Hotel Glacier’s History
The Hotel Glacier dates back to 1864 and is one of the oldest Hotels in the region. In this time period the ice of 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. Being located so close to the glacier, it was only natural that the hotel was called “Hotel du Glacier”.
When the first men were cutting and transporting ice blocks from the glacier, the road from Interlaken to Grindelwald originally ended right at the hotel, so it’s no wonder that the address is Endweg, meaning “end of the road”. From here, the teams transporting the massive ice blocks had to leave their horse carriages and make their way by foot or on a single horse to make it to the glacier. The Unterergletscher had its maximum point in 1855, reaching 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, today better know 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 to1888 the mayor of Grindelwald and built in 1875 the Pension Burgener, today know as Hotel Spinne.
From a sheep barn to a hotel
The Hotel Glacier and its barn were established in the mid 19th century to host the first tourists to the region, ice workers, and their horses. Hotel and Restaurant Glacier was the first name recorded 1873 in the tax ledgers of the Kanton Bern. However, the hotel appears in numerous paintings prior to 1873, showing a very busy life and trade. In this time Wendel Nachtigall is the owner and hotelier in the original building with four roof ridges.
By the end of the 19th century the Unterergletscher and its spectacular ice towers (Séracs) were a national tourist attraction and the main reason why tourists travelled to Grindelwald. In 1857, the first mountain guides and tourists were already using the path over the Unterergletscher to climb to the top of the Mönch.
End of 1890s – Dreams of heights
A few years after the hotel was established, tourism started to become more important in society, along with visitors’ dream of having a train that went to the top of the Jungfraujoch. This project was approved by the 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 back side of the Eiger, and the most adventurous skiers took the route over the glacier all the way down back to Grindelwald.
On August 1, 1912, the first train, carrying about 50 passengers, reached the Jungfraujoch, 3 454 metres high. A big celebration took place as an engineer by the name of Zscholle raised the Swiss flag on the plateau on Swiss National Day.
This period just before 1890 is also important for the Hotel Glacier, when the Bally brothers bought the hotel and began with substantial constructions. This was the golden age of the Hotel Glacier. In the village the new train station Grindelwald Dorf is opened by the Berner-Oberland-Bahn and the main thoroughfare becomes the Dorfstrasse
Turn of the century – Boom of Tourism
In the early 20th century, Alpine tourism had started to flourish, and Hotel Glacier was expanded to become a classic English palace hotel – similar to the Hotel Regina today.
The glacier was very easily accessible, and tourists reached the lower parts by horse carriages or they could walk from the hotel directly on the ice. This also gave the glacier the name “Gletscher der Damen und Stutzer” – glacier of the ladies and elegant men.
The tenant Samuel Elie Jaquiéry buys the Hotel du Glacier in 1903. The hotel is open all year long as a family hotel featuring its amenities as modern comfort, central heating, electric lights and bath tubs! The hotel also had its own outdoor ice rink in winter as did many hotels in Grindelwald.
Another major tourist attraction arrived with the Wetterhorn-Aufzug in 1908, the very first cable car for public transport in Switzerland. The cable car was a great success, but only the first of four stations were realised and operations ceased with the outbreak of the first world war. Tourism ended abruptly.
The glaciers thieves
Summer 1911 was an unusually hot summer, and even Grindelwald experienced a drought. The ice harvester Schild und Jossi had exceptional business that year and transported 200 tonnes of ice down the valley. Restaurants and hotels needed the ice to cool their food and beverages, since the electric refrigerator was not yet invented. In the newspapers of 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 with a statement that they only took ice that already broken off from the main glacier.
War and crisis – the end
The raging war all around Switzerland had negative effects on all industries, but the hotel business was hit the hardest. Almost no tourist visited any hotel in the area, 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 watch as a bystander, and in 1915 issued a construction prohibition for hotels to prevent further competition. This federal law was in place until 1952. In the years after the First World War, 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. Again, tourists did not come to visit. Even worse, the Second World War was just around the corner.
From 1922 to 1925 the Restaurant Glacier was run by Fritz Lehman as a tenant. 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 the new tenant in the family Inäbnit-Kaufmann from 1927 to 1933. From 1933 Marie Graf-Bally ran the hotel on her own. Facing the need for urgent building renovation and crushing mortgage debt during the Second World War, she went bankrupt.
In the Second World War time many hotels were completely occupied by the Swiss army. The Hotel Glacier was only lodging soldiers.
On June 23rd, 1943 the department of internal affairs of the Canton Bern decided that the Hotel Glacier was bankrupt. The hotel was forced to sell all its furniture, valuables and had to be torn down completely. The land was sold for 3000.- Swiss Francs as new 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, to ensure that she was able to provide for her own life and repay the remaining 27’000.- swiss francs to the Canton Bern. Her mother E. Bally-Lüthi died in 1944 at the age of 89 years. The original footprint of this hotel is on today’s parking lot and reached into the area of Chalet Prinzenhof.
The forties – Pension & Restaurant Glacier
From the beginning, the barn building had rooms on the upper floor for the servants and horsemen. In 1945, Adolf Kaufmann-Schindler, the former proprietor of the Bergrestaurant Allfluh from 1928-1945, acquired the restaurant and pension Glacier. Once again the Glacier took in guests. The restaurant opened again as well. At this time, the barn (now the wine cellar) was used as a “Schwingkeller” – Swiss wrestling gym. On the first floor a larger room was used as the gym during the week by the nearby school and on weekends as a music room. 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 a nickname of the “white chapel”.
Shortly after the purchase Adolf Kaufmann-Schindler leased the Restaurant to the family Bannholzer. Adolf Kaufmann-Schindler made several extensions to the West and South of the building in the years 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 line orientation, a terrace on the East side facing the Wetterhorn and very 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 2 new floors contructed on 17 pillars. With this addition, the building received its classical chalet look on the outside, a North–South roofline orientation facing the Eiger, 19 rooms and a 220-seat restaurant on the first floor.
Glacier saw a new high time with nationwide recognition for the folkloric “Musig Abende” music nights, where Ueli Kaufamnn known as Glacier “Ueltsch” played in the folkloric group “Kapelle Wetterhorn”. Many musical 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 short time of glacier growth, but since 1998 the melting has reached a dramatic level and pace. With the missing ice, the newly exposed rock has become very unstable. The Hörnli on the Eiger opposite the Bäregg was the site of a large rock fall 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 ready for 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 highest comfort to the guests.
In 2017, renovation work started on the South and West sides of the building, where a new extension was added. The entrance was moved to West with a new lounge and restaurant. The restaurant was moved one level down from its original location, and a spa, wine cellar, elevator and nine new rooms are added to the hotel.
With these changes, the Hotel Glacier became a 4-star boutique hotel offering 28 rooms of modern design making an homage to the ice workers, the history and tourists of the Unterergletscher of Grindelwald.