A Return To Kandersteg

A Return To Kandersteg

I was thinking of taking a winter holiday and in your brochure I noticed you had just what I wanted. A holiday in Kandersteg in Jan 2013.

In 1961, with a friend, I had taken a climbing course in Kandersteg. This was organised by the British Mountaineering Association and run by a local guide, Otto Stoller. This was based at his mountain hotel Schwarenbach on the Gemmi Pass.

I had taken a number of photographs whilst on the course including a shot of Otto with his wife and daughter, Katarina, who was about four, sitting on Otto’s shoulders, outside their hotel.

In the Ramblers Holiday walking notes I was pleased to read that one of the day walks was to the Gemmi Pass, stopping for refreshment at Schwarenbach Hotel. This set me wondering. Would Otto, if he was still alive, have any connection with the hotel? When I stayed there I didn’t know if he owned Schwarenbach or leased it.

Having booked the holiday for Jan 2013, I set about finding the photographs I had taken on the climbing course in 1961. When I found the ones of Otto and his family I noticed I had four prints. Obviously I intended sending them to Otto and failed to do so. Here was an opportunity to deliver them in person.

Having settled in at our hotel in Kandersteg and ascertained the owners were locals, I showed them the photos of Otto with his family and asked if they knew who they were. Of course they did and as they knew the family well, they were highly delighted and asked me if they could photocopy the print.

Sadly they told me Otto had died some years ago but his wife Dorly and daughter were still alive and living in a village not that far away. Ottto’s son Peter was now running the family business at Schwarenbach.

On the day we were to have lunch at Schwarenbach I made sure I had the photographs with me. We walked to the head of the valley where we took the cable car up into the mountains. Conditions were perfect. Clear blue skies with crunchy snow underfoot. Upon arrival at the hotel there were a few people milling around drinking coffee and soaking up the sun. One guy looked as if he might be in charge, so with photos in hand I walked over to him and asked if he was Peter Stoller. He was. As I passed him the photographs I watched for his reaction. He was absolutely stunned and delighted. It was one of those special moments, both for him and myself. He excused himself and quickly went into the hotel and came out with a young woman whom he introduced as his niece. She was just as pleased to see the photo as Peter was, especially as the four year old sitting on Otto’s shoulder’s was her mother!

Our group all went into the hotel for lunch. Not surprisingly, there had been quite a few changes since I was there in 1961. Back then it was what you might call a little rustic. Now it had been modernised yet still keeping its mountain chalet charm. When I had finished eating Peter came over for a chat. I mentioned that when I stayed at Schwarenbach I thought there might also have been a baby Stoller. He asked which month I had stayed and I replied August 1961. He replied ‘yes there was a baby, me’.

Back at our Kandersteg hotel, over dinner, a lady in our group said to me ‘You really enjoyed yourself today David’ and then added ‘so did the Stollers’. It was also tinged with a little sadness that Otto wasn’t there.