Chalet Hartmann: romance to ruins in 90 years

Approaching the summit of Col de la Schlucht (1139m) from the Munster valley, one of the first signs of habitation is the Hotel du Chalet. For decades travellers have refreshed themselves and relaxed here: cyclists and walkers –

Schlucht Hotel du Chalet

motorists –

Col de la Schlucht Hotel du Chalet with people & cars

and skiers –

Col de la Schlucht Hotel du Chalet with skiers

Adjoining the hotel premises is a patch of gravelly ground with a set of stone steps leading up to what looks like the foundations of a building. The excursionists of the Occupation era would have seen a pretty Swiss-style building called Chalet Hartmann here (seen in the second postcard above) and might possibly even have crossed paths with a distinguished visitor.

Col de la Schlucht 11 septembre 1908 après arrivée de l'Empereur Guillaume

1908 – crowds linger after the arrival of Wilhelm II and his entourage. The dark building on the left is the German customs building.

 

Chalet Hartmann was built in 1859/60 by a prominent industrialist, Frédéric Hartmann-Metzger, known for his fabric factories in Munster and his benevolent treatment of his staff, including establishing schools in the valley. He constructed the Chalet to mark the completion of the steep, winding road up to the Col from Munster begun fifteen years earlier.

Col de la Schlucht Chalet Hartmann day scene Before the Great War

Many illustrious people visited it, including Napoléon III (twice before the war of 1870) and Wilhelm II in September 1908. With Alsace returned to German territory, Hitler visited la Schlucht in 1940.

Col de la Schlucht Chalet Hartmann Kaiser visit query 28.07.1909 1908 (Unfortunately the original card is blurred.)

For part of its life, Chalet Hartmann was a restaurant popular with celebrities. It was badly damaged in the Great War, abandoned in the 1930s, and then damaged again in the Second World War. In 1946 it was completely demolished.

Col de la Schlucht Chalet Hartmann ruined A sad sight after the Great War

This is what the once beautiful Chalet Hartmann looks like now, photographed from the footpath which climbs behind the semi-derelict Hotel Tetras and overlooks the site of the original German customs building. All that remains is the set of steps into the house.

Chalet Hartmann site

The époque of a rather elegant, leisured, somewhat romantically inclined tourist industry was over and la Schlucht began to look for modern ways of exploiting the white gold of the high mountains.

Col de la Schlucht Chalet Hartmann

 

(All postcards and photographs are my own. Modern photographs June 2013)

 

 

 

The Vosges trams: Ampfersbach to la Schlucht

Ampfersbach 1

When the mist clears, and if in your imagination you replace the modern building with a distinguished Victorian hotel, you will see an alluring destination for travellers in the Vosges during the period before the Great War.

I am in the pretty valley of Ampfersbach, looking upwards –

Ampfersbach 2

and the modern sanatorium is on the site of the fabulous Hotel Altenberg with its exceptional panorama.

Col de la Schlucht Hotel Altenberg posted April 1915

At 1059 m, the luxurious Altenberg was a short walk from the frontier at Col de la Schlucht (1139m). (The original 1896 hotel was destroyed during the Great War and a new hospital building was built on the site between 1922 and 1926. It closed in 2011.) La Schlucht was a popular destination, well supplied with restaurants, hotels and cafés where the intrepid traveller could relax after a stimulating walk in the French Hautes Vosges, contemplate the lost region of Alsace and breathe in the energising mountain air. There were customs buildings for French and German officials.

Col de la Schlucht multi 1896

It is, of course, possible for energetic people to walk up to la Schlucht from Munster or Gérardmer, or to travel by horse. In 1902, the embryonic idea of running a railway up to the Col and down the other side to Gérardmer began to take shape and a tramway was built. This opened up the beautiful valley and Col to tourists from Colmar, who could travel to Munster by train and board a tram, and visitors from further afield. It was a summer service and half a million people took advantage of it between 1907 and 1913.

The tram trundled at 17 kph along the flat floor of the Munster valley, calling at little stations such as Saegmatt in the Ampfersbach valley:

Sagmatt Schlucht tram  posted 1912

It is still possible to see the slightly elevated embanked track (minus rails) along which the tram travelled. When the flat valley reached the sides of the pass, the tramway began to climb at 7.5 kph up slopes of 22% until it reached the Hotel Altenberg.

Tram Schlucht

Tram Munster-Schlucht Melkerei Altenburg posted 1907

The tramway levelled out after the Altenberg, passed under the Schlucht tunnel cut through the rocks –

Col de la Schlucht tunnel with tram

and eventually reached Col de la Schlucht. There, the customs officers awaited in their official premises at the frontier.

Col de la Schlucht German customs building & tram German customs building

 

Col de la Schlucht German frontier & officer German officer, French side in the background

There is much more to say about Col de la Schlucht and the trams in future posts. When the Great War broke out, the French army took the Hotel Altenberg. The tourist trams were used in the early weeks of the war for the transport of troops and the evacuation of wounded soldiers. This stopped when the German troops cut the electricity supply to the tramway.

Returning to Ampfersbach, I am fortunate to have a special card: a postcard sent by a French soldier from Ampfersbach during the Great War. He annotated it clearly, identifying:

  • the small settlement where they were based
  • a chimney next to which was the first aid post
  • the house where he slept in the cellar
  • and the German side of the front.

According to his message, the X near the church marks the place behind the cemetery wall where he was guarding the trenches. Sadly, he didn’t date or sign his card.

Ampfersbach annotated by soldier trench marked

In very faint pencil marks, he marked his trench line. I have traced his line in red.

It’s a privilege beyond words to have bought such a detailed snapshot of someone’s war for five euros.

 

 

All postcards and photographs my own.

 

Note:

Ampfersbach and the Hotel Altenberg are in Alsace, in the territory annexed by Germany.

Statistics about the tram sourced from La Vallée de Munster: Le Tramway Munster-Schlucht et les environs de la Schlucht by Gérard Jacquat and Gérard Leser.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Haicot – an altered Great War monument

In the forest high above the Col de Bagenelles is a beautiful mosaic created by German soldiers in the Great War. Its text identifies the creators as Landsturm Friedberg and it depicts a proud, growling crowned lion bearing a sword. It is the Hessian Lion – Btl Friedberg was a Hessian unit.

Haicot lion compressed

(The edge blur is because the precious mosaic is protected by a shelter.)

In the woods in front of the mosaic it’s easy to pick out vestiges of trenches. Walking on, eventually the path curves round the flank of the mountainside and unexpectedly you come to a small grotto which contains a monument inscribed to  2. Landsturm Infanterie Batallion 2 “Bonn” part of Landsturm VIII. Armee-Korps / Coblenz. In 1918 it became 2nd Btl, of Landsturm Infanterie Regiment 48. (Thank you to Rob Schaefer @GERArmyResearch for the assistance in deciphering this and for the information about Btl Friedberg.)

I photographed the monument in 2013 :

Haicot Bonn monument 1 compressed

The 1920s postcard below shows the grotto; and adjacent to it is a projecting structure which I believe to be part of the German position at Haicot (alternatively spelt Haycot).

Haycot l'abri

This (below) is the monument in 2013…

Haicot Bonn monument 2 compressed (my photo)

… and this (below) is a postcard photograph of it taken after the Second World War. The monument has been adapted to memorialise members of les Amis de la Nature who died in 1944. A close comparison of the ‘now’ photograph shows the holes where the Second World War memorial plaque was screwed in over the top of the original.

Haycot memorial

I have read elsewhere that l’Auberge du Haycot has been built on a German structure. While I do not know whether this is true or not, I believe that the author is mistaken.  Close to the Bonn monument is the Refuge de les Amis de la Nature Haycot, one of several refuges for walkers in the Vosges. (My photo, below, 2013) The owner of l’Auberge du Haycot told me that the refuge, not the Auberge, is the historic building.

Haicot refuge compressed

There was undoubtedly a German position at Haicot, shown in these two postcards from immediately after the First World War.

Haycot le Front des Vosges Abri Haycot

(Above. The  structure projecting over the slope ties in with that just visible in the early postcard showing the grotto: 331 Le Front des Vosges. 3rd picture from top, above.)

Haycot Positions allemandes du Haycot posted 1923

IMG_4507 (June 2014)

I am convinced that the ground floor of the current refuge is the same building as the ground floor of the premises shown in the postcards. The windows and doors match and there is early corrugated iron embedded into the wall. The landscape falls in the same way, steeply down the mountainside.

Provided that one isn’t attempting to walk to here from the Col de Bagenelles (a steep walk) and instead drives up and parks near l’Auberge du Haycot, this is an easy and rewarding walk in an important but less visited area of the early Front.

Haicot setting compressed

(My photographs and my postcards. Please don’t borrow them without asking.)

Rob Schaefer’s blog is http://gottmituns.net/ – very much worth visiting.

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