The turn of the century

At the turn of the century people from Montafon were amazed by the first skiers in the valley, and around Christmas time 1904, the Madrisa guest book recorded its first winter guests. You couldn’t really call it a “winter season”. It was actually ushered in when the ski pioneer from Bregenz, Colonol George Bilgeri, completely shifted his profession to the mountain climbing and ski teaching after the war. During the first world war Bilgeri instructed  the first soldiers in alpine cross country skiing – and presumably their "base" was Madrisa, whose guestbook was completely full of officers in 1915. In 1922 he held the first public ski courses in Gargellen based on the "Bilgeri School", followed in 1925 by another Vorarlberg ski pioneer Viktor Sohm, the teacher of Hannes Schneider, who was the founder of the Arlberg ski school followed suite. In 1930, another skier, professor Janner who founded the Bundessportsheim St. Christoph, brought to life his own ski school in Gargellen’s Inner Gampabing called appropriately, the Prof. Janner School.

Biligeri was a famous man. He was one of the founders of the mountain rescue service, was an appointed teacher of the alpine skiers in Sweden and was an instructor and organizer of the alpine service of the Turkish army in Caucasus. He improved alpine equipment, such as the ski bindings that were named after him, the Bilgeri backpack or the Bilgeri ice pick, and in his time he was author of the well known book "Alpine Skiing and Mountain Tours". The Bilgeri barracks military base in Bregenz reminds us of the local countryman as well as the honorable tomb commemorated to him at the Blumenstraße cemetery in his home city of Bregenz.

Not paying attention to the favorable conditions, the entrepreneur Schwarzhans was less lucky. In 1903 Berning observed the reason for his bankruptcy in his speculations  "Had he badly mismanaged? Schwarzhans had been searching the mountain slopes with binoculars looking for the last Swiss stone pines needed for the paneling of his room. Might one believe that his numerous sons were his best customers?"

Professor Tschohls Schruns guide from 1906 reported on the "Resort Hotel Marisa-Gargellen, 1474 meters above sea level- Season: June 1 – September 30: The hotel was bought by a consortium in 1904 and according enlarged; possesses 70 rooms with 100 beds, electricity, large dining room, restoration rooms, veranda, reading and billard rooms, bathrooms etc. post office and telegraph in house. The altitude is protected well by mountains to the west and north, the lush meadows, the richly shaded forests going up to an altitude of 2100 meters, the crisp fresh air with mild temperatures, the wonderful walks, the rich choices of alpine tours make Gargellen not only a mountain air resort of the highest category, preferably suitable for convalescents, anemic, people of nervous debility, sicknesses of the respiratory organs and for recuperation patients, people of pale completions and those having weak lungs, but also a very pleasurable hotel for tourists and summer visitors! Patients with lung diseases will not be admitted.

According to the plans of the Bregenz architect Willibald Braun, the consortium, which included the standing representative Jakob Stemer, the Fohrenberg brewery and several Vorarlberg and southern German textile industrialists, added to the hotel a wonderfully elaborate wooden design, which dominated the town with its four floors of "new building". they also added an elegant dining room and on top of that, built the hotel its own electrical power station.

Next to this stood the so called "old building" until its demolition in 1980, whose quaint, comfy, smoky dark Montafoner Stube still partially exists on the "Rößli" wall, insulated with newspapers dating from the time of Napoleon.

The ski instructors' "table" was the heart of the old Stube; a Montafon table with aged polish, a ponderous octagon for years now, sunburnt and weathered, bearded and primitive, with the old Gargellen ski teaching crew crowed around playing cards, debating, often singing. And above all you'd hear Herbert Keßler, the Tilisuna Hut innkeeper, who with his own comedian talent, often and willingly, came up with sketches of great wit and humor.

The privy councilor Mey from Würzburg took over the Hotel Madrisa from the consortium’s joint proprietor Julius Gaßner of the Fohrenburg brewery, for whom the wonderful hiking trail "Julius’s Peace" was named after. He engaged the Dornbirn hotel specialist Bertram Rhomberg in 1929 as director and one year later sold him the hotel.

Bertram Rhomberg Sr. was a hotelier with body and soul, well traveled and with a lot of professional experience in respected hotels from Taomina and Nizza, London and South Tyrol. He brought life to the business and the "best clients" to the hotel, amongst others, the director of the German Archeologist Institute in Constantinople or the publisher Brockhaus of Leipzig with his family and in the time of the 1000 Mark barrier, when German guests stayed far away, he brought the governors of Malta and Tanganyika Bonham-Carter and Frank as well as the personal physician of the king of Netherlands Dr. de Vries or the governors of Vorarlberg Ender and Winsauer…

Ludwig Vallaster commented: "When other hotels opened in Gargellen, other, less well-to-do guests… started to arrive and "Madrisa" guests realized: one can’t leave their cameras on the the back of their chairs anymore".

Rhomberg’s work effort was enormous; his private correspondence spoke of volumes. He wrote: "…although the hotel isn’t that large, and barely admits 100 people, the work is tremendous when one considers, that I have to manage the entire work with only one young secretary, without a doorman or head waiter, and that I am on duty everyday 18 hours or more. Still further: "Idealism should also belong to a profession and material advantage should not always be the decisive … I don’t place great demands on life and do my job, when I work, I do what I find right."

The street leading to Gargellen was Bertram Rhomberg’s biggest problem: "I don’t see a possibility to make out of the hotel what I would like to. The biggest disadvantage is the problem of a decent street.”

No wonder. Already Ludwig von Hörmann had compared Gargellen with an Emperor’s castle and leading to it, an entrance like a chicken ladder.

The Madrisa chronicler Winfried Berning demonstratives amusingly as he visualizes the difficulty of this "chicken ladder": "in former times, the old street led through the Maisäß Rüthi and the Plantina- Stutz. Cars (the first car that reached Gargellen in the year 1923 was driven by the Bregenz Textile manufacturer Sannwald) as well as horse drawn vehicles had terrible wheezing problems. From the doings of the drivers and the wagoners there are stories, that bear witness to a time, when for want of other extravagances of modern times, alcohol was the preferred amusement. Bertram Rhomberg could never be certain, if that block of ice which cooled the pantry, would arrive in time: the transporter made a proper and enjoyable stop at Gasthof Reutehorn, and "Madrisa" at best, enjoyed ice water."

However in September 1931 Irene Rhomberg told her son: “"I congratulate you on the upcoming winter’s beginning snowmobile traffic. With lots of work and perseverance, you have really accomplished something by bringing it here and this will be a great advantage to your business.”

These snowmobiles with seating for about 10 people, used 45 liters of gasoline because of the enormous climbs from Schruns to Gargellen. They were actually constructed by the company Citroen for the sandy slopes of the Sahara. By the following summer, the Post also added the "street" to Gargellen to their public bus routes, which back then far more resembled the old Säumer trading route that traders and their pack horses traversed or  that the cattle drivers used to lead their herds over the pass or even that people of war used occasionally.