The Sweet Smell of Success
pastry and politics have in common? Here in Gstaad, it’s Heinz Brand, the
baker who traded bread for bureaucracy when he retired from business
and ran for office. Recently Heinz Brand
sat down with GSTAADLIFE on the Hotel Bernerhof’s terrace to discuss his
remarkable life in and out of politics, and his current and future plans for
the betterment of the Saanenland.
GSTAADLIFE: As a young man, you left the Alps and lived
and worked along Lake Biel. What brought you back to the Saanenland?
Heinz Brand: I’ve always had a lust for adventure, so after
my schooling in Gstaad I took the first opportunity I could to attend business
school in La Neuveville. Same canton, sure, but different language, different
culture! After earning my business diploma I wanted to continue my studies and pursue
my dream of becoming a doctor or government official. But life doesn’t always turn out as planned. For family reasons, I came back to the
Saanenland and took over my parents’ business—the Brand Bakery.
GL: How did you make the unlikely transition
from successful bakery owner to politician?
HB: I took over the family business with one goal
in mind—to retire at 50 (he says with a smile).
It was a goal I set for myself, a personal compromise. I would run the bakery well and expand the business
to allow for retirement at a relatively young age—and I would then pursue my
earlier professional dreams. And through
hard work and determination, I made it happen. I wouldn’t give up on my dreams.
I’m a stubborn man, or so my wife says.
GL: Tell us about your current role and
position in the local government.
HB: I have held the position of Gemeinderat
(roughly the equivalent of Councilman) since 2007. My current role puts me in
charge of city planning and construction, which along with building
infrastructure also includes building consensus in the community.
GL: There are a lot of changes (and cranes!),
in the air for Saanen these days. What are biggest items on the town’s
HB: Saanen is evolving on a daily basis.
And as Gemeinderat, I’m very proud to be a part of that development. As you know, the Sanona project is designed
to ensure sustainable, vibrant town. The
top items on our to-do list are:
2. Renovating the Dorfrütti Zentralwäscherei (centralized
laundry center for hotels); and
the parking garage in Saanen, which will facilitate access to the town and
increase local business.
GL: Can you tell us more about the proposed
zoning changes in Gstaad and Saanen? Is this good or bad news for local
HB: We recognized the need for special industrial/production
zones in the two towns some time ago, and have worked tirelessly to find
available land. Getting the business community on board was also an important
step, as it requires relocation on their part. New zones “Tomi” (Gstaad) and “Dorfrütti”(Saanen)
will accommodate industry, so that the historic villages can be preserved in their
entirety for both residents and tourists. In other words, plenty of space for industry
to grow—with no more eye-sores.
GL: Two big construction items are the Le Rosey
project in Schönried and the Gstaad Sportzentrum. What is their current status?
Rosey was finally approved a few months ago. The next step is waiting for a
construction permit from the Canton of Bern (see a detailed summary of the
approval in GSTAADLIFE's June 21 print edition).
Sportzentrum is planning the renovation of the main building to include
first-class equipment and bright fitness rooms. The locker areas and walkways will be modernized
as well. Much of the facility hasn’t been changed in more than forty years—including
the pool. It’s time to renovate completely and even construct part of it
outdoors. The community also plans to
build two chalets on the Sportzentrum’s property, where we can house sports
teams recruited to stay and train in Gstaad.
GL: Do you have any personal ideas for making
Saanen a more attractive place to live that you can share?
HB: I would like to see more people in the village
itself, at all hours. By encouraging outdoor socializing, we could make this a
reality. Imagine if all the bars,
restaurants, bakeries, cafés and hotels had terraces—people could sit out and
enjoy the warm summer and clear autumn seasons here, while local businesses
profited as well.
idea is to bring back vital small shops onto Saanen’s main street. Demand is
high enough that a butcher, for example, could make a good living there. The trick is finding someone respected
locally, who would not only open a new business, but would contribute to the
social fabric of the village.
GL: There has been a lot of discussion lately
concerning the Secondary Home Initiative and its possible effects on the region.
Anything to add that hasn’t already been said?
HB: What’s done is done; the Federal
Court has made a decision and we must respect that, however unwillingly. While there are some merits to the Secondary
Home Initiative, here in Saanen we had developed and already implemented a
wiser plan for reducing the number of so-called “cold beds.” Rather than limiting the total percentage of
secondary homes, it limited percentages in all new construction to 70% for
local residents and 30% for secondary residents. Buildings had be a mix of
residence types, allowing for locals to benefit from reduced housing cost as
well (which is associated with this type of classification).
GL: Besides having your roots here, what do you
like best about the Saanenland and what has kept you here even after
HB: I love the Saanenland for both the kindness of
its people and the beautiful natural surroundings—it’s my home. However, now that I’m “mostly” retired, my
wife and I can indulge our love of travel. Last year we visited Egypt,
Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, and we’re already planning our next adventure to somewhere
equally as exotic.
GL: As a well-liked and respected politician
who’s considered an asset to the local government, is there any truth to the
rumour that you may run for higher office?
HB: I’m more than happy with my current role. In
fact, there’s so much more I’d like to do for development in the Saanenland that
I couldn’t leave my Gemeinderat position just yet. My boss, Aldo Kropf, does an excellent job as
Gemeindepräsident, and I’ve been fortunate to learn a lot under his tutelage.
But never say never….