The Simmental’s history
History and anecdotes
Long before the first spa visitors came to the Simmental, the Stone Age hunters had gathered there. Neighbours from Valais sought their fortune here too. The thermal water in Weissenburg became popular in 1604. From 1686, high society started staying in Lenk for curative treatments. Around 1900, there were 250 guest beds, mainly for summer tourism. Soon the first winter sports guests arrived.
Immerse yourself in the history of the Simmental and learn more about the places and people of the region. Small excursions into the world of legends are included.
Very important: you say «at Lenk»!
Lenk is etymologically derived from the transformation of «An der langen Egg» (on the long corner), «lange Ecke», «Die Langeck», written together «Die Läng’k» , to «la Lenk» in French. Thus the results of modern linguistic research. Therefore «at Lenk»!
Where the nobility took the waters
Up above the Weissenburg a warm spring issues from a rocky crevice. For more than 350 remarkable years, the Bath Weissenburg has been a renowned health spa. In 1604 the city council of Berne paid to have the spring encased in stone, had a bathing pool built and employed a pool attendant. In order to be able to cope with the crowds of people seeking cures, the front bathing and spa building was constructed in 1875.
Bath Weissenburg had at this time up to 300 beds and became the meeting place of the European high nobility. When in 1938 the Dutch Queen Wilhelmine was spending time there for a cure with her daughter and Princess Juliana became engaged during the stay to Prince Bernhard, guests flocked from all over the world.
The former Weissenburgbad Spa – holiday destination of the aristocracy (in German)
The Lindwurm in Ried
Graveyard in Ried, St. Stephan
Beside the graveyard in Ried, next to the church in St. Stephan, a stream flows out of the ground. Usually the water is clear and clean but occasionally its flow is quite milky and frothy. That was when the elderly people used to say, that the lindworm inside the mountain was wriggling and turning again.
According to an ancient legend, in the past a huge lindworm had struck terror and caused much destruction to the crops, the population and the animals. The inhabitants did not know how to protect themselves and became in the end very poor. The monster was only vanquished by Stephanus, one of the few Christians of the Theban Legion, which after surviving the massacre in St. Maurice had fled into our valley. He then introduced the heathen population to Christianity.
At the spot where the lindworm had its cave, the church of St. Stephan was built. One says, that if the cross on the church tower in Ried no longer stands on the roof, the dragon would appear again and all the misery would return.
Dr Lindwurm uf Bärndütsch (in Swiss German)
The beginning of winter sports at Lenk
The British count as the pioneers of Swiss Tourism. Also at Lenk the English played a decisive role in the development of foreign tourism. They also were responsible for helping the Lenk region make the break through and they initiated the construction of the first transport system – the famous «Funi».
Amongst the numerous guests also Field marshal Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, the commander in chief of the allied land forces in the 2ndWorld War spent many winter holidays at Lenk.
Lenk very British – der Beginn des Wintersports an der Lenk
Horrific fire ball
The Lenk village fire of 1878
Like most of the high lying villages, also Lenk witnessed and suffered a horrific village fire in the 19th century. The fire broke out from a constructional error in the chimney of a bakery. Fanned by a strong, dry north-west wind, the flames quickly engulfed the entire village centre including the church. Because the most of the inhabitants were scattered over a large area of the mountain and hay fields, only very few were on the spot to help fight the fire.
The support from the guests staying on the Lenk at the time as well as from far beyond the borders of the community towards the victims of the fire was enormous. The local «Help committee» was able to receive large loads of natural goods or cash donations and distribute them.
Help for fire victims (in German)
Clever boys and defensive girls
When all the battle-fit Lenk men entered the religious wars, the enemies from the Valais crossed over the Rawil pass and stole all the cattle from the Lenk on the Langermatte. On the other side of the pass, the Valaisers left the cattle to graze calmly while they enjoyed quantities of Fendant. With much cunning, clever boys from the Lenk succeeded in driving the animals back on to the Lenk.
When the Valaisers noticed this, they came back to the Lenk with aggressive intent. The Lenkers, especially the women, courageously attacked the advancing Valaisers and forced them to retreat. Still today, the spindle and sword in the Lenk municipal coat of arms remind us of the «Battle of the women» on the Langermatte.
The legend of the «Wyberschlacht» (women’s battle) (in German)
The history of tourism at Lenk
The most important events
When Christen Perreten obtained permission in 1689 from the authorities in Berne to run a bathing establishment, nobody could have known that the Balm spring would become the most important and the spring with the highest sulphur content in the Alps. The first guests travelled to the Lenk Baths at the beginning of the 17th century.
Beside the already existing guesthouses and after a 20-year building period, the new extended and reconstructed “Bath“ was opened in 1862. With this, Lenk could provide up to date accommodation and spa facilities. After the village fire in 1878 many people began to move away from the village. Only after 1902, when the Spiez – Erlenbach – Zweisimmen railway was opened, there was economic recovery again. With the establishment of the Tourist Association, the Ski Club and the Music Society in 1903, both summer as well as winter tourism on the Lenk began to expand again.
Overview of tourism history at Lenk (in German)
Journey in time
From the caves in the high mountains to the first church congregation
The first Lenkers lived in the early Stone Age in the Tierberg caves at the top of the Simmen valley. Three layers of wood coal and ashes in varying depths indicate three different and distinct periods during which the caves were inhabited.
In the Middle Ages the first inhabitants on the Lenk settled on the sunny slopes, since the plateau beside the village was occasionally – either due to flooding and after heavy storms – was transformed into a lake.
Then later, in the years 1504 and 1505, the Lenkers built their own church and founded a parish. This would explain the growth in the population. Cardinal Matthäus Schiner is said to have consecrated the church in Lenk. Later also the Lenkers made tremendous resistance to the introduction of the Reformation. In 1529 then came the turn-around by the Lenkers. They adopted the Reformation. This was the reason why the good relations with the catholic Valaisers on the other side of the Rawil turned into hostility.
A trip into the past (in German)
1000 years older than Ötzi
Archaeological discoveries which since 2003 have appeared out of the glacier ice on the Schnidejoch in the Wildhorn range on the Lenk, have proven to be a lot older than was originally assumed.
They originate from the time around 4500 BC and are therefore at least one thousand years older than the glacier mummy Ötzi. They consist of prehistoric remnants of clothing made of leather and raffia, a cooking pot and an arrow, bronze dress clasps and Roman shoe nails. The life-sized Schnidi stands today in the Tourist Center Lenk.
Archaeology of the Schnidejoch