The Jungfrau Railway

1 August 1912 is a key date in the history of the Jungfrau Railways and Swiss tourism in general: for it was on this day that the first train, with around fifty "strangers" on board, made its way up the newly constructed rail line to the Jungfraujoch. Back then, the "strangers" were mainly British tourists. Today, more than half the passengers on the Jungfrau Railway are from Asian countries.

A brochure on the Jungfrau Railway was published as far back as 1903. By that stage the track had already reached the Eigerwand station, 2,867 metres above sea level. The brochure was published in German, French and English, and is now in the collections of the Swiss National Library. It can be accessed online and is also part of the "Reading Europe" collection of the European Library, which brings together treasures from Europe's national and university libraries (link to brochure, see "Further Information").

1 August 1912 – press coverage of the event

„Electric stone-boring machines at work“, in „The Jungfrau railway : Bernese Oberland (Switzerland)”, Zurich, Hofer, 1903, p. 14.
„Electric stone-boring machines at work“, in „The Jungfrau railway : Bernese Oberland (Switzerland)”, Zurich, Hofer, 1903, p. 14.

Construction of the Jungfrau Railway began on 27 July 1896. Over the next 16 years labourers - the majority of them Italian guest workers - toiled long and hard, using pick-axes and explosives to pierce a tunnel right up to the Jungfraujoch, at 3,454 metres. The breakthrough came on 21 February 1912, when the tunnel emerged into daylight at the top. That same year, on Swiss National Day, the first train carrying passengers made the ascent.

Yet for all the importance of this event, for both the railway and Swiss tourism, it received what by modern standards is relatively meagre press coverage. Conservative newspapers, in particular, gave it only a passing mention: the "Berner Wochenblatt und Oberländer Zeitung" of 31 July 1912, for instance, devoted just four sentences to the subject. The reporting reflects the attitude of conservatives, who feared that the construction of the Jungfrau Railway would lead to the desecration of the Alpine world. The Swiss Alpine Club, too, had opposed the project. Liberal dailies, by contrast, were more sympathetic. The "Neue Zürcher Zeitung", for example, covered events on the Jungfrau on both 1 and 2 August. On 2 August 1912 it published the following report:

"Kleine Scheidegg, 1 August (priv. tel.) The first train, conveying some fifty persons, made the ascent at twelve midday. On arrival at the Jungfraujoch station, engineer Zscholle, who had overseen the construction work for many long years, raised the Swiss flag on the plateau. Access from the tunnel to the Jungfraujoch is by means of a gallery some two hundred metres in length blasted from the rock, with absolutely no risk involved. The final section leads through a glacier gallery, so that one emerges onto the Jungfraujoch through a magnificent gallery of ice. The route to the Jungfrau plateau is lined by a steel cable, and access may thus be obtained without danger. The first visitors were enraptured by the beauty of the panorama. Operations will not begin in earnest until tomorrow. [...]
At today's National Day celebrations, a signal was erected high up on the glacier, marking the furthermost access point. Illuminations had been planned this evening as part of the celebrations, but the onset of bad weather unfortunately prevented this taking place. This evening, if the weather is good, a charming National Day celebration with illuminations will be held on Kleine Scheidegg."

6 September 1912 – The Kaiser stayed away, but the party went on

„Eiger Glacier Station“, in „The Jungfrau railway : Bernese Oberland (Switzerland)”, Zurich, Hofer, 1903, p. 21.
„Eiger Glacier Station“, in „The Jungfrau railway : Bernese Oberland (Switzerland)”, Zurich, Hofer, 1903, p. 21.

The operators of the Jungfrau Railway had hoped to stage a further major event the same year, in the form of a trip to the Jungfraujoch by Kaiser Wilhelm II on 6 September. The "Bund" published the programme for the planned visit on 11 August. Unfortunately the Kaiser had other commitments and was unable to take the ride. But the invitation to the international press remained open - and they took full advantage. The "Berner Intelligenzblatt" of 9 September 1912 carried a very positive report of the trip. The German Kaiser's visit to Switzerland had, it said...

„[...] brought the easily moved community of journalists closer together, forging ties of friendship to all countries. The culmination of this new confederation without articles of association or board of management was the ride up to the Jungfrau, splendidly stage-managed by the Bernese Oberland and Jungfrau Railways. People from throughout Switzerland, representatives of the leading German, French and Austrian daily newspapers, journalists from Belgium and Holland, a veritable international press congress, with the wives of the colleagues from Bern lending a note of prettiness and cheer, travelled through the cold autumn morning to the Oberland, where, in Interlaken-Ost, the heads of the railways had prepared a fine and gracious reception for their guests. The weather became ever more sullen; soon a chill rain began to fall, and soon the 'Temps' and the ‘Tag' from Berlin were engaged in a snowball fight. With much gallows humour, colleagues from at home and abroad had pointed out to them through the mist and veil of snow the places where, on a good day, the Jungfrau, Mönch and Eiger might be seen [...]"

After the journey to the Jungfraujoch, the good-humoured company repaired to the Eismeer station.

"At 2 o'clock, as the gathering sat down to their festive repast at a splendidly laid table in the Eismeer restaurant while the storm raged outside, the general animated conversation turned to what they had seen; all were in agreement that it would never be forgotten."

Following the celebrations, the press contingent sent "cordially worded telegrams of appreciation" to Federal President Furrer and the German Kaiser.

1 August 2012 – A thought for Swiss National Day

Cardinaux, Emil, “Jungfraubahn, Jungfraujoch, 3457 m.ü.M. Schweiz“, [1918?], 1 poster, 101,1 x 63,5 cm (from the Swiss Poster Collection)
Cardinaux, Emil, “Jungfraubahn, Jungfraujoch, 3457 m.ü.M. Schweiz“, [1918?], 1 poster, 101,1 x 63,5 cm (from the Swiss Poster Collection)

All the newspapers from which the above quotations are drawn can be found in the stacks of the National Library, which of course also contain current publications from Switzerland such as the magazine "via". Its May 2012 issue also contained a report entitled "100 years of the Jungfrau Railway". It ends with a statement that we reproduce here by way of a "thought for Swiss National Day":

"Up here, between Kleine Scheidegg and the Jungfraujoch, we may perhaps find the key to understanding modern-day Switzerland, the primal cell of a unique project at the heart of Europe. A vision, outstanding engineering, an efficient banking sector, combined with a generous portion of business acumen and hospitality. Add a dash of good fortune and much perseverance - some may call it obstinacy. Switzerland has long since found its place in the world."