It is still dark when we take the train from Lauterbrunnen to Wengen. Arriving at just under 1300 metres above sea level, we make our way to the artificial ice rink. While the car-free village is still asleep, they are already hard at work here. "At 10 a.m. the bulkheads come up," we learn from Peter Morgenegg (58). The head of tourism facilities welcomes us at the Tourist Centre, which is right next to the artificial ice rink. He introduces us to his team, consisting of Dario Bischoff (27), Gabor Vida (64) and Werner Künzi (62). The latter is the longest-serving. He has been employed by Wengen Tourism as a tourism facilities employee for 20 years. In winter - from mid-November to mid-March (indoors from mid-October to the end of March) - he makes sure the ice is perfect; in summer he maintains the mini-golf course, the tennis court or the frying places. "We never get bored," says Werner Künzi. Today we take a look over his shoulders as he works.
At dawn: The Wengen artificial ice rink.
It quickly becomes clear that a well-coordinated team is at work here. While Werner Künzi walks along the edge of the ice surface with a milling machine, Gabor Vida wipes the area next to the playing field - and Peter Morgenegg starts the ice machine with which he is about to make his rounds. Dario Bischoff, on the other hand, is preparing the playing cards for the Wengen Curling Club, which will show up here in about two hours with almost 50 members. The club's tournaments have a long tradition - and take place every year for two to three weeks. During the day, the majority of the ice surface belongs to the 80 to 100 curlers, most of whom are Scottish. The club, which was founded over 100 years ago by mainly British guests, even has its own clubhouse in Wengen, right next to the artificial ice rink. Today is the last tournament for the now international club before its departure. In addition to British curlers, Irish, German and Swiss curlers also belong to the club.
The team of ice masters in Wengen: Peter Morgenegg, Dario Bischoff, Werner Künzi and Gabor Vida (from left to right).
But back to our team of ice masters. Werner Künzi cleans the indoor ice surface, which is right next to the open ice rink "I want to be ready for any eventuality," he says. The reason: Wengen is just below the fog line today, it is damp and cold. This can also have an influence on the curling ice, as light precipitation can make it unintentionally slippery. And therefore dangerous for the mostly older members of the Wengen Curling Club, who normally play in weatherproof halls in their home country. "Indoors, we want to offer them an alternative." I want to know from Werner Künzi what his favourite activity is. "I can't say, I just like the versatility of my work."
Be ready for all eventualities: Werner Künzi cleans the ice in the hall.
The garage door opens. Peter Morgenegg drives the Zamboni outside. So the ice cream machine is a matter for the boss? Not at all! "With us, everyone can do everything, which is also important when someone is on holiday or sick." Dry, without cloth and water, Peter Morgenegg removes the snow before making his rounds again with a narrow cloth and water. The snow plough can stay in the garage today, it only snowed a little during the night.
(Not) a boss thing: Today, the boss is doing the rounds with the ice cream machine.
Skilfully driving the Zamboni: Everyone else in the team can do it too.
For normal ice skating, the work is now done. For curling, it's just beginning. But before that, we treat ourselves to a coffee break in the garage of the ice machine. "A bit of a man cave," Peter Morgenegg apologises to our photographer. We find it cosy. There is tea and coffee - and above all it is nice and warm. A relief in the current sub-zero temperatures. "You asked me what kind of work I like best," Werner Künzi comes back to a question of mine. "Exactly what we're doing today, preparing the curling ice," he can now decide on a favourite activity after all.
The "man cave": warming up with coffee and tea.
ice master in Wengen
"It was like winning the lottery." Werner Künzi, who was born in the Aaretal, tells how he ended up in the Jungfrau Region. "My wife and I lived in Jaberg and were looking for a small farm - we found it in Wengen." To be more precise, "Am Hubel", about 20 minutes' walk outside the village centre. That was 20 years ago. With the exception of the first few months, he has been employed by Wengen Tourism ever since. A year ago Werner Künzi gave up the business - and increased his position at Wengen Tourism to 90 per cent. He comes to work in almost any weather by e-bike.
His home: Werner Künzi has lived in Wengen for 20 years.
"Wood chopping," Werner Künzi answers when asked what he does in his spare time. An inevitable hobby, since the Künzis heat their homes with wood. "Or skiing," he adds. And he also likes to play ice hockey on "his" ice. With friends, but also sometimes with celebrity guests. During the Lauberhorn races, the ski stars like to have fun on the ice in the evenings. Werner Künzi raves about Bode Miller in particular, the Americans, the Canadians, the Italians or the Norwegians in general. These uncomplicated, down-to-earth skiers impress him. "These are always experiences that give me a lot of energy - and help me to improve my poor English." He also talks about the help he gives in the run-up to the Jungfrau Marathon, when the markings have to be put in place. Then the break is already over. Work is calling again.
Not only suitable for curling: Werner Künzi also enjoys playing ice hockey on "his" ice.
Peter Morgenegg goes out a third time with the ice machine, this time with the wide cloth - and again with water, before Gabor Vida uses the "carpet" to wipe residual snow and dust off the ice. Then Werner Künzi makes the so-called pebbles by spraying very fine drops of water onto the ice with a special device. These freeze immediately, which has the effect that the ice is no longer completely smooth but has a speckled surface due to the frozen water drops. The tips of the water drops are then cut off with the sharp knife of the "clipper". Et voilà, now the curling stone can curl beautifully. "Yes, making curling ice cream is a science," Peter Morgenegg confirms. Now he and his team are working together to install the boundaries, set up the stands for the play slips and, last but not least, carry the curling stones, which weigh almost 20 kg, onto the playing field. Then the first members of the Wengen Curling Club arrive. The tournament can begin.
Teamwork: Dario Bischoff helps unload the ice cream machine.
Gabor Vida cleans the ice with the "carpet table".
Werner Künzi creates the "pubbles".
Together they position the heavy curling stones in the right place.
The best ice masters are at a loss if the cooling system should fail. Reason enough to take a look in the machine room, from where Werner Künzi can control the cooling system of the artificial ice rink to within 0.1 degrees. "I'm here several times a day, but exactly how often depends on the weather. The weather plays a not insignificant role in the production of ice. "When I'm outside, I watch the ice, see how it behaves, whether it's fogged up in the backlight or not." It's important to look ahead, to act and not just react when the sun is there, when the rain or snow starts or when the temperature drops. Werner Künzi talks about the swimming pool, where the surplus waste heat from the artificial ice rink is destroyed in winter. This is the swimming pool where Gabor Vida works as a lifeguard in the summer. At the moment the machines are not running. Fortunately, because when they are, "you don't understand your own word any more."
In the machine room: Werner Künzi explains the cooling system.
Meanwhile, the tournament is in full swing. The Scottish guests are praising the ice through and through. "It's even better every year. And the ice-master team helps us where they can," we hear from all sides. Werner Künzi and Gabor Vida continue to be present on the ice rink. They move a barrier here, wipe a sheet off the ice there or help out with a blanket. Perhaps 30 minutes have passed before a commotion arises. The thick fog makes it damp - and the ice surface too slippery. The players want to move into the hall. The ice masters have prepared the rink well in the early morning, just in case. And the more than two hours of preparation in the cold was for nothing? "That happens," says Werner Künzi calmly. "Maybe they'll try again in the afternoon."
The tournament is in full swing: the ice surface belongs to the Wengen Curling Club.
While 1000 metres higher on Männlichen the sun is shining (yes, we saw for ourselves), the fog in Wengen refuses to lift. British weather. It's noon, and as quickly as the Scots have come, they are gone again. For the time being. To be on the safe side, the ice-master team covers the stones so that they don't get warm and run less smoothly. Meanwhile, Dario Bischoff updates the ranking lists, because the tournament continues in the afternoon.
While Wengen sinks into the fog, the sun shines on the Männlichen.
The afternoon passes without incident. Shortly after 4 p.m., the team of ice masters can start cleaning up the ice rink - and preparing it for free skating. The rink is still open until 6 pm. Shortly after that, Werner Künzi and Co. call it a day. The next tournament, a big one, the open-air Swiss championship, is already scheduled for the weekend. The game starts shortly after 8 am. "I'll be at the rink at 5 o'clock," says Werner Künzi. Yes, Wengen will still be asleep when the ice master team is already preparing the perfect ice again.
PS. Even world champion praise for the ice master team after the Swiss Championships - from the winner Peter de Cruz, multiple World Cup and Olympic medallist.
The boss and his team: Peter Morgenegg
Photos: Sina Fuchser
Story: Raphael Hadorn
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