At the Fringe: Stories from Davos (7) – Living Here: A Family Hotel’s Struggle

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“Do you live here?” She answers the question by turning around and walking away, but just before entering a yellow stone house she waves her hand as an invitation. As I walk into the hallway of the Hotel Frieden in Davos, she is already halfway up a staircase, but now there is no invitation to follow, so I stay put. A few moments later much quicker steps are heard. A man appears. When he sees an unexpected guest in the hallway, he hesitates.

“Now it’s just me and my mother”, he says, half an hour later, pointing at the ceiling. ”But I am the fourth generation to run this hostel”. Marc has told me about the importance of offering free towels to the guests, his experiences from three years of work in Zurich and of the mountain where he broke his arm in a skiing accident, two years in a row. He eagerly tells this brief summary of his life, and he doesn’t pause to think until I ask him whether he plans to stay in Davos forever. “It is hard to explain in English”, he says and starts swaying where he stands, “they are waiting until we lose money – you know?”

Marc tells me the about Davos Klosters Mountains, the company that for decades has owned the larger part of the lift systems, which connect these Swiss villages to their peaks. Today, they have acquired several hotels in the area. Their prices, he says, are difficult to beat, since they can afford to include lift passes. “They closed two years ago”, Marc says and points at a pink house. He leans towards a window and starts pointing at buildings down the road. “They sold four years ago… and this one is being turned into apartments.”

Down at the tourist office, I ask whether larger hotel chains are putting small, family-owned hostels out of business. “No, no, no, no”, says one of the women by the desk. She looks at the woman next to her, who shakes her head and fills in “No, no, no”.  The collars of their shirts are crowned with the Davos Klosters logo. I ask them instead about the economic crisis – has it forced many hotels to close? They start exchanging family names with each other, and it sounds similar to Marc’s story.

Economic hardships might be responsible for driving some hotels into bankruptcy, certainly. But Hilton built a hotel in Davos last year, and a new Intercontinental is to be opened right in time for this year’s skiing season. In fact, 18 of Marc’s 24 beds are currently occupied by construction workers. They are in Davos to build the brand-new hotel complex further up the mountain. They will stay for the whole low season, he says — until the Intercontinental stands, ready for next year’s visitors. Then, of course, they will leave. The beds will be empty. And he will have to compete with hundreds of new rooms at the Intercontinental. “I have been asked three times if I want to sell, but I said no. My mother was born here!” Marc exclaims. However, he never answers whether he will stay in Davos forever.

Family owned hotels in Davos are struggling. Picture: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's 1925 painting of Davos.

Wikimedia Commons

Family owned hotels in Davos are struggling. Picture: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's 1925 painting of Davos.

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