Eduard Schmidlin was born in the town of Rottenburg am Neckar near Tübingen on 8th July, 1808. He came from a family with a long tradition of civil servants and members of the Protestant clergy in the Kingdom of Württemberg. His father, Gottlieb Schmidlin, was an official in charge of poor relief and later a councillor in Stuttgart. Both Eduard and his elder brother Hermann (1807-1840) spent some time at the University of Tübingen, Hermann reading theology and Eduard mathematics, science, and estate management and book-keeping (cameralism). Both brothers pursued political interests and soon joined the radical ‘Feuerreiter’ (fire riders) student fraternity. They attended clandestine meetings with the aim of propagating democratic ideas, especially among the workers. Two leaders of these revolutionary circles who aimed at introducing constitutional democracy in Württemberg were the bookseller Frankh and the lieutenant Koseritz. It was as their followers that Eduard and Hermann took part in an attempt to start a revolution in 1833, the ‘Frankfurter Wachensturm’ (charge of the guard house). This coup failed, though, and Eduard at first managed to escape, but later he was remanded in custody and then released. Finally, after a prolonged trial he was condemned to 10 months’ imprisonment in the Hohenasperg fortress in 1838. After his release from custody, he had returned back to the Royal Court Gardens to work as a gardener, but as he had received an unusually thorough training, he concentrated on writing about botany and gardening and was soon able to live as a successful author in Stuttgart, Constance, and elsewhere in the region. One of his books, ‘Die bürgerliche Gartenkunst’, became a best-seller and was reprinted several times. He remained an employee of the Court until 1833, a year after the publication of his first book, ‘Flora von Stuttgart’ (the first text by him that could be traced was a short article on the Butterfly Flower [Schizanthus pinnatus] published when he was just 22, in early 1830). In 1834 he started a gardening business in Stuttgart and he also worked as a private tutor teaching young men about botany and gardening. After serving his prison sentence, he lived in various places in Württemberg. In November 1841 he married Dorothea Romig, the daughter of a forest officer, in Metzingen. A daughter named Marie was born in 1842, then the mother died in that same year and the little girl a year later. In 1847 Eduard married again. His second wife, Anna Waldraff (1824-1883), was also a forest officer’s daughter. They had nine children, seven of whom survived into adulthood: Bertha (1848-1913); Maria (1849 – after 1890); Hermann (1851-1881); Emil (1856-1930); Antonia (1857 – after 1890); Johanna (1859-1934); Franz (later Frank) (1861-1939). From 1848 to 1853 Schmidlin worked as estate manager and head gardener for Constantin, Prince Waldburg-Trauchburg-Zeil, who let the Schmidlin family stay in an apartment in his castle at Altmannshofen, near Leutkirch. The so-called ‘Red Prince’ was the only aristocrat elected to the 1848 Frankfurt Assembly. Schmidlin, who was a great admirer of the Prince, left a handwritten document extolling his achievements and political stance hidden in a tower of Castle Altmannshofen. It wasn’t discovered until 1929. In the early 1850s the Schmidlin family lived in Stuttgart, where Eduard was again busy writing gardening books – in 1855 he published a German edition of The Book of the Farm by Henry Stephens (considered the standard work on practical Victorian agriculture), which he had translated and adapted so that it would be of practical use to German readers.
Early in 1857 Eduard Schmidlin received a call from Switzerland—from the nobleman, judge and mining entrepreneur Conrad von Rappard (1805-1881), who, as a member of the Frankfurt Assembly, had been forced to flee from Prussia after the failed revolution and had ended up first in Zürich and then in the Canton of Bern. In 1854 Rappard had bought the land surrounding the Giessbach Falls in the Bernese Oberland and had a hotel built there. He entrusted Eduard Schmidlin with the landscape planning of the parks and gardens. Thus it came about that the Schmidlins left Germany with their four surviving children and came to settle in Switzerland, a country that had provided refuge to many liberal-thinking Germans after 1848. Soon Eduard also took over the management of the hotel—it opened on 1st July 1857. Four days later Anna Schmidlin gave birth to their fifth child, the daughter Antonia.
Conrad von Rappard sold the Giessbach early in 1858, but Schmidlin stayed on, now as an employee of the Steamship Company of Lake Thun and Lake Brienz who was also in charge of the hotel management, ably supported by his wife and, later, the daughters, especially the two eldest, Bertha and Marie.
An article published in the London Times on 21st September 1865 pointed out one important difference between the Giessbach and other Swiss hotels:
‘The landlord greets you at the door as you come in; he hovers about you like a guardian angel, invisible yet omnipresent, during all your stay; anticipates all your wants, forestalls all your wishes, and only leaves you to the tender care of his bevy of daughters—he has, I am told, seven of them—and of other maids, all tidy and blooming and pretty, waitresses at board no less than in chamber; mine host himself being the only individual of the male sex in attendance whose foot is allowed to tread the floors within this hospitable threshold.’
Even though the ‘holiday correspondent’ who was the author of this piece got rather carried away with regard to the number of the landlord’s daughters—and the two younger ones were less than ten years old in 1865—, he was certainly not the only visitor who commented on the fact that there we no waiters, but only waitresses to be encountered at the Giessbach.
Marie Schmidlin, who was often referred to as ‘Marie of the Giessbach’ by British visitors, became friends with John Ruskin, who stayed at the hotel several times in the 1860s and wrote about both sisters in his autobiography Praeterita. One chapter which Ruskin intended for this was to be called ‘The Rainbows of the Giessbach’. (This chapter, compiled from John Ruskin’s materials by Bernard Richards, was privately published in Oxford in 2010). Ruskin corresponded with Marie over the next few years, but none of their letters have survived. In April 1868 Eduard Schmidlin and his family became naturalised citizens of their adopted country and it looked as if they were going to stay at the Giessbach. In 1870, though, the Hotel Giessbach, which had been made famous by Schmidlin, was sold to the Hauser brothers, well-known Swiss hoteliers, for a very large sum, and Eduard Schmidlin had to look for new employment at the age of 62. After a brief stint back in Germany, where he took over the recently reopened health resort of Bad Teinach in the Black Forest, he returned to Switzerland and became the manager of the Hotel Bellevue at Thun, which still belonged to the Steamship Company. He successfully ran this hotel for the next ten years and was highly regarded as a hotel director and tourism expert. When a large new hotel was built in Thun in 1874, his advice was sought by the planners.
With the closing of the season of 1882 Eduard Schmidlin retired from hotel management and he and his wife went to live with their youngest daughter in Dresden, Saxony. This was Johanna, born 1859, who married Karl Schall in Dresden in 1887. Karl Schall was an instrument maker and pioneer of medical technology who had set up his own business in London in 1888. The Schall family became British subjects in 1893. Karl Schall’s brother-in-law, Franz Schmidlin, the youngest of the Schmidlin children, who had emigrated to Australia in 1892, made that country’s first X-ray image in 1896 and became the sole representative in Australia of Karl Schall’s firm. The eldest daughter, Bertha, was also living in Dresden at the time.
Anna Schmidlin-Waldraff died in Dresden in November 1883 and her husband Eduard Schmidlin followed on 5 February 1890. Their grave, though weathered, can still be seen at the ‘Äusserer katholischer Friedhof’ in Dresden.
Further reading (in German):
Burschenschaft Germania Tübingen. Gesamtverzeichnis der Mitglieder seit der Gründung 12. Dezember 1816. Neuauflage 2008. Erstellt von Karl Philipp. [Stuttgart] 2008
Dvorak, Helge: Biographisches Lexikon der Deutschen Burschenschaft. Im Auftrag der Gesellschaft für burschenschaftliche Geschichtsforschung e. V. hrsg. von Prof. Dr. Christian Hünemörder. Band I: Politiker, Teilband 5: R-S Heidelberg 2002.
Krebs, Thomas: Eduard Schmidlin—Gärtner, Botaniker und Hotelier. In: Lebensbilder aus Baden-Württemberg. Im Auftr. der Kommission für geschichtliche Landeskunde in Baden-Württemberg hrsg. von Gerhard Taddey … [et al.]. – Stuttgart : W. Kohlhammer, 2010, pp.: 176–198
Krebs, Thomas: Eduard Schmidlin (1808-1890)—Gärtner, Revolutionär, botanischer Schriftsteller, Hoteldirektor, Tourismuspionier. In: Zandera. Mitteilungen aus der Bücherei des Deutschen Gartenbaues e. V., Berlin: Vol. 26 (2011), pp: 14–28
Text and photographs by Thomas Krebs