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June 13th 2019
The Kirchner Museum in Davos and the historic train to Filisur
The day before yesterday the weather was fine contrary to the forecasts, which made the trip to Davos pleasant. My main item of the day was a visit to the Kirchner Museum. Davos is from way back a spa resort for people who suffer from tuberculosis, asthma or from other diseases of the respiratory system: because of the healthy and curative mountain air many sanatoriums have been opened from the mid-nineteenth century, of which some are still operating. Davos owes this to the Dutchman Willem Jan Holsboer (1834–1898): he turned the village that originally was just a farming village into one of the most important spa resorts in Grisons. Holsboer was born in de Dutch town of Zutphen and in first instance a sea captain and later a banker. His English wife had been suffering from a respiratory disease – therefore the couple went to Davos in 1867. The originally German-born pneumologist Dr. Alexander Spengler had just opened his “Davoser Kurhaus“. The two gentlemen got befriended and together they founded the first spa, which opened in 1888. Holsboer has also been the promotor of the railway connection from Landquart to Klosters (1889) and later on also to Davos (1890). He died in 1898 – a hundred year later a plaque has been revealed in the railway station of Davos in commemoration of his passing away.
After a sunny and interesting train trip from Küblis to Klosters and then steeply uphill to Davos-Platz, I went to the Kirchner Museum by foot. The modern building dates from 1992, but it has been built in the “Davoser Flachdachstil” (the Davos flat roof style), the building style that has become fashionable from the mid-nineteenth century. This style means that the roof is as it were “double-walled”, with a water draining system between the two isolating walls. The reason therefore is not just esthetical. Davos is situated in a high mountain region where considerable amounts of snow can fall in winter. When these masses of snow on the roofs start to shift, it can cause dangerous “roof avalanches”, that behave in a similar way as avalanches in the mountain slopes. The “Flachdach” has been laid down in the municipality’s regulations for new builds in the village centre since the 1970s. That is why the roof of the Kirchner Museum – being made of concrete, glass, steel and wood – also is flat! It is a complex of four exhibition halls in the form of a cube with glass cubes as skylights, bringing extra lustre to the works of art. The foyer gives a beautiful view on the village and the valley.
I had been interested in visiting this museum, because the German expressionist painter and artist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880–1938) has made many of his important works in this area, from paintings to sculptures. Moreover when I was in Salzburg last April I had visited an exhibition of Kircher as a photographer. In the Museum der Moderne there many of his pictures (authentic and modern prints) were on display. In his Davos time (1918–1938) he has made a lot of photographs of his friends and lady friends and locals. The summer exhibition has been devoted to his guests: “… I had visitors coming all day today” – Kirchner’s guests“. The exhibition halls have a calming atmosphere indeed, with their white walls, bright-coloured flooring and soft light from above. The separation walls are made of smooth light-grey concrete. There weren’t many people around noon. A rather stern looking lady walked around as warden, so I didn’t dare to ask whether it was allowed to take pictures (in Salzburg it had not been allowed!). The pictures taken in a too quick way haven’t all been sharp enough… During his 20 year’s stay E.L. Kirchner has lived and worked in different houses: they were situated on the mountain slopes to the west of the actual village. He hasn’t only made paintings in his characteristic, expressionist colours and “chunky” forms, of houses in the village, of the mountains and alpine meadows in the area. But also many pieces of furniture and other items of every day’s use. An example thereof is i.e. the bed for his companion Erna Schilling: in the head and the foot he has incorporated non-European motives – from regions he hadn’t visit himself, but about which he had read in art books. He has called an “armchair traveller“: he didn’t like to travel himself, but loved having friends visiting him. There was however much tragedy in his life due to his difficult character and his addictions. He was artistically gifted, but he has started a study architecture on advice of his parents, during which he has acquired many technical skills which he later put to good use. In the group of artist around him life was in many ways quite “bohemian”. This has surely led to enormous innovations in the arts of the twentieth century. When the First World War started, he volunteered, but in 1915 during his military training he got mentally confused completely. In 1917 he travelled to Davos to try to recover after having tried other resorts, but when in the National-socialistic era his works were declared “Entartete Kunst” (Degenerate art), weren’t allowed to be exhibited anymore and were even destroyed, he slipped into a deep crisis: in June 1938 he took his own life.
E.L. Kirchner got his inspiration for his paintings and drawings during visits to friends in the wide surroundings, but definitely also during “Kaffee mit Kuchen” at the tearoom “Das Schneider’s“, that has been founded in 1915 and still exists. I sat down there too to have lunch: in the sunshine, out of the wind and with a head still full of impressions from the Museum. It has been a special visit!
After my walk in the rain and along the high water of the river Landquart of yesterday, on June 12th, I travelled to Davos again, this time in transit to Scuol in the Engadin. This morning I checked out at Hotel Terminus in Küblis, where I have stayed so pleasantly in the last days. It is nice to see that there still are so many guests in this mid-season.
The journey from Küblis to Scuol was going to be a continuous flow of happy railway moments: to begin with the trip with the Landquart-Davos-Bahn from Küblis via Klosters to Davos Platz, then with the “Nostalgiezug“, the historical train from Davos-Platz to Filisur, and then with the Albulabahn from Filisur to Samedan with from there changing trains into the direction of Scuol and from Susch with a “Schienenersatzbus” (a bus replacing the train) to Scuol! These happy railway moments would last for 4½ hours.
As I noted the day before yesterday the train has to climb 435 metres in altitude from Klosters at 1.205 metres to reach the Wolfgangsee Lake at 1.630 metres. In order to conquer this altitude a curved tunnel has been built near Cavadürli: from Klosters the train goes to the west at first and then after the passage of the tunnel to the east. The views on the mountains on the northside of the Landquart valley and on Klosters deep in the valley were beautiful, also because of the fine weather.
Just before ten o’clock the “normal” train arrived at the station of Davos-Platz. On the opposite platform the historic train was waiting for us, that I had seen the day before yesterday, on Tuesday, standing on a sidetrack. To the big brown locomotive from the 1920s, the “Krokodil“, a First Class coach with a luxurious look was attached in the colours vanilla and blue with “Alpine Classic Pullman Express” marked on the side. Behind it some far less luxurious coaches for the Second Class followed, with an authentic interior, like hard wooden seats! In those days there has been quite a difference between the “classes”… Still two original locomotives of the “Krokodil” are used on this track: nr. 15, which operates on the trip this morning from Davos to Filisur, and nr. 414. Although there still are several specimens of the “Krokodil” at other museums, in the Railway Museum in Bergün nr. 407 is on display. The name “Krokodil” has never officially given to this type of locomotive. Nevertheless the name stimulates the imagination, because the locomotive resembles the animal alligator quite a lot: the two flatter end parts and the high structure in the middle part make the beak, the body and the tail of the alligator!
It was quite crowded on the platform: people who were looking for a seat in the train, people armed with cameras who couldn’t get enough of taking pictures (like myself). At 10.18 hrs precisely the train left into southern direction through a wide and green valley with on both sides high mountains. This area appealed more to me than the village and the area to the north… This is the landscape that has been so much admired by E.L. Kirchner and so often painted by him! The railway track follows here the river Landwasser, which springs somewhere near the Davosersee, the lake that is situated the most to the north from Davos. There is also the watershed: to the north from this point the water flows towards the river Landquart and near the town of Landquart into the Rhine and to the south of this point through the river Landwasser to the river Albula en then into the Hinterrhein, far south from Chur. It doesn’t make a big difference: all water will end up in the Rhine and thus in the North Sea!
To the south of the hamlet of Monstein the scenery changes dramatically: the green meadows disappeared and were replaced by steep mountain slopes with dense forests. We were now riding halfway the mountain slopes of the Zügenschlucht (Zügen Gorge), a deep, three kilometres long gorge eroded by the water of the Landwasser. The train passes through tunnels and over the Wiesener Viadukt, which is the highest bridge in the area serviced by the Rhätische Bahn. It is impressive to see how heavily the slopes of this gorge have eroded and how wildly the Landwasser meanders through the deep gorge. In earlier times the cantonal road ran through the gorge, but now that has been changed: for safety’s sake the road passes through a tunnel too. The area looks very rough and wild! A few minutes later we were able to spot to our right hand the iconic bridge of the Landwasserviadukt : although very much in the distance, still… Everybody was scrambling behind the windows to take pictures – so did I! The travellers coming from Chur via Thusis to Filisur had an advantage: when going over the semi-circular bridge they could see how the front of the train enters the tunnel!
Not long afterwards we entered into the station of Filisur, where almost all passengers left the train. More pictures were taken – also by me! The sun was shining and the surroundings were beautiful. The locomotive was disconnected and shunted, so that it was ready again for the trip back to Davos. Some co-passengers stayed on the train, returning also is an option!
While waiting on my connecting train to the Engadin I saw a snow plough, standing quite lonely on a sidetrack. It wasn’t the type to be mounted in front of the locomotive, but one that would be operated by the crew of the railway station to remove the snow from the tracks. At this moment unemployed, but not within a few months… The Interregio from Chur to St. Moritz over the Albula Line was not only more modern, but also quite more comfortable: I installed myself with my luggage on a tip-up seat in the coach for bicycles and that was more pleasant than the wooden bench in the “nostalgic” train. But yes, between both trains almost a century of “Progress” had passed! In this train to St. Moritz a lot of information about the construction of this part of the railway track was given to the passengers: over the intercom and in several languages. It added much to the trip that had already been so special. Since the beginning of the twentieth century the engineers and the railway workers have literally moved “mountains”!
On the trajectory from Filisur to Bergün the train runs further upstream into the valley of the river Albula and has to cover a difference in altitude of almost 300 metres. To this purpose a.o. a long spiral tunnel has been built. The scenery becomes more and more interesting: the mountains rise high up from the valley. The train passes on while the farmers cut the grass on the meadows…! In Bergün itself is the Railway Museum, mentioned earlier, where the history about the construction of the Albula Railway is shown – and where the Krokodil is on display.
It is possible to go by foot from Bergün to the next railway station, Preda, over a “Bahnerlebnispfad“, an adventurous and educational trail. On panels a lot of information is given about the realisation of this railway track. Besides that the hiker gets a nice view on the many bridges, entrances and exits of the tunnels and passing trains. A must for all railway enthusiasts… Since 2008 the Albulalinie from Chur to St. Moritz is part of the UNESCO World Heritage “Rhätische Bahn in der Landschaft Albula/Bernina“. The whole track has 39 tunnels and 55 ridges. A difference in altitude of in total 1.123 metres has to be covered… Between Bergün and Preda the main technical highlight as to building a railway in the mountains is situated: as the crow flies the distance between both villages is only 6½ kilometres, but to be able to cover the difference in altitude of over 400 metres without the train having to rise too steeply, the track has been prolonged up to 12 kilometres with civil engineering works. That has been done by building tree spiral tunnels, two curved tunnels and four viaducts across the valley. At Bergün there is an increase of 35‰, the maximum on the whole line. It is exciting to see how the train is ascending higher and higher on the same mountain slope, while each time the tracks of the railway can be seen deeper and deeper below! And to consider that the complete Albulalinie with all engineering works has been built in only five years: from September 1898 to the opening on July 1st 1903!
In the small railway station of Preda it is buzzing with activity around the construction of the new Albula tunnel.The railway runs between Preda and the village of Spinas in the Bever valley through a tunnel of almost 6 kilometres long. The tunnel goes though the Albula mountain range with the Albula Pass. Here is the mayor watershed between the catchment area of the Rhine in the north and that of the Danube in the south. The main part of the rocksonsist of granite, a small part of slate, but for the rest of an unstable layer of loose limestone containing a lot of water. The latter was at the time of construction already problematic. In 2006 an inspection showed that the tunnel from 1903 was in a worrying state and that far reaching renovation measures were required. Calculating the costs it turned out that the construction of a new tunnel wasn’t that much more expensive than renovation of the existing tunnel, whilst safety and sustainability would be much greater in a new build. When building a new tunnel, the status of the railway as World Heritage would however have to be taken strongly in consideration. In the end it didn’t turn out to be that problematic because only the entrance and the exit of the new tunnel will be visible and the original tunnel will be maintained, albeit as a safety tunnel. In August 2015 the construction has started and on October 2nd 2018 the breakthrough has taken place. In 2021 the new tunnel will be finished and till 2022 the present tunnel will be converted to a safety tunnel. It is impressive to see all those huge machineries and conveyor belts: of course an enormous quantity of material has to be transported out of the mountain. The main part is recycled into concrete which will be used in the tunnel. The remaining material will be dumped in a landfill. There is a large information centre in Preda – the entrance is for free. My journey however continues – for the moment still through the old tunnel!
On the south side of the Albula mountain range the train went through the green, wooded valley of the small river Beverin into the direction of the village of Bever in the Engadin, where the river will flow into the Inn. Here the water level is also elevated! In Samedan I had to change train towards Scuol. That trajectory runs through the here still very wide Engadin past old villages, green meadows and wetlands. It was wonderful to be back in this familiar region, especially with this sunshine!
Half an hour after leaving Samedan passengers for the direction fo Scuol-Tarasp had to leave the train at the railway station of Susch, just before the Vereina tunnel between Sagliains in the Engadin and Klosters in the Prättigau: on the track to Scuol-Tarasp drastic renovation works had to be carried out to tunnels, viaducts and railway station. On this part of the rail network of the Rhätische Bahn the work has been cut out! One of the railway bridges on this track is a listed monument – and it also is one of the larges railway bridges of the Rhätische Bahn. It has to be re-enforced, as in the same time the original 106 year old masonry have to be saved because of the listed status. Renovation of two tunnels between the villages of Guarda and Ardez was also necessary. They are situated in an area that is from geological point of view “challenging”: the mountain slope moves 10 millimetres each year… Since the commissioning in 1913 the tunnels have been repaired several times already. Especially this part of the project is that time consuming that the decision has been made to close down the complete track during six months. It is also the most expensive part of the operation: the costs for this tunnel project alone are CHF 44 million!
At the railway station of Such busses waited for us: an express bus to Scuol and a slow bus for the stations in between, Lavin, Guarda and Ardez. It was interesting to see the area from the road: the railway runs at several points higher on the slopes. Now I could see that the rails had been removed at the railway stations and that everything was being renovated – a mega job!
Around half past one the express bus stopped on the square in front of the deserted railway station of Scuol. To Hotel Altana it took only a few steps. There I was in for a surprise! The dining room had undergone a metamorphosis: new furniture, different curtains and other decorations on the wall. The name is now: “La Chadafö“, Rhaeto-Romanic (Vallader) for Kitchen. In the menu the emphasis is now on dishes with local and regional ingredients – and also on wines from the region! The atmosphere of cordiality and cosiness (gemütlichkeit) is still there, but is has become more trending. However I shall miss the beautiful flowers from the hotel garden… A part of the room that used to belong to the dining room has been converted into a lounge: “La Chaminada” with comfy swivel chairs and low tables. In a show case at the wall a nicely designed bottle of Kirchwasser was standing – a witty detail: the business name on the label is the same as the family name of the hotel owners!
The new sign at the outer wall is inviting to good food and drinks – I can look forward to that in the coming days! It is good to be back in Scuol and in Hotel Altana…