THE JOURNEY HOME|
by David Edlefsen
If there is any one place upon the earth that could draw the entire posterity of Edward Durtschi, Sr., together, it surely must be the old home in Switzerland. There, he lived with his ever-increasing family before joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and immigrating to America. The old home is a large, charming chalet, nestled in the green splendor of the mountain country in that beautiful land. In this setting, is a place of joy and warmth which left one captivated, not only by the loveliness of it all, but by the realization of the heritage which is ours as children of the family who once lived there. During my first visit, after being struck by the sheer beauty and serenity of this place, I could sense how hard it must have been to leave it.
Over the years I have brought several family members here to share a similar experience. In keeping with European custom, before driving out to the farm, I would stop at a flower shop in town to pick up some flowers for the family who lives there. However, finding their farm has not always been as easy for me as it is now. In fact, I had to travel to Europe three times before I finally discovered it.
In 1970 I was called to the Germany West mission. Prior to going home at the end of my mission in 1972, another missionary and I received permission from our mission president to tour Europe. Grandpa Durtschi sent me $100 to help with my travel expenses, I am sure, with the hopes that I would travel to his homeland of Switzerland. I was thrilled for the opportunity. Mom had sent me the name of the town from where Grandpa Durtschi emigrated, and I had seen an old photograph of the house when I was younger. With only this information in mind, I set out with hopes of finding the ancestral home. We traveled by train. Comparatively, Wimmis is a small town, and we were fortunate the train took us all the way there. The alpine countries of Switzerland, Austria, and Germany have always been special places of wonder for me, and upon seeing Wimmis, it only heightened my feeling of appreciation for these people and their traditional ways.
We searched all over Wimmis for Durtschis, or anyone who possibly knew of Edward Durtschi, or anything about a Durtschi family who left Wimmis for America around the turn of the century. We went to the phone book and found one Durtschi, and if I recall correctly, his first name was Fritz. We visited his home, and talked briefly about the Durtschis. He did not know anything about the old Durtschis leaving for America, or where the old Durtschi home might be. He mentioned a relative whose maiden name was Durtschi who might know. He gave me her address so we went to see her. Her home is in the center of town just off the main street. She had a "Zimmer frei", or room to rent, like a small motel used mostly in the summertime for tourists, so we decided to stay there for the night. We talked quite extensively about the Durtschis and their history. She did not know much about them, and I ended up telling her more than she told me. She did give me several names, but later as I went back into the genealogy, I found that none of the names matched.
It just seemed that no one knew of the Durtschis who left the area back at that time. I was quite disappointed that I could not find the home, though I enjoyed very much seeing the town where they had once lived. After completing our tour through Europe, we boarded the plane to return home, fully expecting never to see Europe again.
Shortly after this, in the Spring of 1974, my cousin, Mark Durtschi, who was stationed with the U. S. Army in Germany, made a similar trip to Wimmis. He had one thing which I did not have --his father had sent him a very old picture of the house. As he later told me the story, he spent the better part of a day comparing his worn little photograph with every building in town. Nearing the end of the day, being quite discouraged, he ended up at the school in Wimmis just standing and staring at the picture not knowing what to do next. Instead of nearing the end of his search, it seemed as if the house was farther away than ever. An older gentleman, who must have been watching him for some time, walked up and asked what he was doing. In his best German, which he says was not very good, showing the old man the old black and white photo, he tried to explain that his grandfather had lived in this house in Wimmis 75 years ago. He looked at the picture for a long time. Then he got his car, told Mark to get in, and drove him out of town into the country. After a few minutes the man stopped his car in front of a large, old chalet. Getting out of the car Mark took the picture to the front of the house and was transfixed with excitement. His picture matched. Everything was the same, right down to the low cement wall across the front. He was thrilled! Then the man took him up the flight of steps to the front door, knocked, and introduced him to the family who now lives there. From the way Mark tells it, they sat around the kitchen table like old friends becoming reacquainted, drinking apple cider, and talking about the old Durtschi family who once lived there. Before he left, they offered him the grand tour of the house. Little did they know that this would be just the first of several tours they would give to the "Durtschis" from America.
Ironically, at the same time Mark was making his rediscovery of the Durtschi home, I was living in Salzburg, Austria, participating in the Brigham Young University studies program. Having returned back to BYU after my mission, I changed my major to German, and could not resist the temptation to return to Europe to study. During one of our 10-day "travel" breaks, I hitchhiked to Switzerland to spend more time and get a better look. This was something I had been unable to do on my first trip. I made my way gradually across Switzerland with my primary goal the Interlaken and Grindelwald area. To my chagrin, I had failed to do my homework and did not get any more information from home about the location of the old house. My heart sank as I passed the exit sign for Wimmis. I wanted to stop but felt it would not pay. Without additional information how could I get any farther this time than the last? If I had been on the ball I might have even been privileged to be with Mark when he made his discovery.
After Mark got out of the Army, he happened to stop in at my parents home in Rigby, Idaho. The subject of Switzerland came up, and before he left he had given them a crude map showing the approximate location of the house and the name of the family living there. It seems some time ago, when I was much younger, I had heard talk of some member of the Durtschi family traveling to Wimmis and visiting the old home. Whether this was just rumor or not I do not know. However, it appears, at least for me, that Mark really is the one who rediscovered the home.
Time passed quickly and soon I found myself married, with one child, and living in California. I was going to optometry school and looking for a place to start work after graduation. The travel bug hit me when the Army Optometry consultant visited the school and told me if I joined the Army I could be sent to Germany. Sounds like a line, doesn't it? My wife, herself a seasoned European traveler and fluent in French, was very excited about the opportunity to see and experience Europe again. So, seven years after I thought I had left Europe for the last time, I was back again, this time setting up a household and planting my roots very deeply.
| In 1980, not long after arriving in Augsburg, Germany, we found ourselves on the road to Wimmis. This time, I was armed with the crude map and family name Mark had given my mom, and a firm determination to succeed in the search. Instead of taking the train, this time we traveled in the "four wheel luxury" of our Volkswagen van. It was winter, and the snow on the ground and mountains was a wonderful contrast to the usual green of summer. Traveling south on the Autobahn (freeway) we passed Zollikofen, where the Temple is, and Bern, the capital city. Continuing on, we entered the Interlaken area, which is considered by many to be the most beautiful part of Switzerland, with its two rich blue lakes surrounded by spectacular mountains. Just before the town of Spiez, about halfway along the length of the Thunersee (lake Thun) is the exit to Wimmis. Only a mile or two on this connection and we found ourselves on the main street of Wimmis.
Wasting no time, we began our search for the house and soon found out how crude my map really was. We also discovered that the name had "evolved" somewhat since Mark had originally received it and no one knew any family in the area by that "strange" name. The map was enough, however, to get me in the general vicinity. After asking a few people along the way, and possibly a little "divine intervention", we soon found ourselves in front of the old Durtschi home. Surprisingly I recognized it immediately from the pictures I had seen before. At last, we had arrived "home"!
In general, Wimmis is situated on the north side of some small hills at the foot of the big Mt. Niessen. The main street runs east-west the length of town, continuing eastward toward Spiez on the shore of the Thunersee. To reach the Durtschi home you would start by traveling this street toward Spiez. Just upon leaving the urbanized part of Wimmis, and clearing the edge of the large hill on the right (south), watch carefully for a very narrow paved road to the right. It is very narrow and situated inconspicuously between two large houses. Yes, take this road. You will pass a couple farm houses and barns on either side of the road, and after about 1 to 2 miles, you are at the Durtschi home. If all else fails, just ask where the Wampflers live. Don't speak German? What a fine opportunity to learn.
The panorama on the approach to the house is very beautiful. The house sits on the right side of the road. Behind the house to the southwest is Mt. Niessen, and to the east is rolling farmland. Further to the east beyond the Thunersee, and to the south, the mountains once again rise majestically in their alpine splendor.
The Wampfler family is just what I envisioned a rural Swiss family to be. Herr Wampfler, in his mid-forties, lives with his wife and several lovely children. His father and uncle live upstairs. Grandpa spends most of his time gardening and working on the farm. I suppose he took the farm over from his father and has since passed it on to his son. The uncle is a retired school teacher. These two brothers are of the age that they would be the children of the Wampflers who bought the farm from Edward Durtschi. They are robust and sturdy, with ruddy skin and worn, cracked hands. The way I remember Grandpa Durtschi. I can envision Grandpa Durtschi in this setting as if he had never left. The farm in Idaho may not look the same, but the people do. The people of this whole area resemble family. Everywhere I went on my several trips to this special mountain country, I could see the images of Grandpa, uncles, and cousins on the faces of these people. There is no doubt, these are our people. It feels like home.
The Wampflers mentioned that someone had been there to see the house a couple of years before, but they could not remember the name. On one of my later visits they produced a picture of the other visitor. It was Mark, and just as with Mark, we had not been in their home long before they were giving us the grand tour. One of my biggest regrets is that I did not write any details of these visits at the time. Many of my descriptions are strictly from memory. Fortunately, I do have a few pictures which help.
They said the basic floor plan of the house had not changed. From the front door, the kitchen and dining room are on the right with the parlor to the left. Between the kitchen and parlor is a small intersecting hallway, leading to the back workroom. Off this hallway are several bedrooms. Upstairs, there are two main rooms with a bedroom or two off to the side. Between these two main rooms is a ceramic stove, built into the wall, exposed on two sides so the heat radiating from the stove enters both rooms. The Wampflers explained this is the same stove used when the Durtschis lived there. Downstairs, on the main level in the parlor is the original sandstone stove. It is about 2-1/2 feet high, 4-feet long, and 1-1/2-feet deep. The top is covered with a green tile, and in the winter, one can actually sit on it to get contentedly toasty warm. On the back wall of this same room are some old European-style closets, also original.
| The Swiss have always taken great pride in their homes, decorating them with beautifully carved designs and fanciful trim. They carve the year construction was completed on the front as a record for all to see. The date on the Durtschi home is 1853, meaning it is over 130 years old. For being this aged, the house is very sturdy and sound without the expected signs of wear and tear. It was always a thrill when the Wampflers pointed out the original parts of the house or barn, those parts which seemingly appear just as they did when Grandpa lived there. With awe, I realized I was reliving a part of Grandpa's life.
The house and barn are connected, sharing a common wall. They are housed under one roof with long overhanging eaves so typical of Swiss homes. The front and back walls of the barn sit in deeper than those of the house. Consequently, the eave overhang on the barn is much longer than along the house. This large overhang serves as a shelter from the frequent rains while working around the barn. As far as I could tell, the Wampflers made only minor changes to alter the appearance of the house. First, they added a small lean-to shed on the far end of the barn to serve as extra shelter for farm implements. Second, they enclosed a large section under the long eave on the back, much like a large enclosed back porch, to serve as a handy workroom. When Herr Wampfler is working in this room, he has easy entry into the house through the back door, or up a small flight of stairs to the second floor. Additionally, he can walk just outside and be right at the door to the stalls where the cattle are kept for the winter. All over this workroom are the most interesting things. On one wall are some big shiny brass cow bells with their brightly colored braided straps. Elsewhere are scythes, wooden hand rakes used to rake hay, milking equipment, and other knickknacks. Of course, there are the work benches, and other tools usually found in a workroom. With the large beams visible overhead, it has a very old and rustic appearance.
The barn is separated into the lower stalls and the upper hay loft. This configuration reminds me of Uncle John Durtschi's barn in Teton Valley. Just as he did, the Wampflers store the hay above in a loft and feed directly into the mangers below through doors in the loft floor. They told me that the internal arrangement of the stalls had been changed some since the Durtschi days. On the back toward the mountain is a large earthen ramp leading up into the loft. This ramp, which is so typical in Europe, is used during haying season. A wagon-load of hay can be simply driven right up into the loft. Eighty years ago, the Durtschis always loaded loose hay. Sometimes those old farmers hauled it in off the steep slopes in a net on their backs. They climbed the hillside, cut the hay with a scythe, then piled it up on a net spread open on the ground. After pulling the corners of the net together, they threw it over their shoulder and carried it into the barn on their back. I have seen farmers in Austria do it like this today, so they must have done it the same way back then.
The Wampflers have in their possession two very special books. They are among the most interesting and meaningful things shown me. Bound like small ledger books and filled with old German script they are the two legal documents which detail the purchase and later sale of the farm by Edward Durtschi. They detail the people involved and the location and price of each piece of land and building belonging to the farm. In spite of not being skilled at reading the old script, I set about deciphering its content. It appears that Edward purchased the farm only months before he turned around and sold it again. After some study of the first book it has become clear to me that Edward did not purchase the farm from his mother-in-law, Susanna Hiltbrand, but from her children who had inherited the farm upon her death, 18 months earlier in August of 1903. Her living children inherited the farm, and finally, on 28 January 1905, Edward bought out their inheritance to become the sole owner. He and his family had been living in the home, along with Susanna, and working the farm for many years prior to this. As we know, this is the same year the Durtschis joined the Church. The decision was made to immigrate to America, and on 27 July 1905 he sold the farm to Gottfried Wampfler. The details of this sale are found in the second book. Two months later they left for America. On my first visit to the Wampflers, I asked if they would consider parting with these books. As one would expect, they declined. Instead, they agreed to let me photograph them. I made slides of the most important pages. On my next visit when Mom, Uncle Wilson, and Aunt Isabel were with me, we obtained photocopies of both complete books. Someday, I hope to decipher and translate them in their entirety.
Herr Wampfler explained that over the years different pieces of land have been sold and purchased somewhat changing the overall layout of the farm. However, the majority of the farm, as the Durtschis knew it, is still in Wampfler hands. Directly behind the house high on a large hill sits a large chalet. This is supposed to have been part of the farm at one time. I cannot document this, but I understand this is the old home where the Hiltbrand family lived before building the "new" one down on the flat. While looking up at the top of the hill one sees a small road rising diagonally from left to right up toward the old chalet above. One rainy afternoon, Herr Wampfler took Mom, Uncle Wilson, Aunt Isabel, and me with him up this hill and onto the Alp. We followed him up this steep, one-lane road, which was barely wide enough for his VW bug, let alone our awkward VW bus. Once at the top of the hill, the road levels out. We saw several other houses and small roads hidden from below by the crest of the hill. Not stopping there, however, we followed him southward, while gradually creeping up a little bit higher. We probably traveled about two miles up a narrow, muddy road to his summer barn where he would milk his cows for the evening milking. Herr Wampfler said this was not part of the original farm, and the barn was too new to have been one of the original Durtschi barns. However, he was sure that they would have had one very much like it. The Durtschi's mountain pasture and barn could have been anywhere on the lush verdant side of that vast steep mountain.
| He had about 10 of the typical brown Swiss cows. After the milking was done, he asked me if I would like to drive the cows up onto the Alp. The slope went up at 30 to 35 degrees onto the mountain side to what I would consider one of the typical old Alps used to graze cattle and goats. Way up on this slope he had his little pasture fenced off with a single wire electric fence. He gave me a stick to use as gentle persuasion if needed, and I took off up the hill, or rather up the mountain, way up the mountain, to the pasture above. Naturally I had to chase the cows back and forth a bit and it took about 20 minutes to get to the pasture. I had a rain coat on but the long heavy grass that grows so well on these Swiss Alps had soaked me well above the knees. I stopped, once the cows were up high enough, to gaze up further on the beautiful Alp jutting up into the clouds above. Here I was on the very mountain our family used to pasture their cattle in the summer, and now I had driven these cows up the very same mountain. Then turning slowly around, what a thrill to look down onto the barn below, then beyond down into the valley. I could not see the Durtschi house from there, as it was hidden by the hills, but I could see it in my mind. I could picture it as it must have been back in those days. And even though I was wet and a little cold, it was such a joy to just be there to experience a part of my heritage. Those beautiful mountains appear to have not changed any. Even the roads are the same, dirt and gravel, just as they would have been back at the turn of the century. It was about 200 yards back down to the barn. Breathing in the refreshing crisp air, I felt so good I decided to run down, hopping and bouncing from bump to bump, all the way down. By that time, Herr Wampfler had finished his chores in the barn and was ready to leave.
Back down at the house, I had time to dry out while Frau Wampfler served us a hearty Swiss meal. She prepared a delicious dish made from a French cheese called raclette (pronounced rock-let). It is prepared right at the table by melting the side of the cheese block on a special toaster and scraping it off over boiled new potatoes. We liked it so well that we bought some raclette cheese before we left and took it back to Germany to savor later. After supper, we enjoyed a cup of herbal tea just like Grandma Durtschi used to make. The Wampflers were excited to share a meal with us and entertain conversation about our families and the old days.
The next morning, Uncle Wampfler took us in to see the town. The old church sits just below a stone castle on the lower slope of a small mountain. They overlook the town from the west. The church, typically rural European, is a simple rectangular structure with white plastered walls, a steep roof, and a steeple on the east end. Next to the main door on the west end is a large plaque with the names of all the pastors who have served Wimmis since the Reformation, from about 1520. Of course, we were interested to see who was presiding there when the Durtschis attended. From 1881-1903, it was Ludwig Hurner, and then from 1904-1910 it was Otto Lortscher. I could not help but think of the stories I had heard about the intolerance shown by these religious leaders toward the family after they joined the Church.
This is a Lutheran church, and the decoration reflects the conservative, yet warm nature of these people. The interior seems relatively modern, as if it had been recently renovated. It has a smooth stone floor and an ornately carved wooden pulpit in the front like most old churches in Europe. Our attention was quickly drawn to the brightly colored stained glass windows dominating the side walls. They contain what appear to be family crests of various townspeople. I do not know how many generations back these names go, but I immediately looked for our family name. The Durtschis were not represented but the Hiltbrands were. Their crest is a simple shield with three large white flowers arranged in a triangle.
Uncle Wampfler plays the organ in the church. Therefore, he has the key to the organ and a key to the door leading up into the steeple. Of course, we were excited when he asked us if we wanted to go up and look around. On the way up the stairway, we saw the large clockworks which control the clock, bells, and chimes. He said it was not the original workings, but a rather new replacement. After we had climbed up high into the steeple, we rested at an observation point where we could look out eastward over the city. Uncle Wampfler pointed out the building which he thought had been the school in the Durtschi days. It is a simple but large 4-story building, now occupied by the Swiss Army.
Before we left the church, I paused to consider what it must have been like to leave home, friends, and family for the sake of their new found beliefs. The family seemed to have everything here in this beautiful town and country. What a powerful force the Church had become in their lives. I thought of the persecution and intolerance they endured for joining the Church. I questioned myself: Could I ever do the same?
| Upon leaving the church, we walked out to engage a full view of the castle above. It is not very large, as castles go, but still quite impressive. The thick stone walls, covered with white plaster, seemed to be well cared for. A bear, the symbol of Bern, is painted prominently on the side. I do not know any of the history of the castle or who owns it, but it showed signs of being occupied. There were well-tended window boxes and several federdecke (feather ticks) airing out on the window sills.
Just below the church and castle is the center, and oldest part, of town. The homes are quaint old chalets, with broad sloping roofs, very ornately decorated with scallops, and gingerbread trim. Made entirely of wood and unpainted, they have naturally weathered and darkened with age. Most of them have sayings of various kinds carved or painted across the front along the eaves or the verandah rail. They are not that tall, mostly 2 or 2-1/2 stories, with the top floor being more of an attic room. Almost every house has its date of construction carved on the front. There are some dates back into the 1600's but the majority are around the 1700's. It is amazing that these wooden homes can last this long.
Uncle Wampfler took us to the house which he suspects is the oldest in Wimmis. It does not have a date on it, however Uncle Wampfler knew another way to date it. He pointed out two holes located just under the point of the eaves. He said that in the old days these little cut-outs vented the smoke from the fireplaces inside. The smoke went up from the ovens or fire places into the open attic above the living areas instead of going into a chimney. Once in the attic it escaped out the holes in the front of the house. These vents were usually paired and came in various shapes and sizes. In this old house they are in the shape of a cross. Uncle Wamplfer said the cross-shaped vents were popular prior to the reformation, and were not used after 1520. Therefore, he suspects this house was built prior to 1520.
A young couple, in their mid to late thirties, had recently purchased the house. While we were standing there admiring it the wife just happened to come outside. Uncle Wampfler greeted her and introduced us. We talked about the house and she suggested we go in for a better look. She was as excited to show us their home as we were to see it. She explained that they had just completed a major renovation and restoration. Insulation had been added and various structural improvements made. They repartitioned the interior with modern walls to make it a comfortable and modern place to live. They left the exterior walls intact, and restored as much of the old wooden beams and roof as possible, trying to maintain the original design as much as possible. The original old kitchen fireplace is still there. It is like an open hearth with a high arch above to gather and funnel the smoke up into the attic. Back in the old days, the sausage and meat were hung high in the peak of this arch to be cured by the smoke. Upstairs the exposed beams, blackened by centuries of smoke, had been sealed with a type of varnish to keep the black from rubbing off. These ancient beams contributed dramatically to the decorative and rustic appearance of the home's interior. Back in the old kitchen, small recesses were visible in the wall where candles used to be placed for light. What a thrill it had been to experience this old home being "reborn" to continue, hopefully, for centuries to come.
Leaving the old house, we drove over to the Thunersee. It is about a 15 to 20 minute drive by car on a good paved road. I do not suppose our forefathers made this trip often. It would have taken them about 1 hour by horse and wagon. Spiez, on the lake shore, is very picturesque with the mountains on the opposite shore creating a perfect backdrop. To the south, the mountains rise up in spectacular jagged peaks, marking the tourist meccas of Interlaken, Lauterbrunnen, and Grindelwald, where the glacier-laden mountains rise to a height of 3,000 meters (10,000 feet) above the valley floor. This general area is where the Kaufmans, Feuzes, and Gertschs originate.
| In Spiez and Faulensee, just to the south, we looked for family names in cemeteries. We were puzzled when we could not find a single grave marker dating back more than about 50 years. We asked the caretaker why. He explained that the cemetery is filled one plot next to the other, row by row, until it is filled. After the cemetery is filled they bring in about five feet of dirt, cover it up, and start over again. This is why some of the cemeteries seem to be sitting high up on large mounds. The records are kept of all who are buried there, but only the headstones of those on the top level are visible.
My thoughts drifted back to my many ancestors laying buried there and in other surrounding alpine villages. What a grand heritage to contemplate. Through their roots have come a great posterity, now firmly rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ, whose great story is still in the making, and in reality has just begun. During moments of quiet, my mind often returns to those massive mountains with their rolling hills and meadows abundantly clad in green, painted with dainty wild flowers. Then my thoughts glide down into the valleys to the little villages and the people whom I have grown to love and respect. During those moments, my heart soars for a time, and I am edified. I often ache with a longing to go back. It's like returning home.
This work Copyright 1987 for the Durtschi Family by Mark Durtschi.
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