Interview

Dark clouds and drones over «the most beautiful restaurant in the world»

After being on the frontpage of National Geographic, tourists from all over the world came to Aescher in Switzerland - a restaurant right in the middle of a rockface. Now an era comes to an end since the Knechtle family decided to give up the restaurant lease. In the interview, the hosts talk about their struggles: Too many tourists, too little space and money for urgently needed renovations.

Martin Oswald
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Nicole and Bernhard Knechtle in front of their restaurant Aescher. (Image: Raphael Rohner)

Nicole and Bernhard Knechtle in front of their restaurant Aescher. (Image: Raphael Rohner)

What happened in the last few days, after you announced that you would give up the lease for the restaurant Aescher?

Nicole Knechtle: The phone rang non-stop, many reporters called here. But we also got reactions from our circle of friends. The people who know us show great understanding for our decision.

Bernhard Knechtle: Some even congratulated us, that it was a courageous descision of ours.

What made you decide to make a clean break now?

Bernhard Knechtle: It was not an easy decision to make. I cried too.

Nicole Knechtle: When we started here, we were full of enthusiasm. We are both made for this job. Both of us grew up in mountain restaurants. But over time we noticed that there is not enough room left for our passion here. The whole development has increasingly taken our pleasure.

Bernhard Knechtle: It's not the point that our operating concept did not work. But promises were made that a couple of infrastructural things would be changed. Nothing has happened. But we do not need to look for a guilty party now.

Restaurant Aescher belongs to the Wildkirchli Foundation. President Stefan Müller told us, that plans for building improvements are well advanced.

Nicole Knechtle: Other mountain inns are private but the Aescher is not ours. And that is really hard. You invest a lot but you still can't do it the way you would like. We've tried everything possible to improve the situation: changing the warehouse, reducing the menu, opening a kiosk - all to better serve the endless stream of visitors.

Bernhard Knechtle in his rustic parlour. (Image: Raphael Rohner)

Bernhard Knechtle in his rustic parlour. (Image: Raphael Rohner)

What are the biggest challenges here in the middle of a rockface to operate a restaurant?

Bernhard Knechtle: The logistics are extraordinary. Food and drinks are delivered by funicular, stored in a cave at the Wildkirchli and brought here every morning.

Nicole Knechtle: But it's getting harder and harder now because at six o'clock in the morning, hikers are already on their way. Eventhough the first funicular does not start before half past eight.

Bernhard Knechtle: This summer it was crazy how often we were woken up by drones in the morning. Imagine; we sleep up here with the window open and outside at sunrise the first drone whirs. And then all the photographers come up here. One even asked us to turn on the lights in every room even though our kids were sleeping.

Should tourism somehow get regulated up here?

Bernhard Knechtle: We have said many times, a lock should be installed and people would have to draw a number like a the post office. Oftentimes the restaurant is packed so that visitors and our thirteen employees get in each others way.

Nicole Knechtle: But we somehow got that under control because we stopped accepting reservations on the weekends. The other day a guest told me we were faster than McDrive. But that's not a compliment for us.

Bernhard Knechtle: We want to dedicate time to our guests and deliver quality.

Chef Bernhard Knechtle processes 16 tons of potatoes during the season for his famous Rösti. All peeled by hand. (Image: Raphael Rohner)

Chef Bernhard Knechtle processes 16 tons of potatoes during the season for his famous Rösti. All peeled by hand. (Image: Raphael Rohner)

What architectual measures would be the most urgent?

Bernhard Knechtle: We still have no running water and the power supply leaves much to be desired. Boiling potatoes and running the dishwasher is not possible at the same time.

Nicole Knechtle: The position of our guest toilets would have to be moved, to avoid that everybody uses that same entrance. We are simple people, but at least a private shower for the staff and for the family would have been the least.

What changed on the Aescher when you first appeared on the front page of National Geographic and then stars like Roger Federer or Ashton Kutcher came here?

Bernhard Knechtle: We quickly adjusted to the new situation, but some people didn't like that.

Nicole Knechtle: You have to image - five Chinese guests share one portion of Rösti together and ask for five additional plates. We had to react and asked for two swiss francs for the cutlery. We had no other opportunity. But of course, we were critisized for that change.

Did the locals stay away because of the international visitors?

Bernhard Knechtle: Many people from Eastern Switzerland now avoid lunchtime or the weekends. But the evening is more peaceful, since we stopped offering rooms for the night.

Nicole Knechtle: This restriction has also been criticized. But the locals appreciate it and enjoy to come in the evenings.

Nicole and Bernhard Knechtle have three children between the age of two and four. Restaurant Aescher is open seven days a week during the summer season. The working day starts around 6 o'clock in the morning and ends at 10 o'clock in the evening. Breaks are short, there is no free time.

Looking forward to more family time: Nicole und Bernhard Knechtle. (Image: Raphael Rohner)

Looking forward to more family time: Nicole und Bernhard Knechtle. (Image: Raphael Rohner)

You have small children and a restaurant full of guests all around the clock. How did you get this all under one roof?

Bernhard Knechtle: You just have to do without everything.

Nicole Knechtle: We are absolutely aware that there is not much left over from work. That's how we grew up. Also our parents did not have much time for us in the summer and we still came out normally. Our kids love it up here.

Bernhard Knechtle: Our luxury is that we live and work in the most beautiful place. The sunrise here - who has such a thing?

Your time on the Aescher will definitely come to an end this fall. What are you plans for the family?

Nicole Knechtle: We do not have plans yet. We are now looking forward to the family time in winter. We are still young, we will come up with something new.

Any advice for your successors?

Bernhard Knechtle: Never forget to smile.

Das Interview in Deutsch

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