Overnighting like in Gotthelf's time!

by Andreas Lüthi, Der Bund newspaper, July 26th, 2005

Farmhouses in Trub, Schangnau and Landiswil offer "overnighting like it was in the time of Gotthelf [ed.: a famous Emmental writer, 1797 – 1854]".

Linen sheets, candles and out-houses: With "old-fashioned overnighting" it should be possible to relive the past in as real a fashion as possible.  The new Emmental tourism offering provides insights into today's farming reality that are just as real, however.

When Elisabeth Fankhauser shows the visitor the outhouse, she begins to smile.  "I assume you don't want to go looking for "miesche" moss, says the farm woman in her broad Oberemmental dialect.  That is why she has gotten several rolls of modern toilette paper ready.  Otherwise, according to the Trub farmer's wife, everything is set up like it was way back then: With reed-grass-filled mattresses, bed sheets made of linen, oil lamps, candles, and furniture from the 19th century.  The building – the first valley cheese-making shop [Käserei] built in 1829 – was inhabited up to three years ago, says Fankhauser.  For now the electrical sockets on the walls have not been removed.  "We must first see how it all goes".

Tight criteria

"Overnighting like in Gotthelf's time" stands on a small signpost that points towards the farm of the Fankhauser family.  Just like many other Emmental farming families, the Fankhausers received a letter last winter from Pro Emmental.  The tourist organization asked whether the family would like to offer "overnighting like in the time of the Lützelflüh poet Jeremias Gotthelf" as a side income.  Following the Gotthelf year and the TV soap opera "Living Like in Gotthelf's Time" [that was filmed] in Sahlenweidli above Röthenbach, Ruth Zemp from Pro Emmental said there were many requests for such an offering.

Three farm families are taking part - in the fall a fourth will join them.  "More applied," says tourist person Zemp, "but the selection criteria were rather tight."  A criterion catalog should guarantee that bedding, and the included farm breakfast, are provided "in the most authentic way".  In addition, the hosts have acquired basic knowledge in a course for the feeding and hosting of guests.  Finally, the connection to Gotthelf is also assured: in a course in the Gotthelf center of Lützelflüh the host people have learned the main dates in the life of Gotthelf, says Zemp.  Moreover, in every lodging a least 10 Gotthelf works must be present.

Imposing estates

Anyone wishing to go the farm of Family Fankhauser turns left in Trubschachen, goes past Trub into the Fankhaus hollow, passes through the Fankhaus village and comes to Höchhaus where the above-mentioned signpost stands.   Along the way impressive farm estates line the street.  The Family Fankhauser farm is one of them: besides the Käserei, to the farm property belong a corncrib [Spiecher], a garage, a chicken coop as well as a large, newly built shed in which tractors and machines stand in a row.  They look after 72 acres of land and care for 30 animals.

"Should I get involved?"

Someone standing in front of the farm on a Saturday evening will hear work noises, will see a man hurrying around, will see young women carrying buckets through the cowshed door and begins to ask anxiously "shouldn't I also get involved?"  He is greatly relieved by Elisabeth Fankhauser's hospitable greeting.  Her husband Hansulrich is introduced, the two daughters in their overalls join in.  Both have vacation.  One is taking the 10th school year [between primary school and beginning an apprenticeship] and the other is in the farming-oriented household economy school year.  The absent son is studying farming.  With the car one goes over a bumpy driveway to a shed outside where the cattle wait to be let out to pasture.  Here one learns a lot about milkcows, young female cows [Gusti] and calves, can be surprised by milking machines, and learns how one becomes a farmer while one is constantly attempting not to stand in the way of the young women who are milking, scrubbing the cowshed floor and spreading new straw around it.

Not used to tourists

For her new hospitality responsibilities she obtained an agreement from the family, says Elisabeth Fankhauser.  The son teased her a little: "Now mother can earn money in her sleep."  What the neighbors think about their new side activity she doesn't know.  The region is not used to tourists - there are only a few offerings.  It is also not easy to create something new.  The Mettlenalp restaurant at the end of the valley wanted to create overnighting opportunities in a corncrib that was not being used otherwise.  The Old Building Preservation Commission [Denkmalschutz] issued a veto against the alterations that would have been required. 

48 francs per night and nose is what an overnight with the Fankhausers costs; for children it is 25.  The price was discussed among those who are making this offering.  It is at the upper limit, says Fankhauser.

Reminders of a ski-hut.

If desired, Elisabeth Fankhauser will prepare a supper.  The guests can also eat at the Löwen or Sternen Hotels in Trub or at the Mettlenalp.  He or she who returns to the bedding is glad when he or she still knows where the matches lie.  While lighting the oil lamp childhood  memories of ski-huts zap through the head; while washing with the storm lantern in the cold trough, one briefly misses the bathroom.  Gotthelf slept comfortably is what one realizes after the night; he was short, though: the bed frame is very short.

In the morning an extended farm breakfast with pan-fried potatoes [Rösti] is served in the farmhouse.  Do the guests ask about Gotthelf?  Seldom, says Elisabeth Fankhauser.  In the Fankhaus hollow they are mainly interested in nature, in the peace and quiet, and in the possibility of hiking up the Napf [mountain] the next day. She has to admit she has limited experience.  Since the beginning two months ago a total of 6 guests have been served.  For autumn one reservation has come in.

In Sahlenweidli there is electricity again

"Gotthelf does not stand in the center," also says Rosmarie Stettler, who offers overnights in "Kemmerli" in Schangnau.  With joy she remembers a small boy that tried to milk a goat.  Up till now she has had guest five times, couples as well as families.  There are five reservations.  Pictures of her pastoral corncrib appeared in the Swiss Illustrated magazine.  The third offering in Landiswil has never been booked; there is one reservation.

A huge success is still the Sahlenweidli.  One has had 40 bookings of up to 8 persons since autumn, says Hans Schenk; it is fully occupied up till November.  One still washes in the trough and cooks in the smoke kitchen.  One change has taken place in the house, though.  "We brought electricity in again."

Overnighting like in Gotthelf's times: Reservations and information in the Burgdorf tourist office. 
Tel: +41 34 424 50 65