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September 14th 2018
A little stroll through this historic town
Today I left Arnhem in the early hours and arrived in Brig around five o’clock in the afternoon after a somewhat exhausting journey. Anyway I knew the railway station from the times that I used to change trains which would transport me to other destinations. But I have spent a night in Brig, more than ten years ago, before I travelled with the Glacier Express (“the slowest express train in the world”…) to Grisons. Then I stayed over at Hotel Europe, near the railway station – and there I checked in again now. I liked it then – that is why I chose the hotel again.
Around half past five I walked into town. The weather was fine, still pleasantly warm and with large patches of white clouds. It was Friday evening and the terraces were crowded. When I passed through the busy main streets, I did not only notice the historic character of the town but also the southern flair. In 2015 the town celebrated its 800th anniversary. And that history is visible. There are buildings from all periods. One of them is the striking “Perrighaus” from 1905 with its three towers – apparently only meant to be decorative, but with beautiful names like “Hoffnung” (hope), “Glauben” (faith) and “Liebe” (love). A token of love for greenery can be found in the form of a strange green back around a tree: it is the Treegator – an invention by an American family of horticulturists and functioning as a very slowly draining water reservoir. A charming solution!
Brig is situated at a strategic position where the narrow Upper-Valais leads into the wider valley through which the river Rhone is flowing and the road to the Simplon Pass directs towards the south. Since the early 20th century Brig also played an important role in the railway connections toward the west (into the direction of Leuk, Lausanne and Geneva), towards the north (Bern through the Lötschberg (Base) Tunnel) and towards the south (through the Simplon Tunnel to Domodossola and further into Italy). The town has always played – a long time before transportation could also go by train of by car – a role as a pivot in commerce. A personality who was an important promotor of the economic development of this region was Kasper Stockalper (1609 – 1691), a son of a wealthy family who built with great entrepreneurial spirit an enormous business imperium throughout Europe, but who also was a benefactor of less worldly aspects, like good education for boys (and for the period quite remarkable: also for girls). He made out of the small footpath across the Simplon Pass a real pass road. Many important buildings in the area and along the pass road have been built to his orders. He is considered to be one of the first real “capitalists”. Finally rivals have brought him down – there is a saying: “Neid ist der älteste Walliser” (jealousy is the oldest inhabitant of the Valais)… His home was the now famous Stockalper Castle with its three towers, crowned by onion shaped tops. They are named after the Three Kings, Kaspar, Melchior and Balthasar. The extensive building is considered as the largest non-sacral Baroque building in Switzerland.
In recesses in the wall of the inner court of the Stockalper Castle are several postal coaches from the era that horses were still needed for transportation. There is also a plaque to the honour of local and national politician Moritz Kaempfer (1907 – 1967): in 1949 he took the initiative to restore the striking building, which was by then neglected and almost dilapidating. He created a foundation, which to this day provides the finances for its maintenance. Other revenues will come from renting out: when I was there a happy bride pair was going round amidst many elegantly dressed-up guests.
The Simplon Pass is always been an important factor in and around Brig. This also was the case in the early 20th century when aviation was in its experimental phase. One of the pioneers was the Peruvian Geo Chàvez who was originally from France and who was actually called Jorge Chavez Dartnell. He was a successful aviator with many record attempts to his name. On September 23th 1910 he attempted to fly across the Alps near the Simplon Pass. He started in Ried near Brig. His flight was partly successful, but he crashed at the landing and he succumbed to his injuries on September 29th 1910. To his honour many memorials are made, a. o. in Brig: a fountain with a bronze statue of him as Icarus and a plane propeller made of 199 green glass bottles, shaped after the original propeller of his small aeroplane.
Catholicism is deeply rooted in this part of Valais. So there are many churches and chapels, the one even older than the other. They are beautifully built and especially well maintained.
There also is a modern catholic church, the Herz-Jesu Kirche (the Heart-of-Jesus Church), built in 1968. It is a remarkable building because of its striking white colour and its angular tower which is put slightly perpendicular on the church. The carillon is impressive: five different bells, each having a nice tone, but all five together form a special melody. On the website a sound fragment can be listened to, in which this is quite noticeable.
After my stroll I sat down at an authentic looking chalet with an authentic sounding name: “zum Eidgenossen”. I had a tasty fish and drank a slightly sweet white wine from the region: a “Heida”, made of the Savagnin grape, which is also called Weisser (White) Traminer. In Switzerland these grapes are especially grown in the Jura, but also in Visperterminen, a village near Brig and Visp. These are Europe’s highest vineyards! That made drinking this wine something special…
This afternoon and evening were a nice start of my trip on the Via Alpina. Tomorrow I will be going towards the mountains.