This Gais in Plain Sight

Gais, Appenzellerland, Switzerland, 30 March 2016

Most places have two sides: what is seen in the light of day and what is found in the shadows.

Gais, my last stop in my day´s explorations before heading home, is no exception.

I was compelled to visit this town of 3, 000 persons for a co-worker of mine frequently spoke of his Appenzell Ausserrhoden home here in Swiss exile.

Much to my surprise what would start as a sort of a FBI investigation would evolve into something out of the X Files…

Everyone at work was suspicious…

Our co-worker suddenly calls in sick only a short time before he is to go away on vacation…

In fairness to him, work can be very repetitive, very unrewarding and dissatisfying, but, like columns of a temple, remove one support and the rest of the establishment finds itself in great difficulty.

And as every school child knows, it is easier to play hooky if folks think you´re ill than simply not showing up for work because you simply don´t want to.

We all knew he lived in this town, but would he be spotted walking around town acting and feeling hale and hearty?

The devil in me thought I would investigate…

It had been a full day – working, followed by a walk, followed by riding the rails and exploring a number of Appenzell towns.

I arrived in Gais, not knowing what to expect…

Wappen von Gais

Beside his bride and her family being originally from this region, it is easy to see what else attracted my co-worker to this town.

Gais possesses at least eight guesthouses, a dozen restaurants, two bakeries, a cheese maker, a florist, a sports shop, a souvenir shop, a butcher, a stationery shop, a leather maker, a post office. a playground with petting farm, and a supermarket, as well as churches, playing fields, bus and train connections.

Trails weave and intersect the town and a river runs through it.

And the view of Mount Säntis and the surrounding Alps is breathtaking.

Adam Kerr's photo.

It is the end of the line for the train to Altstätten and the halfway mark on the Teufen-Appenzell Line.

Gais has won prizes for the development and preservation of its architectural heritage – the village square which was rebuilt beam for beam after a Great Fire in 1780, the Rococo style 1782 Reformed Church, the former spa hotel Neuer Ochsen of 1796 and the Krone Inn of 1781 are all listed as heritage sites of national significance.

I call my co-worker.

If he is truly ill then he should be at home.

He answers his phone at home, declining a visit from me as the family is just sitting down to supper.

I respect his privacy and turn my powers of deduction upon the town itself.

Whether my co-worker is an actor extraordinaire or not, I felt it gauche to pursue the matter any further, so I searched the Net and delved into books to try and see beyond the obvious.

Here in the shadow of Mount Säntis, what makes Gais tick?

First, much like my co-worker, Appenzellers are a proud, fierce independent bunch, who fought for 28 years for their freedom from the clutches of Empire and Church –  the House of Habsburg and the Prince Abbot of the Abbey of St. Gall.

The very name of Appenzell, in Latin “abbatis cella”, means “cell (estate) of the Abbot”.

By 1360, the farmers of Appenzell were totally aggravated with the Abbot´s bailiffs violating grazing rights and enacting huge sums of money for taxes and tithes.

After joining the Swabian League in 1377, Appenzell refused to give money that the Abbot Kuno von Stoffeln demanded.

In response to the loss of revenue from his estates, Kuno approached the Austrian House of Habsburg for help.

In 1392 Kuno made an agreement with the Habsburgs.

In response, Appenzell entered into an alliance with the City of St. Gallen (often at odds with the Abbey) to protect their rights and freedom.

The spark that lit the powder keg occured when the bailiff of Appenzell demanded that a dead body be dug up because he wanted the man´s clothes.

Throughout the land, Appenzellers attacked the bailiffs and drove them out of the land.

Fearing the Hapsburgs, the League expelled Appenzell and St. Gallen withdrew its support.

Appenzell formed an alliance with the Canton of Schwyz, (the origin of the name “Switzerland”), who had defeated the Austrians in the last century, and made an agreement with the Canton of Glarus, which authorized any of its citizens who wished to support Appenzell to do so.

The battle lines were drawn – the rebel alliance against Empire, League and Abbey.

On 15 May 1403, 580 rebels feinted an attack upon the army of the League at Speicher Pass outside the village of Vögelinsegg.

When the League´s cavalry charged up the hill, they were ambushed by 2,000 Appenzellers and forced to retreat with losses of 600 League horsemen and most of the 5, 000 League infantry men.

The League signed the peace treaty of Arbon shortly thereafter and Appenzell was free, but peace was short-lived…

Impressed with Appenzell´s independence, the City of St. Gallen drew closer to these victorious upstarts and Appenzell gained some of the Abbot´s land in the Rhine river valley and around Lake Constance.

Kuno was displeased…

By 1405 the Abbot had found another ally and was ready to retake his land.

Frederick IV, Duke of Austria, provided the Abbot with two Austrian armies to attack Appenzell.

On 17 June 1405, the main Austrian army marched into Stoss Pass, near Gais, and there met the Appenzell army – 1,200 Empire / Abbey soldiers versus a mere 400 Appenzeller soldiers.

Following a brutal battle, the Austrian army was forced to retreat!

How Appenzell defeated an army three times larger remains a mystery.

There is an unsubstantiated story that the Austrians retreated when they saw a second Appenzeller army, which was actually the women of Appenzell who had come to help their brothers, husbands and sons.

Following the victory at Stoss Pass, Appenzell joined with the City of St. Gallen to form the Alliance over the Sea (the “sea” being the Lake of Constance).

By 1406, the Alliance had taken more than 60 castles and destroyed 30 and even captured the Abbot of St. Gall!

While the Alliance expanded, the Austrians regained their strength.

On 11 September 1406, an Austrian association of nobles formed a knightly order to oppose the rebel Alliance.

The Order of St. George´s Shield besieged the Alliance city of Bregenz in 1407.

On 13 January 1408 Alliance troops marched against the Order and the Empire troops outside the city of Bregenz.

The Alliance attack was a disaster.

Following this defeat Appenzell could not hold the Alliance together.

The City of St. Gallen and the Canton of Schwyz each paid off the Austrians to avoid an attack.

The Alliance was dissolved on 4 April 1408.

As part of the peace treaty that followed, the Abbey gave up its ownership of Appenzell but retained the right to some certain taxes.

In 1411 Appenzell signed a defensive treaty with the Swiss Confederation and refused to pay the taxes they owed the Abbey.

After economic sanctions and papal interdiction failed to produce the missing funds, Friedrich VII of Toggenburg supported by the Order of St. George´s Shield marched into Appenzell.

On 2 December 1428 the armies of the Order encountered and defeated the Appenzell army behind a heavy fortification on a field between Gossau and Herisau.

Following the battle, Appenzell was forced to repay the owed taxes, but was granted freedom from the obligations in the future.

It is not clear why this freedom was granted, but perhaps realizing that Appenzell would risk its own annihilation for its liberty prompted the decision to respect this desire.

In 1513 Appenzell became a full member of the Swiss Confederation.

Mere commoners, simple farming folk, stood up against Empire and Church and won their freedom.

Uncommon commoners, these Appenzellers…

As for the folks of Gais, how common are they?

Well, today, like most of the population of Switzerland, most are well-educated and most work in the service industries, but not all…

If one discounts the 350 foreigners living amongst them, the Municipality has produced its own home-grown oddities…

When one thinks of Swiss farm folk and their banking offspring it is easy to forget and hard to imagine that an artist could rise from out of farm, field and town.

Albert Keller (1844 – 1920) was born in Gais.

He studied in Munich and must be counted among the leading colourists of the modern German school.

After travels in Italy, France, England and the Netherlands and a prolonged stay in Paris, Keller began to develop his own style.

He was awarded gold medals in Munich and Berlin, was made professor and honarary member of the Munich Academy and was decorated in 1898 with the Order of the Bavarian Crown, which conferred upon him the title of nobility and the addition of “von” to his name.

Seeing Albert von Keller´s work one can almost hear the rustling of satin and silk dresses and draperies, for Albert loved to show scenes of society life in a elegant distinct imaginative style.

His works are modern in spirit and vibrantly colourful.

Albert was closely associated with another Albert…

Albert von Schrenck-Notzing (1862 – 1929) was a German psychiatrist and parapsychologist with whom Keller would take part in seances and paranormal experiments…

A far cry from cowbells and bank counters…

But perhaps this is what Gais, what Switzerland, does to the non-conformist, it causes these upstarts to leave the country, to even perhaps leave reality itself.

When I consider the spirit of rebellion that infuses this place…

When I consider how conformity can cause the independent minded to rebel…

Should I be truly surprised when foreign coworkers act independently of the society around them?




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