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Distant memories of schooling in Gstaad

20060815gunter_skatingskiing_in_1938This June my wife and I spent some time in Gstaad for the express purpose of giving me the opportunity of recapturing the wonderful memories which the two years (1938-40) of schooling at the Chalet Flora had implanted in my mind.  Although the time I spent in Gstaad represents only a small segment of the 77 years of my existence, it played a major role in shaping my outlook on life. This can best be understood in the context of the turbulent events which were shaking Europe at that time.

My family, which had resided in Germany since the early Middle Ages (tracing their history back to the Rhineland city of Speyer, then known by the Latin name of Spira), were the victims of the religious persecution which precluded my further schooling in my home town of Berlin. It was my great fortune that my parents were able to send me to Gstaad to pursue my studies in the boarding school of Chalet Flora. At that time Gstaad was a small laid back village known primarily for its excellent international schools; its world fame as a tourist haven was to come only in the distant future. However its immutable natural beauty and calm in a chaotic world was apparent even to a ten year old boy.

There are many things which I remember from these childhood years at the Chalet Flora and I will recite only a few. Most importantly I began to love school and this fondness for books and study set me on a course which ultimately led me to become a physician and a professor at the Harvard Medical School in Boston. The gentle and caring methods of imparting knowledge practiced at the Chalet Flora were a world away from the frightening experience of attending school in the Third Reich. My favorite subject was classical mythology which was taught by a beautiful young blond lady who must have been my first “love”.  In any case I won as a prize in this subject a book (Contes et Légendes de Suisse) which I have kept in a place of honor in my library to this day. Frau Flora Würsten (Tante Flora) insisted that all students speak French and with the amazing ability of a child I mastered this beautiful language in a couple of months; the communality of language made possible easy discourse among the students who came from many countries of Europe. The school (now a private home), located between two rushing mountain streams (which after merging flow into the Saane river), provided fun for us in crossing from bank to bank by jumping on the exposed rocks; in the summer a swimming pool was filled by one of the brooks but not surprisingly this glacial water provided a chilly experience.  Each child was assigned his/her own little garden and I remember walking to Saanen to purchase flowering plants. The school provided a magnificent view of the Wildhorn and I remember one summer hiking to the snowline and having a snowball fight. On other hikes we collected mushrooms under the supervision of teachers. We were treated to bus trips to a chocolate factory near Gruyère, to the Castle of Chillon on Lake Léman and to Interlaken to view Schiller’s William Tell play. On one memorable occasion we were taken to the Palace Hotel where I saw my first movie, namely the Walt Disney Picture “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”. 

200608151938_gunter_broken_legOf course winter was the most exciting; I learned to ski (there were no ski lifts in Gstaad at that time) and promptly broke my leg. Skating was carried on in the center of the village on a modest flooded tennis court and this was usually followed by a treat of coconut cookies at the bakery next to the rink. We ate our meals at a long table presided by the kindly Herr Würsten, who was the superintendent of the Saanen school system and I remember that such delicacies as brook trout were occasionally on the menu.

Since my parents were not allowed to leave Germany to visit me (an irony in view of the fact that a few years later members of my small family were forced to leave Germany on trains destined for the extermination camps), Herr and Frau Würsten served in loco parentis and they did a most wonderful job; Tante Flora took me into her own apartment (with a balcony overlooking the Wildhorn) after I broke my leg and Herr Würsten wrote kind notes to my worried parents in Berlin. In 1940 a Zurich businessman accompanied me through war time France to London where I joined my parents who had escaped Nazi Germany and had procured the valuable US visa. With the last passenger ship to cross the Atlantic we came to America under the protection of a convoy. Although I had left Europe for good, the memories of Gstaad and its kind people have remained with me.

By Robert Spiro

Top photo: 1938 - Günter skating and skiing.  Skating on the rink in Gstaad village and preparing to ski at Chalet Flora.

Middle photo: 1938 – Günter recovering from broken leg on the balcony of Chalet Flora

Below photo: 2006 – Robert Gunter visiting Gstaad sixty six years after attending school at Chalet Flora (since English speakers can not pronounce the umlaut in “Günter” the name “Robert” was added).

200608152006robert_gunter_in_gstaad

What do you think? What do you think? (Comments 20)

Comments

Camilla Ryall

I too went to this school, but have only horrid memories of it. Would love to contact Dr. Spiro? My e-mail is bolitho2@yahoo.com.

lydia soifer

I attended Chalet Flora from 1947 to 1950 and it was not only a wonderful experience but those three years have sustained me throughout my life. I keep detailed memories and, of course, pedagogically they did eveything right.

I can be contacted at Lsof643@cs.com

Diane Sundin

I was at Chalet Flora from the age of 5 till 9 (1953 to 1957). My sister came before me and was at Chalet Flora from 1950 to 1954. So we spent many years there. Then some Christmas holidays later on. Would love coming in contact with some others who also went to Chalet Flora.

I can be contacted at dianepral@hotmail.com

Race

Wow.I went to the Kennedy School 82-84 in Saanen. I was 12-14 years old. I returned to Saanen last winter for the first time. That place ROCKED MY WORLD.

love to chat realrace@hotmail.com California

Lionel

I attended Chalet Flora 1961-1963 (aged 6-8), it was wonderful, magical, I remember it fondly, does that "home d'enfants" still exist? I'd like to contact former pupils who were there at the same time...
Lionel (Paris)

Lionel

Contact me lioneldemun4@hotmail.com
Lionel (Paris)

Lionel

I attended Chalet Flora 1961-63 (aged 6-8), it was wonderful, even magical!

Evelyn (Chicago)

I was there from 42-45, A Jewish refugee from the Netherlands. I would love to find the school today. I am in Gstaad today with my Grandson, and would love to show him the beauty that I remember. If any one knows the location, please contact me at em3634@hotmail.com . Thanks!

charlotte aiken callans

My sister Debbie and I attended Chalet Flora 1959-1960.
I have great memories of a wonderful experience. I would love to hear from anyone who was there then. Please contact me at
charcallans@mac.com

Flor Georges Picot

Hello Old Chalet Florians:
I have fabulous memories of Chalet Flora and it's teachers, Mlle Tschopp, Mlle Coindet, Mr Becker, Mlle Schwab and of course our dear Tante Flora and Herr Wursten...who all sprinkled me with some of their wisdom. I have a fantastic health, have always re-cycled and have become a landscape designer...partly due to Tante Flora and our magical surroundings...They knew how to "Grow" good people!...My email is: flordejardin.sevilla@gmail.com

Nemo James

I worked in Gstaad at the Palace Hotel Greengo with the Rentao Sambo Orchestra in the early seventies. Coming from a working class background in London I just couldn't believe what a wondeful place it was and I can honestly say it changed my life forever. I have recently had an autobiography published and a large part of it is about Gstaad so I am sure anyone following this post would enjoy it. It can be found at my website at www.nemojames.com

Gay  Gillman

Does anyone remember a school called Tournesol? My sisters and I spent summers there in the 1960s.

Michael Peters

@ Gay Gillman:
I attended Tournesol in 1967-1968.
Would enjoy sharing information with you. My email is mpeters@mpetersco.com.
Best regards,
Michael

Susanne Lamb (nee Scott)

Hi Gay!

I remember you from the summer of 1964. I worked at Tournesol for 6 weeks in July/August with my friend Diane.It was the first time I had been away from England and was a tremendous adventure for me. I hope you and your sisters are well. Regards
Susanne

Mary Janss

My name is Mary Janss. At age 9, I attended school at Chalet Flora from 1957 through 1958. My big sister Suzy, and my little brother Billy also attended school there. I still have all my school books..."Mon Premier Livre", Dictee, Copie 1 et 2, Grammaire, Arithmetic, Brouillon (filled with letters to my parents in both English and French), Chansons de Noel, Writing Patterns, English, and even my piano lessons books. I remember teachers: Mlle Tschopp, Mr Becker, Mlle Schwab and of course, Tante Flora and Herr Wursten. My sister and brother were not very happy there, but I loved being in the Swiss Alps, especially Gstaad. I was happy to be learning French and knitting and skiing, and making new friends from all over the world. I still remember how happy I was when Springtime arrived and we danced around the May Pole. I live in the high mountains in Colorado now, which always remind me of beautiful Switzerland. Please feel free to contact me at maryjanss@comcast.net

Dan Devecseri

I attended Chalet Flora from 1945 to 1948 (age 8-11), a most welcome change for the better after Bergen-Belzen. I have some photos of that happy period (Tante Flora, the facade of the chalet, group pictures of children on an outing to Lac Leman).
I understand from Prof Spiro's notes that the chalet is a private residence now. Can somebody provide a map how to locate it? I shall be in Gstaad next Friday to Sunday (12 to 14 July 2013) and would like to revisit.
I live in Israel and would be pleased to be in touch with Chalet Flora "graduates".
email devecseridan@yahoo.fr

Nick Bikkal

Hello to all ex Tournesol students.

Give a cheer
Give a cheer
To the men that drink the beer
From the cellars of ol' Tournesol
....

I was there from 65-67 with Mrs. Trench, Madame Doris, Monsieur Armin, Ms. Coindet and others. I was one of 2 in our 7th & 8th grade. Michael Thomson(?) was the other. He and I were also in Genoa, Italy the 3 years before. It was because of him I ended up in Tournesol, too.

Would love to hear of others and Tournesol.

Scott Vincent-Barwood

Hi there fellow Tournesole Echole Alum!
I attended in 1964/65 attending 9th grade. It was a turbulent but formative year to be sure! I still have many fond memories. I went there from Sierra Leone West Africa with two other expats from there, Andy and Larry Gilbert. One other name I remember was Doug Tonn. And pinecone wars during our walks!
My email: Spear_Fish1@hotmail.com I'd love to hear from other "graduates".

David Lowe

I attended Tournesol from 61-63. My parents were in Liberia with Lamco at the time. Great memories, not to mention view. Mrs. Trench holds a special place in my heart. Contact me: artmetal@aol.com

Karen Anderson

I too attended Chalet Flora from 1049 to 1950 and would love to reconnect with two special friends from that magical time:
Lillian Mousney, Sabine Lutz and Lydia Seifer. Memories of that time and the people at Chalet Flora are among my favorite memories. I recall with fondness Tante Flora, who always encouraged me to speak French, Herr Wursten, Mlle. Tschopp., Mlle. Coindet, Mlle. Bartollet, Mlle. Schwab and Herr Mann. Memories of mountain hikes, skiing on nearby mountains on the single seat chairlift, playing tennis, swimming in the pool in the woods and skating on the town rink will be with me forever. Also remember two Hungarian boys named Andrach and Petie. How I would love to hear from anyone who was at that lovely school from 1949 to 1950!

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