«You are welcome here, Madame»

Schaffhauser N…

The following text was written by R.H., a woman from the USA. During the Corona crisis, she had to search for accommodation in Schaffhausen, Switzerland. A German translation of this text was published in the «Schaffhauser Nachrichten» newspaper. This is the original version.

Max Schlumpf, hotelier at Hotel Park Villa, serving coffee to the author. Picture: Selwyn Hoffmann

Ein Erlebnisbericht 

Der folgende Text ist ein in englisch verfasste Erlebnis­bericht einer Frau aus den USA, die während der Coronakrise in der Stadt Schaffhausen eine Unterkunft suchte. Die von den Schaffhauser Nachrichten ins Deutsche übersetzte Fassung lesen sie hier.

I never dreamed I would find myself sitting on the stoop of my friend’s house – my friend of 30 years – with three suitcases, waiting for a taxi to pick me up and take me, where, I knew not. The Coronavirus had thrown me out. Really, it was my friend’s fear, but either way, I was headed for the train station, not to take a train, but to sit on a station bench and call around for a hotel room, because my friend – I’ll call him Paul – wouldn’t even have me sit in his backyard to phone, so fearful was he that Corona would do him in.

Two weeks earlier, Paul had picked me up at Flughafen Zurich, happy to see me and welcome me into his house. We had sat in his sunporch, catching up after several years, enjoying our time together as we always had, whether it was when he stayed with my family in New York or I stayed with his, outside Zurich, and now in Schaffhausen, after he moved near the Rhine Falls.

I had come to Switzerland by invitation for research, starting with a two-week visit to a newly established clinic in Basel. Paul and I had gone to graduate school together, decades ago. He and I had planned that I’d spend time before and after my clinic visit. But so much had changed in two weeks. Switzerland was hit hard by the virus, and my 77-year-old friend was scared.

Scared beyond reason. As I looked for a hotel on my laptop in his back yard, his son came over and accused me of «not really trying» to find a hotel. When I said he was grossly mistaken, he shouted at me. Now fear was hitting hard. That’s when I decided it would be better to sit at the train station with all my bags and search for a place from there.

It is one thing to be alone in a city when disaster strikes, quite another to think you are not alone only to discover that you are. Like an instant orphan. But it turns out I was not alone. While my friend became a stranger, a stranger became a friend. After the taxi driver discovered what had happened, she responded with warmth and conviction.

«We must help one another during this time. I don’t take you to the train station. You stay in this taxi until we find you a place.»

There were many lodging places in this town of 36’000, but many had closed, and the ones I had called were all full. So now I searched with my new friend Eveline Spahiju of Swiss Taxi, a lively woman in her early 50s. Eveline not only drove the taxi, she was a manager for the taxi company, come out to drive extra hours to keep the service going.

«Stay here», she instructed, as she got out of the car to read the note on the latest hotel we tried.

Back in the car, we drove past another one that didn’t have any lights on. We were running out of options. At the start of our search, I had asked Eveline to find a moderately priced place, knowing I’d need to shelter in place for a significant amount of time. And Eveline heard me. That’s why, when she reached the old part of the city, passing a charming park filled with daffodils and church bells singing out, I was both cheered by the beauty--and wondering where this could possibly lead. Eveline understood my concern as she pulled up next to a mansion, actually a small castle – The Hotel Park Villa. Yes, I appreciated her looking into my face with her warm, bright eyes and telling me that this hotel had small, moderately-priced rooms too – so we could hope.

We got out of the taxi and walked through the majestic entrance, together. The big doors had a gravity about them that reminded me of the original purpose of castles: safe shelter. Now Eveline was inquiring at the front desk, and the representative pointed to a man in dark blue who had just emerged from an inner room. Eveline addressed the man in Swiss-German:

«This lady needs a room at a special price.» The man looked at me for one second and immediately responded: «You are welcome here, Madame.»

My courage melted with his powerful kindness and I burst into tears. Maximillian Schlumpf – Max – became my friend in that moment, and in the two weeks I have been here, given a large room with a ceiling like the one at the Hermitage – I have been resuscitated by the deep beauty of a villa filled with love. Max, a well-kempt man with a gentle face, has owned and run this remarkable villa for over 30 years and you can sense that he knows every corner of the place, intimately. This 100 year-old castle is treated with the same tender loving care that Max brings to his guests. But above all, he is a people-person, a highly intuitive man, tuned into the import of this difficult time.

My original host is not a bad man. In fact, I love him. He was simply caught in the moment by fear--just trying to take care of himself. And I simply had to connect with someone who could give me shelter. So Grace sent me Max.

One night, at dinner, I discovered that Max has made his hotel into a place of safety for people like the 89-year-old woman who stays here only for company and connection, because her home is just a few miles away. She is tall and strong and keeps her Hungarian dog with her at the hotel. During the day, she drives her car all over Switzerland to access special places and take long walks; but in the evening, she has the Park Villa to return to for friendship and a fine meal. And the food here is truly fine, joyfully prepared by Maria, the Portuguese chief, who has been with Max for 27 years. (Make sure you have the fish. It took me to heaven.) There’s a reason Pavarotti chose this place when he came to Schaffhausen!

How does a person make such a place of beauty for people to stay and at the same time treat those people working there as valuable human beings, even members of a family? Max Schlumpf is like a great tree, whose strong branches provide many birds a place to live.

When I think of what the virus has done to our world, it reminds me of the first days after Sept 11th when we were all trying to figure out how to go on. The generous compassion of people is what stands out for me then – and now. How love moves us beyond fear. Particularly, how the love of strangers can pull you back from the abyss and fill you with all that you could ever need. Thank you, Max. Thank you, Eveline. May I pass on what you have given.

American Guest
Hotel Park Villa

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