The hotel with history
The Volkshaus Bern in its anniversary year
If the Volkshaus was renamed to Hotel Bern in 1981, the company today returned to its roots and, after a 53-day renovation phase, opened the Restaurant Volkshaus 1914 Restaurant |Bar on 23 August 2013. The newly chosen name reflects a 100-year history. Inside the restaurant, the Art Nouveau façade has been recreated in a contemporary form - a successful combination of tradition and modernity. The painting «The Speaker» painted by Eduard Boss can be considered a special Bijoux. It is the only piece that celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Volkshaus - a silent witness to turbulent times.
«If the house has a soul,
a part of this soul lives in the new
Volkshaus 1914.»Philipp Näpflin, Director
Core removal and new construction
The Volkshaus was economically consolidated around its 50th birthday, many trade unions had moved out. Therefore, it was modernized and rationalized: In 1972 the baths were closed down. In 1974, following the start of an economic crisis, Volkshaus AG leased the neighboring «Hotel Continental» in order to be able to offer rooms with private bathrooms. At the end of the seventies a new start was finally made. The Volkshaus of 1914 was dismantled. Apart from the monumental façade facing Zeughausgasse and the oriel building above Schützengässchen, nothing remained. Another house was built behind the façade. The general assembly of the Volkshaus AG decided to name the new building «Hotel Bern» instead of «Volkshaus» and to upgrade it to the standard of a four-star hotel.
Blood and liver sausages, turtle soup
The Volkshaus was a workers' restaurant. In the 1920s, people with low incomes came here to eat. However, the Volkshaus was soon accused of being too expensive and of being an inn only for wealthy people. «People's houses must have people's prices. People's houses should provide the ordinary citizen with a tasty meal, a pleasant hotel room equipped with the necessary comforts at modest prices», says the 1947 annual report. In the fourth year of the Second World War and the federal rationing of food, people by no means dine poorly at this place. Even genuine turtle soup is on offer.
From general strike to debt-restructuring moratorium
For the Swiss political left, the large building quickly became an important center for meetings, conferences, campaigns and mobilizations. In 1918, the «Olten Action Committee», which met in the Volkshaus, called a protest strike which finally led to a nationwide general strike. The workers' movement also had its offices in the Volkshaus from the very beginning. Around 1919 there was also a library, a people's cinema, a public swimming pool, two restaurants, a hairdresser and a shoe shop behind the Schützengässchen. However, some of the companies did not earn enough money for the indebted joint stock company, and losses ensued. From 1936, things went downhill.
In 1940 the Volkshaus AG applied for inheritance and the creditors appointed a restructuring commission. Hardly bypassing bankruptcy, the capital was written off to zero and a new stock corporation was founded, into which more than a dozen Bernese trade unions, the left-wing Union printing works and the local population paid in new capital amounting to 214,000 Swiss francs at the beginning of 1945. Towards the end of the war, everything began to improve and the new Volkshaus AG showed rising profits.
Visits of world history
Around 1915 Switzerland was a relatively liberal place for European war opponents. Exiled people cavorted in Bern - as did Vladimir Illjitsch Uljanow, also known as Lenin. In February 1915, he assembled the delegates of the Bolshevik foreign groups in the new Volkshaus, which shortly afterwards took over power in Russia. An international socialist women's and youth conference also took place in the Volkshaus during this first year of operation. In September, world history returns to the Volkshaus for the third time this year: Socialists from the war-torn countries, including Lenin, gather again at Zeughausgasse in Bern.
Palace of dirt and iron
The original Volkshaus was dismantled in 1911 and rebuilt in 1914 as a «palace of dirt and iron» (concrete), a modern expression mark in a sandstone museum town. The monumental Art Nouveau façade shows the self-confident ambitions of the builders, the workers' associations of the city. With the Volkshaus, the trade unions had not only finally created their own house with a cinema, dining hall, ladies' and gentlemen's bath, but had also promoted the social modernisation of Switzerland.
The Volkshaus before the Volkshaus
Before the new Volkshaus, today's "Hotel Bern", was opened 1914 in the Zeughausgasse in Bern, there was already another Volkshaus at this location. It was the oldest in Switzerland, planned during many years and realized in 1893, when, for example, people in Zurich were just starting to think about their own Volkshaus.