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Gotthard - Alone against 250 home defenders: Drama at the Devil's Bridge

Alone against 250 home defenders: Drama at the Devil's Bridge

Karl J. Fetz was a «Swiss Lawrence of Arabia». On the Gotthard, however, he was the victim of a mob. 66 years later, Fetz's son and someone who had participated in the hunt met

It doesn't get any more rugged or narrower. Not spatially and somehow mentally and spiritually either: The Schöllenen is a landscape, as if painted for opera backdrops. Europe's bottleneck and Swiss power pole. Unconquerable nature, conquered by technology. Then even the devil bit his teeth out. Then everything became reduit, the nation's bunker temple to survive the war under construction. Not like the foreign powers who were fighting foreign deals here. The tourist who briefly parks his caravan on the precipice is horrified at the thought of French grenadiers and Suvorov's soldiers throwing each other into the gorge on swaying planks. All the screaming swallowed the fog and spray.

The project: A dam wall with a height of 270 meters and an average of 1.2 billion

Instead of a valley, a lake and, at the narrowest of the river, a huge wall: everything for progress, stronger than ever. That was the project of a reservoir in the Urserental. Three villages would have sunk into it: Andermatt, Realp and Hospental.

In the years of the Second World War and shortly thereafter, the power plant in the center of Switzerland was to set the superlative standards. The reservoir should have a capacity of over 1.2 billion cubic meters. With an installed capacity of almost 1,300 megawatts, it would have been the largest hydropower plant ever built in the Alps. Roads, bridges and railroad tracks would have been rebuilt. Cost point of the whole: around 1.2 billion.

The project had all the technical and energy-related advantages. The disadvantage: The Urserental, on the other hand, was storming with furor. That was ultimately decisive for the failure: the project could not be pushed through against the will of those affected. The people of Urschner feared for their livelihood. The national interest in a secure supply of electricity was at best secondary.

In April 1945 there were increasing signs in the Urserental that the efforts of the Centralschweizerische Kraftwerke (CKW) to acquire land here only strengthened the resistance. The corporation council issued a "warning to the landowners": It said that the initiators of the power plant did not want to accept the rejection of the original snow people and "impose their will on us in a non-Swiss way." The leaflet concluded with the words: “Peasants, stay true to your paternal clod! Show the foreign mercenaries of big business and traitors the door! Now it is time to take on the man and take up the fight for the homeland! " When it became known in early 1946 that the "Sonne" hotel and the "Monopoly" had also been sold to CKW, the mood became explosive. Councilor of States Ludwig Danioth wrote in the "Gotthard-Post": "The moment could come when proud calm can turn into holy anger." A threat? Karl J. Fetz came along.

A recent, purely Swiss drama is also almost forgotten. It took place in the winter darkness: on February 19, 1946. Again someone was supposed to fall from the Devil's Bridge. Another chance victim was found, a soul for the soulless. That sounds like a legend, but it wasn't more than 66 years ago.

Once again, two fundamental forces of the country collided: Here the unconditional connection to the Scholle, enriched with related myths (with the Réduit, Morgarten, Wilhelm Tell). There the vision of the technology. This bold, sometimes even brute belief: Let's generate the energy to electrify the whole country! Bergbauer against Homo Faber.

And once again it became cramped in the Schöllenen, devilishly cramped.


The man who answered our call on the phone wanted to “let it rest. Why tear open the scars of old wounds? "

When he heard the name "Fetz" he was immediately pricked up. Somebody like him doesn't have to dig for the name in his mind. Every adult Urschner knows «De Fetz». Anyone who screamed like him: «De Fetz isch there! De Fetz is here! " One who kept repeating the battle slogan: «We don't negotiate. We don't sell. We will not go."

Ludwig Regli, now 82, Andermatter by birth and out of conviction, was at the forefront. At that time, when a pack of 250 Urschners dragged Karl J. Fetz from the Unterland region out of the Hotel Sonne, he had barely dismounted, beat him as soft as a nappy and chased him out of the village, through the Schöllenen, down to Göschenen.

The road had been covered in snow and night had fallen. Fetz had to flee limping, on the Schöllenenbahn, through the dark tunnels, with a broken rib, accompanied by the Andermatt mayor, without whose protection what Fetz might have heard would have come true: "Throw him off the Devil's Bridge!"

Ludwig Regli on the phone did not deny having been there when he was 16 at the time. He never dreamed of ever denying it. But to meet a scrap again? Not the victim at the time (the engineer died in 1982), but the son: Linus Fetz, 73 today ... And then Regli agreed.

The meeting was to take place at the Andermatt train station. On our responsibility and initiative. We had troubled dreams the night before (this remark on our own account may be allowed). Regli had said on the phone: "If I hear all of this again, I can get excited, even today."

We had already contacted and got to know Linus Fetz beforehand: as a committed, sociable man. Fetz thinks things over carefully and calmly, but then firmly insists on the conclusions of his reflection. Just out of politeness, he would not belittle the content.

The retired ETH civil engineer, who has lived in Niederlenz AG for forty years, switched to the Schöllenenbahn (now the Matterhorn-Gotthard-Bahn) in Göschenen. "Let's see," he joked, "if someone is watching me and whistling." An allusion to February 19, 1946: A Urschner conspirator, a train attendant at the time at the Schöllenenbahn, had taken on the task of reporting the appearance of Fetz immediately so that “the people” could be drummed out of their homes - “De Fetz is here! » - 250 people, women and men, all in holy anger.

When a train arrived in Andermatt at the minute in question, Regli stormed away - we thought he was taking Reissaus. But he just looked to see if it was the right course. Then the two gentlemen walked up to each other and shook hands. After 66 years, for the first time:

"I am pleased." - "Me too."


A five-horse carriage is pulling up on Andermatt's station square, picking up tourists. Regli and Fetz sit down at the coffee table. Without this - the significance of the Gotthard, the myths, the tradition - it is difficult to understand what seems unbelievable today, on this sunny calendar day: the Swiss almost killed a Swiss in a frenzy. Because of the homeland, for which both lived in the classic Swiss style, based their professional careers on it, put their energy into action - Regli like Fetz.

Regli spent his professional life in the fortress. Everything was secret. If he stepped out of a rock cavern in uniform and came across tourists taking photos, he tore the film out of their camera. He couldn't even tell the woman what he was doing that day. Once, however, he smuggled her in, into the restricted military area, and showed it to her. Today he can tell that, and he tells the stories well.

Still enviably fit, Regli sprints through a soldiers' secret tunnel, recently made accessible to the general public, while the younger ones grouse afterwards. At the other end he points to the ridge of the smooth granite: "Do you see the Känzeli above?" Nobody groans up there! "Yes, hey, this is my training course." Regli also skis and cross-country skiing. Then he points to a mountain forest: "By then the water would have stood still." The water of the planned reservoir. "The whole Urserental would have been flooded, from Andermatt via Hospental to Realp." (For details on the Monster Project, see below.)

Karl J. Fetz was on the way for this, on behalf of the Centralschweizerische Kraftwerke (CKW). The specialist in land acquisition was supposed to convince Urschner, with plenty of cash, to sell. He drew the anger of the locals without giving any special reason for his behavior. Nonetheless, the people of Urschner only talked about "Agent" Fetz and his "rooting out work". “He wasn't one of those responsible,” Regli admits frankly, “but he was the one we could get on with. We had to act: for our homeland, for the clod. Law or not. "

Linus Fetz, the son, remarks: “To demonstrate would have been entirely in accordance with the law. Also up here in Andermatt. Lucerne (headquarters of the CKW) was probably too far back then, or the journey was expensive. Today you just hit the windows there. "


Linus Fetz also has a noticeable desire and talent to tell stories. The relief of both men to build bridges through stories becomes noticeable. After all, with a span of 66 years. But would it be far enough for a reconciliation?

Two memories of the events of February 19, 1946 are unforgettable to Linus Fetz and, he explains, occupied both his father and him all his life:

On the one hand, the memory of how father came home back then (Linus was still in kindergarten): «Father could hardly sit up. To this day I see the impressions of the Trigguni nails on his back. He was trampled on with nail shoes. He had bruise and tear wounds on the head, on the thigh and lower leg, traces of strangulation on the neck, a transverse fissure of the sacrum, a broken rib with pleura complications and a concussion. He was unable to work for 95 days. My mother had a heart attack. She too had to be hospitalized. I was brought to my grandparents in Chur, where I went to school. In addition, there was existential fear: If the father could no longer work - who would provide food and an apartment? »

On the other hand, there was the “Shame of Uri”. In contrast to the press, the riot had amused the Swiss population even more - “Oh, our wild mountain people”. At the judicial aftermath, however, the sympathy cooled. The local and cantonal judiciary had not only managed the feat of pronouncing Pflästerli punishments as if the court were a care team, they had even made the victim an accomplice and fined him - for false accusations. Fetz had decided not to involve Ludwig Danioth, who was at least morally responsible at the time, a councilor and councilor of Uri, in the investigation as the intellectual instigator. (Danioth is honored with a bronze plaque at Andermatt train station. Because of him, his uncle, Haudegen Regli was given the first name Ludwig.)

Outside Uri people shook their heads. Rarely enough in history have Urschner and Altdorfer had the hay on the same stage. “Autonomy!” Was the call from above. But here, for once, Uri yin and yang merged.

The verdict of the court was “a real meanness”, wrote the “Tat” in May 1948: “The acquitted councilor Danioth enjoyed the role of the freedom hero. He spoke of self-defense and felt like a new Tell. Stupid chatter ... There can be no question of decent, independent judiciary. " The "NZZ" wondered about the velvet glove with which the home hooligans were touched. Even in Uri the “Gotthard Post” reprimanded the competition from the “Urner Wochenblatt” for having colored the events nicely. The famous "Bö." drew a Justitia from Uri in "Nebelspalter", who peered to the side with the blindfold pulled up: "Iisere-n-aine or nit iisere-n-aine, that's the question here." The federal court overturned everything - clearly. The people of Uri, still contrite even then, awarded Fetz compensation. "Voluntarily," says Regli at the coffee table. "Growls on this," corrects Linus Fetz.


On a second point, too, the points of view diverge: Fetz would like to know why it was the church of all people who incited the youngsters? A Capuchin in particular: Father Octavian Weber.

Regli replies, also completely openly: “Father Octavian was President of our Catholic youth team - there were no other clubs in Andermatt. A great man, actually a saint. He taught us to stand up for our homeland by all means. Was the whole valley flooded - where else would we have been at home? A multitude of us resettled, driven to the winds - we would have lost any community. All others who leave can return and have home in front of their eyes. Ours would have been sunk. All of this here: never again! That is why Father Octavian got the most beautiful place in the cemetery. That means something with a Capuchin. "

Fetz replied: “At the end of his life, my father had no resentment against the thugs. He only harbored a grudge against the Uri courts. He therefore noted with a certain satisfaction that the Altdorf judge Gustav Muheim later failed with his career and was not elected to the federal court. The riot process had shown that Muheim would not have brought the suitability for it. "

“This fatherly differentiation of things,” continues Fetz, “applies to me too. On the other hand, Father Octavian's motif does not seem to me to be in the love of one's homeland. But in his denominational mission, for which he was additionally admonished from above: Octavian simply feared losing sheep if Urschner emigrated and possibly mixed with Reformed people elsewhere. "

Regli is silent - this statement evidently touches upon an inner semblance or even shrine of firm conviction and admiration for him. An obituary for Father Octavian in the “Neue Zürcher Nachrichten” from August 1946 seems to support Fetz's assumption: “As a pastor he could not see that in the land of St. Sigisbert, the Christian families with their Catholic beliefs should go under. "

"What would your father have said," asks Regli, "if he had known that we would both meet up here?"

“He would have been pleased,” replies Fetz: “My father wasn't intimidated so easily. As a daredevil, he loved difficult tasks. He had proven that not least in the Orient. Also at the EMD, during the war. He spoke Arabic. In Syria he had to buy land for resettled Armenians. Once he was invited to Haile Selassie's in Ethiopia. He was the only member of the delegation who refused to 'dine at a despot's table'. He preferred to have his meal outside with the fellahs. "

Regli smiles: “The ideal man. The Central Swiss power plants couldn't have found a better one for Andermatt. "


On the Devil's Bridge, the two look like old comrades. They talk for a while without witnesses. The closeness that Regli seeks to Fetz can also come from the fact that he can no longer hear well.

The details of its history 66 years ago remain inexhaustible. It's amazing how fresh everything has remained for them. Maybe that's the scary thing about it: you have to think carefully about what you are doing. Actions have consequences. The most underrated consequence is that they don't go away. Both men think about it and nod. Everyone will evaluate the sustainability of the deed of February 19, 1946 in their own way: Fetz as an evil act, Regli as a necessary one?

Next to the motorway, down in the direction of Altdorf, there is a poster for the canton of Uri. Inscription: PEACE! The word does not belong here. That's English - or just fashion.