about everything packed for the homeward journey.
I felt somewhat like a small boy, who having been in the big tent at the circus, begs to see the sideshow on the way out. He hasn’t had enough. After feasting my eyes on this most scenic and beautiful country for two months, waited on like a king, wined and dined, I felt almost as if it had all been a dream. The realization that time was up and I must get back home, to stand behind the counter and follow the daily grind, was anything but pleasant.
We bought a few more souvenirs, packed out trunks, got our passports visaed. Then we entrained for Mannheim, Germany. Here we had to pass the inspectors. We had through tickets from Berne, Switzerland by rail to Mannheim, then from Mannheim down the river Rhine to Amsterdam, Holland, then by ship across the Atlantic to New York, then by rail through Canada, then Detroit, Chicago and home. But it wasn’t as easy as telling.
The inspectors at Mannheim held our trunks. They insisted we must pay 15 marks on each trunk as inspection fees, but luckily our Swiss agent told me when he visaed our tickets that we might find crooks that would try that very thing at the Rhine. He assured me that everything was paid and billed through to Bern, Kansas, and for us not to give in to any request for additional pay. Uncle John and Fred Fankhauser wanted to pay the extra 15 marks because those two men said it would cost 100 marks to send the trunks on later if they wanted them. However, I held out and won out. These two men had our trunks in a little pen where we couldn’t get them. However, when we got to Amsterdam, our trunks were unloaded. How they got on the ship, I don’t know. Each trunk had a large red sticker on it marked “delayed in transit.”
We stayed in Amsterdam two days. A middle aged man with a hook nose and straggly black beard met us at the pier on the Rhine and offered to take us to a good hotel. About thirty people in all took the bait. We had dinner there and it was fine, so we engaged room and board for two days, paid in advance. But after that we got sliced bologna, black bread, one baked potato and dirty looking coffee. One night we went to the Circus Royal and saw a few good stunts. Several clowns were no doubt very funny but we couldn’t understand a word they said.
Going to Europe, we had a French ship and third class tickets. Coming home, we took the Holland line on second class tickets. However, the second class Holland wasn’t as good as the French third class. The steerage of this Holland ship was crowded with dirty looking Jews of several nationalities. A strong odor of onions and filth came up from their quarters. There was a sickness among them. One little girl of about 12 or 14 died when we were a few days out. Her father, not too clean looking a man, was frantic with grief when he learned that the little girl was buried at sea. He tried to jump overboard, but they caught him just in time. Then he started to tear his hair. They finally had to put him in chains (proof that outward appearances may be deceiving). I witnessed the funeral service at midnight. It was conducted by the officers of the ship. The casket was enclosed in canvas with heavy weights at one end. There was first a prayer and a paragraph or two read from the Bible. There was a ladder-like slide let down from the rear of the ship that reached the water. The coffin was carefully placed on this slide, then with bowed heads a few words were spoken in concert by the officers and the casket was released and slid quietly down into the waters below. I was acquainted with the ship’s doctor, a young man, and through him I was allowed to witness the rites. It is not customary for any of the passengers to witness these sea funerals.
A few days later we had a storm that lasted for three days. Our ship rolled until you couldn’t stand on deck. Dishes were broken, women screamed, and for awhile everything was chaos. High waves broke over the ship and water was sometimes six inches deep on deck. Yet I wasn’t frightened. I had my eye on a life preserver and I used to be a good swimmer. We were on the ocean fourteen days coming back, compared with just eight going over.
Back in New York again, where we could at least talk English and be understood, at Castle Garden our trunks were examined for dutiable goods. However, we passed without paying any duty. We now went shopping for some new clothes. None of us had an extra suit and those we had on were badly worn. After pricing suits at half a dozen different stores and finding the prices too high, we about gave up. Then we saw two men in front of a clothing store fighting. We wanted to see what it was all about. Here is what we heard. “My brudder and I quit partnership. He all time spent the money, drunk, and gamble. I sell everybody for half price.” Here, we thought, is the place to buy a suit of clothes. Sure enough, the same suit that the other stores had asked from 25 to 30 dollars for, he would sell for 14 dollars. Uncle John and I each bought a suit proper size and all. Mr. Jew was awfully nice, he even threw in a pair of suspenders, then asked us into the rest room till the suits were neatly folded and wrapped. All OK.
Next we went to the steamship office to get our railroad tickets OK’d. They told us we would go second class on an immigrant train to Chicago and might be on the way for four or five days. Four dollars extra on each ticket would give us first class passage. We paid the four dollars. When we got to Niagara Falls, we saw some people who had refused to pay extra, but they rode on the same train to Chicago that we did. While in Chicago, John and I thought we had better change clothes so as to present a respectable appearance when we got home. We stopped at a hotel for dinner. After dinner, I asked the clerk for a room to change clothes. Right next door, he said. That was satisfactory, but when I opened my bargain suit I found I didn’t have the suit that I had bought from that New York Jew, but a cheap thing. Instead of woven goods, it was shoddy pasted-on burlap. It would fall to pieces when it got wet and on top of this, a man came into the room and wanted to charge me a dollar for the use of the room. I had had about enough by that time. I said something to him that made him wince and before he recovered, I got out and lost him. John had the same luck as I did.
The next day, at about four o’clock PM, we got back to Bern (Kansas). Everybody was expecting us and we got a great reception. It was a noisy one and a hearty one. A long absence arouses feelings of friendship that one never before knew existed, but like all else it wears off with time. We were home again. It seemed as if we had been gone for a year. Back to the old job of selling hardware and matching wits with the traveling salesmen.
- Joe Steinauer must have traveled only part way; he is not mentioned again.
- A little math indicates the author's age was twenty-eight, not twenty-four.
- The author frequently referred to the German he knew as "the Swiss language".
- Lake Bieluce apparently is now called Lac L‚man or Lake Geneva.
- Pat (Minger) Vorenberg's genealogy research shows that the author's paternal grandmother was Johanna Gertsch of Lauterbrunnen, although Hazel (Minger) Driggs had guessed the name might have been Gelch.
- The Vierwaldst„tter See apparently is now called Lake Lucern.
donated by John Minger, grandson of the author.
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