Hotel Glacier’s History
Dating back to 1864, Hotel Glacier is one of the oldest hotels in the region. Back then, ice from the Unterergletscher (Lower Glacier) and Oberergletscher (Upper Glacier) was harvested for refrigeration purposes. The Unterergletscher reached far down the valley, just in front of the bridge below the hotel. Given our proximity to the glacier, it was only natural that the hotel was called “Hotel du Glacier”.
In the beginning
When the first men cut and transported ice blocks from the glacier, the road from Interlaken to Grindelwald ended right in front of the hotel, hence its name Endweg, which translates as “end of the road”. From here, teams transporting the massive ice blocks had to leave their horse carriages and make their way on foot or horseback to reach the glacier. The Unterergletscher was at its largest in 1855, extending 500m out of the gorge. It was the only alpine glacier that flowed below 1000m above sea level. In 1863, the Bernese company Schegg & Böhlen received the concession for commercial ice harvesting. The harvested ice blocks were transported on the new road from Grindelwald Grund to Interlaken and then by train as far away to Paris. In the local economy, the most important ice client was beer brewer Christian Indermühle, better know today as Rugenbräu.
The original constructor of the Hotel Glacier is not known anymore, but one of the first owners was Christian Burgener. He was also from 1864 to 1888 the mayor of Grindelwald and built in 1875 the Pension Burgener, today known as Hotel Spinne.
From a sheep barn to a hotel
Hotel Glacier and its barn were established in the mid 19th century to accommodate the first tourists to the region: the ice workers and their horses. Hotel and Restaurant Glacier was the first name recorded 1873 in the tax ledgers of the canton of Bern. However, the hotel appears in numerous paintings prior to 1873, showing bustling life and trade. Wendel Nachtigall was then the owner and hotelier.
By the late 19th century, the Unterergletscher and its spectacular columns of glacial ice (seracs) were a national tourist attraction and a major draw for travellers to Grindelwald. In 1857, the first mountain guides and tourists were already using the trail over the Unterergletscher to ascend to the summit of Mönch.
Late 1890s – Dreams of heights
A few years after the hotel was established, tourism became increasingly important in the Swiss Alps, and the dream was to have a train going right up to Jungfraujoch. This project was approved by Swiss authorities on December 21, 1894. Just two years later, in 1896, construction of the Jungfraubahn began. In 1905, the Jungfraubahn opened Eismeer station on the south-east face of Eiger, and intrepid skiers took the route over the glacier all the way back down to Grindelwald.
On 1st August 1912, the first train took around 50 passengers to 3454m Jungfraujoch. Celebrations took place as an engineer named Zscholle raised the Swiss flag on the plateau on Swiss National Day.
Before the 1890s, the Bally brothers bought the hotel and began significant construction work on it. This was the golden age of Hotel Glacier. In the village the new train station Grindelwald Dorf was opened by the Berner-Oberland-Bahn and the main thoroughfare became Dorfstrasse
Turn of the century – Tourism booms
In the early 20th century, alpine tourism had started to flourish and Hotel Glacier expanded to become a classic English grand hotel – similar to Hotel Regina today.
The glacier was easily accessible, and tourists could get to the lower reaches on foot across the ice or by horse-draw carriage. This gave the glacier the name “Gletscher der Damen und Stutzer”, or glacier of elegant ladies and gentlemen.
The tenant Samuel Elie Jaquiéry bought the Hotel du Glacier in 1903. The family-friendly hotel opened year-round, with modern facilities such as central heating, electric lights and bathtubs. The hotel also had its own outdoor ice rink in winter, as did many hotels in Grindelwald.
Another major tourist attraction arrived in the shape of the Wetterhorn-Aufzug in 1908, the first ever public cable car in Switzerland. The cable car was a great success, but only the first of four stations were completed and operations ceased with the outbreak of WWI. Tourism ended abruptly.
The glaciers thieves
Summer 1911 was unusually hot and even Grindelwald experienced a drought. Business proved exceptional for the ice trader Schild und Jossi that year, who transported 200 tonnes of ice down the valley. Restaurants and hotels needed the ice to chill food and beverages, as the electric refrigerator had yet to be invented. In newspapers that year, the first articles appeared about the glaciers melting, and Schild and Jossi were named “glacier thieves” and were said to be overexploiting the glacier. They defended themselves by stating that they only took ice that already broken off from the main glacier.
War and crisis – the end
The war raging all around Switzerland had a negative impact on all industries, but the hotel business was hit the hardest. Tourism virtually came to a standstill, and by 1917 food was being rationed. But even rationing could not prevent the food shortage. Consumer food prices doubled by the end of the war, and many hotels in Switzerland went bankrupt. The Swiss government did not just stand by and watch, and in 1915 introduced a building ban on hotels to prevent further competition. This federal law was active until 1952. In the years following WWI, the hotel economy sluggishly got back on its feet, only to feel setbacks again due to the Russian Revolution and the stock market crash in 1929. Once again tourists stopped coming. But worse was still to come with WWII just around the corner.
From 1922 to 1925, tenant Fritz Lehman ran Restaurant Glacier. In 1927, Samuel Elie Jaquiéry died. E. Bally-Lüthi from Interlaken, the wife of one of the Bally brothers, and her daughter, Marie Graf-Bally, inherited the hotel. Mother and daughter found tenants in the Inäbnit-Kaufmann family from 1927 to 1933. Marie Graf-Bally ran the hotel on her own from 1933. Facing the need for urgent building renovation and crushing mortgage debt during WWII, she went bankrupt.
In WWII many hotels were completely occupied by the Swiss army. Hotel Glacier provided lodging for soldiers.
On 23rd June 1943, the department of internal affairs of the canton of Bern declared Hotel Glacier bankrupt. The hotel was forced to sell all its furniture and valuables and was completely raised to the ground. The land was sold for CHF 3000 as construction land. Marie Graf-Bally was allowed to run the second building as a restaurant. She also offered sleeping quarters on the top floor, with 20 straw beds, which enabled her to make a small income and repay the remaining CHF 27,000 to the canton authorities. Her mother E. Bally-Lüthi died in 1944 at the age of 89 years. The foundations of this hotel form today’s car park and extended into the grounds of Chalet Prinzenhof.
The forties – Pension & Restaurant Glacier
Right from the outset the barn had rooms on the upper floor for servants and horsemen. In 1945, Adolf Kaufmann-Schindler, the former proprietor of Bergrestaurant Allfluh (1928-1945), acquired the Glacier guesthouse and restaurant. Back then the barn (now the wine cellar) was used as a “Schwingkeller” for practising Swiss wrestling. A larger room on the first floor was used as a gym for the nearby school during the week and as a music room at weekends. To make space, the pupils would arrange all the gym gear in another room and put chairs in the larger hall. Its stark white walls earned the building the nickname “the white chapel”.
Shortly after the purchase, Adolf Kaufmann-Schindler leased the restaurant to the Bannholzer family. Adolf Kaufmann-Schindler made multiple extensions to the building in 1961, 1968 and 1978. After his death, his wife Frida Kaufmann took over the business and later married Fritz Inäbnit. Their son, Ueli Kaufmann, worked in the restaurant, where he met his later wife Margrit. They took over the Glacier in 1976.
Until 1989 the hotel and restaurant had an east–west roof ridge line orientation, a terrace on the east side facing the Wetterhorn, and just a few rooms upstairs above the restaurant. In 1989, Ueli and Margrit Kaufmann undertook the next big renovation, the Glacier became once again a full service hotel with 3 stars and two new floors constructed on 17 pillars. With this addition, the building received its classical chalet look on the outside, a north–south roof ridge line orientation facing the Eiger, 19 rooms and a 220-seat restaurant on the first floor.
The Glacier became renowned nationwide for its folk music nights, with Ueli Kaufamnn (known at the Glacier as “Ueltsch”) playing in the group “Kapelle Wetterhorn”. Many music groups used the hotel to promote their CD launches, and national TV highlighted the venue and its music nights several times on the show Potzmusig.
Ueli and Margrit Kaufmann started to seek a successor for the Hotel & Restaurant Glacier in 2016, due to their age.
Hotel Glacier without its glacier
Since the mid 1930s there have been several significant waves of glacier retreat. The 1960s saw a brief spurt of glacier growth, but since 1998 the melting has reached an unprecedented level and speed. As the ice melts, the newly exposed rock has become very unstable. The Hörnli on the Eiger opposite the Bäregg was the site of a large landslide in 2006, when 2 million cubic meters of rock fell on the glacier, creating a 250,000 m³ lake. Since then, the glacier has retreated every summer.
In 2017 the new owners Justine and Jan Pyott start to shape the Hotel & Restaurant Glacier , with a unique vision to bring it into the 21st century.
The retreating glacier has shaped the whole concept of this latest renovation, and as many measures as possible were taken to be sustainable while still offering the highest comfort to guests.
In 2017, renovation work started on the south and west side of the building, where a new extension was added. The entrance was moved to the west side, with a new lounge and restaurant. The restaurant was moved down a level from its original location, and a spa, wine cellar, elevator and nine new rooms were added to the hotel.
With these all-important changes, Hotel Glacier became a 4-star boutique hotel offering 28 rooms decorated in modern design that pay homage to Grindelwald’s ice workers, history and tourism heritage.