The Spirit of Gstaad

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Round table talk: Farmer’s wife meets star musician

Her domain in summer is the Alp Mittelberg by Abländschen. He is at home in concert halls all over the world. Both meet together at the table reserved for regulars: Vreni Müllener, from Gstaad, farmer’s wife, municipal councillor and mother of five adult children and Andreas Ottensamer, from Vienna, clarinettist and regular star soloist at the Gstaad Menuhin Festival. They philosophise in a laid-back interview about ‘Geld, Geist and Gstaad’.

Mrs Müllener, you grew up in Lauenen and have lived for many years in Saanenland. What is the secret of Gstaad?

VM: It’s the unspoilt scenery, the lovely valleys and the imposing rock faces, which are far enough away and also leave us enough space. We are rightly proud of our splendid townscape. Every time I drive over the Möser from Zweisimmen, I breathe the air of my ‘Heimat’. And wild horses could not drag my husband and I away from here.

Aren’t there too many celebrities and jet setters in the valley?

VM: Not at all. On the contrary, we rub along together very well, the so-called ‘rich’ and we ordinary folk. There is something for everybody – families and the price-conscious also have their place here, it is just a question of knowing where to go.

And you, Mr. Ottensamer, what is your experience of Gstaad and its surroundings?

AO: Just as Mrs. Müllener describes. None of those stereotypes, which you can find if you want. I see little or nothing of the in-crowd. The different groups of society mix together excellently in this Alpine arena. As an artist, I am impressed by the amount of energy in the air. I like the unpretentious warmth and the honest, dry humour. Unfortunately, I don’t have enough time to discover the valleys and the Alps.

Are the ‘Gstaader’ a good audience?

AO: Definitely. They’re great, they want to hear classical music – until the final note. And it is exactly the holistic festival experience that makes this place outstanding. Visitors stay on for several days, go hiking, cycling, eat good food and in the evening go to a concert. Just as Menuhin once envisaged: friends meeting friends and like-minded people in a relaxed setting. It has a totally different intensity to a classical performance in a concert hall in a town.

On the subject of the neighbourhood: how do tourism and agriculture get along together from your point of view as a local politician?

VM: We are all aware that there must be a certain give and take. Tourism, with its large-scale events and festivals, creates many interesting encounters. And above all valuable job opportunities. My husband, for example, worked at the ski lift in winter, my son is a ski instructor. It seems important to me that Gstaad doesn’t focus on mass tourism but on quality. This has paid off for many decades. For everybody.

As someone who lives in lively Berlin, what do you miss most of all in the tranquil Bernese Oberland?

AO: Sometimes it feels odd not to be able to shop 24 hours a day. However, I ask myself: why should we? If I’m being completely honest, I enjoy the peacefulness of Gstaad. At the same time, the infrastructure is excellent, the hotels wonderful, service is first-class – sometimes we all need a little luxury. It makes life easier, not only for us artists.

What piece of music would you choose to typify Gstaad?

VM: Difficult question. As a farmer, I am naturally connected to folk music. For example, the song “Lueget, vo Bärg und Tal” – although we don’t have a lake here, at least not one immediately in sight. Or a traditional ‘Naturjutz’ (natural yodelling). Melodies such as these without words linger on and arouse emotions, just as Saanenland does.

And what would be your choice Mr Ottensamer?

AO: I play a lot of Brahms. And in this clarinet trio we play a Ländler (traditional folk dance). This captures the spirit of this region exactly: upmarket warmth and friendliness, that’s what Gstaad means to me.

The interview took place at the oldest hotel in the square:
Vreni Müllener’s ‘Heimat’ and blog:
Andreas Ottensamer’s stage:

Andreas Ottensamer’s tip: Tennis – wherever, whenever

Andreas Ottensamer was within an inch of becoming a tennis pro. For years he practised the sport on sand. Then he had to decide: music or sport. He chose the clarinet instead of the racquet. This is why he visits – when he is able to – tennis tournaments. For example, the attractive rallies at the WTA Ladies Championship Gstaad, launched in 2016, which takes place a week before the ATP Men’s tournament.

Vreni Müllener’s tip: Oberer Stalden – where else?

It is barely signposted and is often omitted from hiking maps: Obere Stalden. For Vreni Müllener this romantic place has multiple, but equal, symbolic meanings. As a small child, it was here she learnt to milk and helped with all tasks at hand in the chalet and stable – later she got to know her husband there. Nowadays it is too difficult to work there, but there is nothing better than relaxing on this secluded alp at 1800 metres above sea level.

GPS: E 7.244789 – N 46.430078

Take the Postauto (postbus) Gstaad-Gsteig until Grund; go along Meielsgrundstrasse by car or on foot into the valley and turn left to Unterstafel. From Oberstafel it can only be reached on foot.