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I Like To Do What No One Else Does

To Hans Burgener, building Hori sledges is a matter of honour.

Hori sledges are an integral part of Grindelwald’s tradition. The original Hori sledge is made of ash wood, with distinctly curved runners that are shaped in steam. For a long time, these sledges used to be the most important means of transport for local farmers. Today, they are used only once a year in designated Hori races, but the art of building Hori sledges is still based on the same set of unwritten rules. Farmer Hans Burgener knows one of them.

It is snowing when we reach Hans Burgener’s workshop located in the part of Grindelwald that is called Unter Eiger. Maybe it’s his long white beard and bright blue eyes that make us like him right away. Not impressed by the cold winter temperatures, he is wearing a light work jacket, even though it’s almost as cold in his workshop as it is outside. He seems to easily adjust to the cold weather. And he also seams to easily adjust to the light hours of the day: “I get up at 4.30 am and I go to bed at 9 pm – I don’t like to stay up long,” he tells us in this melodic Swiss German accent that makes some of his sentences sound like questions.

Speaking to us, he is working on one of his sledges. Now only used once a year in the popular Hori race, these sledges used to be the main means of transport for local farmers to carry firewood, hay or heavy goods: “That’s why it needs to be light, yet stable,” Hans Burgener explains to us, giving us a demonstration by lifting up the sledge onto his shoulders. Another important fact: They must be constructed in a way that allows to remove and exchange individual parts.

Nature shows the way

This sustainable approach goes very well with Hans Burgener’s own down-to-earth mentality. “You have to reinvest what you earn, keeping only enough money to survive.” Hans Burgener doesn’t believe in unlimited economic growth. He would never get a whole new sledge just because of one broken runner. He doesn’t believe in this, because it’s a concept that doesn’t exist in nature – except when man interferes. “I always ask myself how much more milk farmers want to get out of their cows…,” he says, slowly shaking his head in disbelief. He also tells us that he is missing some common sense in this world. And he speaks about the values that he – the lone wolf he is – lives by. Talking to him, it becomes very clear that Hori sledges represent so much more in his life than just the preservation of old traditions.

Everything is just a loan

After completing his apprenticeship as a carpenter, Hans Burgener desperately wanted to become a farmer. For the money he had saved from his small salary, he bought a cow. He gradually built up his farm together with his wife Karoline: They renovated several stables and three Alpine chalets, one of which became their home. “I love the alp,” he says. There, he makes cheese in summer and dried meat in winter, which he then sells at his farm. He also tells us about how angry he was when he was a little boy and his father, a farmer himself, sold most of their property. Maybe that explains some of his values: “It’s important that we use what we inherit from our ancestors and pass it on to the next generation in a good condition.”

About honour

What is especially impressing about Hans Burgener is his deep and honest respect for other people. For example his respect for the man who built Hori sledges before him. When Hans Burgener decided to take on this traditional craft, it was a matter of honour to ask for permission first. “As long as he was still building them, I didn't want to compete with him. But when he died in 2000, I asked his son and family for permission.” Since none of them wanted to take over their father’s business, Hans Burgener became the region’s next Hori sledge builder.

Hans’ attitude seems to be surprising in today’s competitive world. And it makes us think about our own values. Hans Burgener shows character and defies some of the principles of our fast-paced society. Maybe that’s why he seems to be so in tune with himself and the world that surrounds him. “I like to do what no one else does,” he says. His free spirit is probably the reason for his calm and relaxed attitude. But to him, it’s also important to be a good role model.

He already passed down his farm to his son. If he had a wish, he would probably buy back all the land that his father once sold. But Hans Burgener is not someone who mourns after things. He rather looks forward to showing his grandson the art of building Hori sledges. So that it will stay in Grindelwald for much longer.

Text: Sandra Pfeifer
Photos: David Payr //

Jan. 31, 2017

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