My parents, Silvia and Ernst Scherz-Bezzola, had been the directors of the Gstaad Palace for about a year. My mother always gave birth to her children a little too early, so this time they left timely for Bern. Father thought that there would be enough time for a short detour to a meeting in Interlaken. When he came out of the meeting, he learned that Ernstli had been born at the hospital in Unterseen. It was 5 July 1939. This being just before the Second World War, I have always prided myself on being a good, solid pre-war product.
My parents had hard times back then. Father often was on active service on the Simplon, where the army waited in vain for the Italians; mother did everything on her own with very few employees. She had a chicken farm, a huge vegetable garden and took care of everything in the hotel. My sister Brigit was born two years before me. We lived in the old Bärglimatt farmhouse right next to the hotel. It was not luxurious, but very cosy. Three years later, my brother Reto Scherz was born. At the end of the war, our baby Anne-Marie was born in April 1945 – this time in Bern.
Despite all the wartime disadvantages, our youth in Gstaad was beautiful. We had to darken the curtains at night, the potato bread sometimes pulled strings, a lot of food was rationed, but we never suffered from hunger. There was only a little too much rhubarb. In the summer, we spent long days at the big swimming pool; in the winter, we waxed our barrel staves more than we skied them and made our first ski trips on the Burrihögerli.
Apart from school, there were excursions with the scouts, and we went on mountain hikes with the whole family. After all, Dad was in the mountain infantry and knew how to do such things. When at home, he played the harmonica for us after dinner, and we often played cards at the family table, where Milly was always the best.
Secondary school was in Ebnit, a massive, old wooden building. I’ll never forget the sound of a hundred pupils rumbling down the wooden stairs at the beginning of each break. I had a bicycle for the summer, but in winter, I went either on foot, by ski or on a Schneegibe. Two kilometres four times a day made for a healthy way to school.
At that time, Louis Johannot was director of Le Rosey as well as president of the Palace board of directors. Dad always knew how to take advantage of good relations, and so he also managed to accommodate me at the Rosey – probably on reasonable terms. Le Rosey was a wholly new world, where I built many friendships for life. It was a wonderful time.
My parents didn’t want to push me into the hotel business, but I realised that I wasn’t cut out for a 9-to-5 job. So, I went to the hotel management school in Lausanne. There were simply three courses: kitchen, service and administration, plus the corresponding trainings. I worked at the Palace in Lucerne, the famous Hotel Hassler in Rome, the Savoy Hotel in London, the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo, and the central administration of the Hotel Mövenpick companies in Zurich before I moved on to the Cornell University in New York. It was an exciting time with a fabulous ending: I crossed the whole of America with a friend in a borrowed car. At that time, America was still beautiful and good.
I had met Aga Khan during my time at Le Rosey. With some wealthy friends, he acquired an extensive coastline on the island of Sardinia to establish a holiday region, the Costa Smeralda. In 1966, I got the offer to help revitalise and promote the area. Unfortunately, when I had the first colour brochures printed in Switzerland, they were not allowed into Sardinia because they were missing an EPP number for the customs! So we simply made parachutes and dropped them from Aga Khan’s plane. Shiwa and I got married there and lived in Porto Cervo. We had a wonderful time, and our love for Sardinia has never faded.
In 1968, the ominous call came from my father: “Ernst, I’m tired, you have to come home.” So we moved to Gstaad, where the parents handed over responsibility for the Palace to us in no time at all. The parents had achieved the impossible by then; the Palace was alive and making steady progress. But the looming tasks were still immense.
We scrounged up loans wherever we could and finally built the indoor swimming pool and the GreenGo nightclub, which later became very popular. We worked at the very limit of our financial possibilities. One day the phone was no longer working because we hadn’t been able to pay the bills. But there were also pleasant things: I experienced beautiful times with my wife. In 1969 our son Andrea was born, and three years later Thierry followed.
At that time, I spent a large part of my working time for The Leading Hotels of the World. For 17 years, I presided over the organisation, whose aim was to create a competitive platform for all the many beautiful independent hotels worldwide against the new international hotel chains. With the help of many friends, I succeeded in creating a worldwide association of about 400 hotels and took away many learnings, friendships and business relations in the process.
Rumours kept circulating in Gstaad that the Palace was for sale. One day, a wealthy chalet owner came to me and said: “Ernst, there are some ladies here, we want to talk to you.” – “Yeah, sure, what is it about?” Eight ladies were sitting around the table, the wives of chalet owners. “Ernst, we know the Palace is not doing well. How much do you need?” I replied, “It’s fine for now, thanks.” – “Well, you know, we would get the money from our husbands somehow. We don’t want anything to happen to the Palace.” Even though this didn’t help at the time, it was comforting.
Our second residence project was crucial to change the situation. Within three years, we planned, built and successfully sold the Résidence Palace. This brought in more guests and flushed capital into our coffers. It enabled us to reorganise our finances and do some more renovations.
Over the years, Shiwa had increasingly become the grey eminence of the Palace. Without much prior knowledge, but with a great deal of empathy and intelligence, she was very popular with our guests and staff. Even during the long period of her cancer, she often looked after people who needed help from her sickbed. In 1992 she lost her fight against the evil disease. That was the worst thing that happened to me in my life. In the wake of this, I committed the biggest foolishness of my life: my second marriage. But besides all the unpleasantness, something beautiful also came out of it, my third son Christopher.
We constantly worked to improve the hotel, and from 2000 onwards, son Andrea successively took over the responsibility for the management, which he does with talent, intelligence and prudence. It’s nice for a father to see his business move forward a generation thanks to his son.
Since my divorce, I have lived with Yana, a wonderful and good woman. She has sacrificed her best years for me and gave me more love than I could have imagined. These last years were full of joy and lightness. Only the passing of my son Thierry was a hard blow. But as so often, time slowly healed this wound, too, and the grandchildren helped.
I can look back on an exciting and beautiful life. I am very grateful for the many wonderful and loving people who have accompanied me.
ERNST A. SCHERZ