Of a paradise at eye level

Interview Gerold Schneider

Gerold Schneider is in charge of the family-run Almhof Schneider in Lech and, together with his wife, he's active in the culture initiative "Allmeinde Commongrounds" the pair founded together. His rather idealistic mission: Dialogue, reflexion and communicating aesthetic experiences in order to turn the community into a really social one. A profound talk about visions, Lech Zürs' inner and outer values and, of course, art.

L.L.

Gerold, you studied philosophy, art and architecture theory but now you run a hotel. Would you say these passions compliment each other or do abstract thinkers sometimes make bad businessmen?

G.S.

I really like this question because it clearly implies that life is no one-way street. And I'm taking the easy way out by quoting the American essayist and writer Siri Hustvedt: "The more narrow my perspective, the more likely I'll accept a discipline's predefined codes as untouchable truths. Doubt is an engine for thought. (…) It also means that, no matter how happy you are among the few inhabitants of your particular island, that small island is not the whole world."

Allmeinde Commongrounds Lech
Allmeinde Commongrounds Lech

L.L.

From an architectural perspective – do you like the way Lech Zürs has development?

G.S.

Well, one always has to consider what the framework conditions for this development were and what alternatives there are. Of course, it's always possible to compare what is there in an upward or downward direction. Within just a few decades, Lech has developed from a scattered settlement into a small town, without any examples and while retaining some of its essential, village-like characteristics. (Of course, depending on the season, there are big differences in Lech.)

We have restricted ourselves in such a way to push the businesses on the edge of survivability – no other comparable winter tourism destination has done that. And I think that said restriction and the unobtrusiveness when it comes to the way it's expressed, is something that stands for extraordinary qualities and great potential – potential that needs to be harnessed further – through participation and professionalism.


Almhof Schneider Restaurant Lech
Almhof Schneider Restaurant Lech

L.L.

From your point of view – what are the main challenges when it comes to said architectural development?

G.S.

The village's size and structure have been defined. Which means that today it is our task, more than ever, to think in big pictures when it comes to urban development, not in functional and spatially disconnected individual structures; and definitely not in superficial formalisms. In this context, Lech now has one chance in a century, a chance it's not likely to get again anytime soon. And in order to be able to persist as a destination and living space, working and living together instead of next to each other is more important than ever.

What's most important about this perspective is to look at it before the background of change that is about to happen: The scarcity of living space (particularly for the young generation), the investments necessary for future-oriented communal infrastructure, latent synergies between private and communal projects and the very welcome wish for diversification the younger generation has and that should help free Lech from the fragile yoke of seasonality.

L.L.

Many hotels and restaurants still look very much alike. Is that because aesthetics are often considered less important than functionality? Is it fear of innovations and originality? Or is it simply the way the guests want it?

G.S.

The problem of similarity is probably underestimated. During the periods we think were important for the building culture here, it wasn't a problem. And our traditional farmers' houses look very much alike and that's no problem at all. We've reached the end of a period where being different from the others in order to attract attention had top priority. As far as building culture is concerned, communication through a canon is indispensable.

Wunderkammer - Almhof Schneider Lech
Wunderkammer - Almhof Schneider Lech

L.L.

How do you, at Almhof Schneider, give your guests the feeling of staying in a unique hotel?

G.S.

The Almhof has evolved step by step, from the old family farmhouse of which there is nothing left today. The same family in the same spot, since the mid 15th century. My mother always said she managed the Almhof like she would a large household. We take decisions together, across the generations but according to personal ideas and we do not have to consult a group management about it. This type of hotel is – at least in the luxury sector – a dying breed. Guests that come here, appreciate the mixture.

However, it's also the guests themselves that make up a major part of this feeling, especially when they've been coming here for decades; and the same goes for long-standing employees, too. So first and foremost, a hotel's atmosphere is a result of its guests and staff, not of the hardware.

Almhof Schneider Lech
Almhof Schneider Lech

L.L.

Around the turn of the millennium the culture initiative "Allmeinde Commongrounds" was founded, how has it evolved so far? Were your hopes and expectations fulfilled or what are your wishes for the future?

G.S.

Allmeinde is a place that has given those who are interested in it wonderful meetings and unforgettable artistic moments over time. Internally it's even nicknamed "the paradise". It touches all kinds of different people. In the professional world Allmeinde has received unexpectedly high resonance, ultimately also because of its name that really reflects the idea behind it.

On a local level though, I still get the feeling that it's something a little exotic. I would wish for us to be able to spend more time on it or even get a curator for it, but sometimes we feel that it's precisely this slowness, care and unagitatedness that makes a difference in a world of art that is commercialised through and through.

Slideshow Allemande Commongrounds Lech

L.L.

Would you say the art you show and foster is elitist? Or, to put it differently: Do you think everybody possesses the mind to appreciate this kind of contemporary art?

G.S.

There are different concepts of art. Personally, I have only ever found few works to be guiding. But I do think: Yes, every kind of art is a challenge and not a consumer item. It has demands and changes us – which is just how Rilke saw it. It's a part of culture, the kind of culture our species has produced and it fills our existence.

We have a deep need for beauty that's more than just random. It would be our greatest wish to be able to show those works we think will endure and that have some sort of connection to Allmeinde. When it comes to the big works we hardly ever disagree.

Antony Gormley's Horizon Field Lech 2012
Antony Gormley's Horizon Field Lech 2012

L.L.

Works by the British artist Antony Gormley have been exhibited twice here in Lech (Horizon Field 2010-2012, drawings and sculptures in Allmeinde in spring 2014). Why do his works fit in so well here?

G.S.

Gormley sure is one of the big ones. His work is incredibly intelligent, just like he is, but still they're "pure sculptures". The installation "Horizon Field" was praised internationally and it's a pity we didn't manage to make it accessible for a little while longer. And since there was nothing we could have set against the installation indoors, we focused mostly on less known, wonderful drawings in Allmeinde. Antony Gormley is bound to Lech in a most moving way.

Antony Gormley's Horizon Field Lech 2012

L.L.

What exhibition at Allmeinde can we look forward to this winter?

G.S.

We're once more going to show photography, this time works by Axel Hütte. For those who know his works it might be a surprise because we're not going to show his mountain photographs.

L.L.

Now lets switch from the joys of art of to culinary joys that are celebrated just like art these days. How do you see this connection?

G.S.

I think the concept of art was a little worn out in the last years. If everything is art, then nothing is art anymore, even if making a distinction becomes increasingly difficult. Why can't we simply let food be food? Why should food be something else and go beyond itself? Of course there is elaborately prepared food, but the omnipresent wish to make "works of art" out of food and to land on all kinds of ranking lists has had a negative effect on the everyday quality of food in our field – and the expectations have shifted towards entertainment.

We actually think food should be something natural. Which is why we've drawn a very clear line here, and, inversely, we do not have art exhibitions at Almhof either – with the exception of the permanently installed works by Christian Thanhäuser and Paul Renner.

Almhof Schneider Lech
Almhof Schneider Lech

L.L.

Throughout the entire region quality awareness is increasing, top infrastructure for high-quality holiday experiences seems to be indispensable for the future. What's your vision when it comes to Lech Zürs' touristic development?

G.S.

Well, being aware of quality is one thing, consistency is another. I do think, however, that we should talk about more than just hardware in this context. Maybe it'll mostly be about consequently following a path, a path that takes the changing demands of the people who value Lech due to its existing qualities seriously and making a connection between those demands and the younger generation's increasing qualifications.

So aside from sports, enjoyment, health and relaxation that certainly means knowledge, too. Diversification and "tourism at eye level" in order to keep the deep connection between guests, hosts and staff alive. This would be the basis for high quality, while letting something like "authenticity" grow as well – in a sense that does not only encompass the origins, but present and future as well.

Slideshow Almhof Schneider Lech