I was recently contacted by Peter Kuonen of Urdorf in Switzerland, who wondered if I would be interested in seeing some photographs of his grand-uncle, Victor, who spent more than 20 years employed at Luxor’s Winter Palace, and before that Shepheard’s, in the early years of the 20th century. Of course I was interested. So Peter sent me the photographs and they are wonderful – he’s permitted me to post some of them, below. I also asked Peter if he could tell me a little about Victor, and he responded with the text that follows.
“Victor was born on May 4, 1875 in a small mountain village called Guttet in the picturesque canton of Wallis in Switzerland. He grew up together with five sisters and fourteen brothers. After completing his compulsory schooling he had to help to support the family. Therefore, he went to work in a hotel at the age of 16 years. As a young man, he already had jobs in different cities like San Remo, Basel and Lucerne. In 1897, aged 22, he travelled to Egypt for the first time. He sent back travel reports, which were published in a local Wallis newspaper Briger Anzeiger from February 1902 onwards. His first report described the trip from Switzerland via Genoa to Port Said. He not only wrote what he had experienced on the trip but also about the people and the land of Egypt. He continued to file reports right up until 1923 and his most interesting are now preserved in the archives of the Canton Valais.
“He found employment in Egypt in the first-class hotels, including Shepheard’s in Cairo and the Winter Palace in Luxor – both hotels owned by fellow Swiss Charles Baehler.
Top, Victor, at Shepheard’s in 1905; bottom with the staff at the Winter Palace, c.1930
“Victor worked in Egypt during the winter (which was Egypt’s prime tourist season) and returned to Switzerland or Germany during the summer. In Switzerland, he worked in the Hotel Mont Cervin, Zermatt and in the Hotel Schweizerhof, Lucerne. In Germany, he was a concierge in the Hotel Europäischer Hof, Baden-Baden where he met his wife Sophie Mohl. They had three more sons and one daughter.
Victor at the Winter Palace in 1932
Victor outside the main entrance of the Winter Palace. The photo has been taken by Attaya Gaddis, who had one of the shops in front of the hotel; it’s now run by his grandson Ehab
At the Winter Palace reception desk
An illustration of Victor, presented to him as a gift. I can’t be sure but it looks like the work of Tony Binder, who I have posted about previously, here
“In 1927, after working 30 years for Charles Baehler, – during which time he was present in Luxor when Tutankhamun’s tomb was discovered – Victor received a Diploma of the Swiss Hotelier Association and also a gold watch with a dedication from Baehler.
Howard Carter and the former Spanish king Alfonso XIII in front of the Winter Palace
Leopold and Elizabeth of Belgium at the Winter Palace
Pioneering Swiss aviator Walter Mittelholzer dropping by the Winter Palace while making the first north-south flight across Africa in 1926
“Victor said good-bye to Egypt in 1931. He moved with his family to Algeria, where his second-oldest son, Oscar, had a job in a hotel. They settled in the coastal town of Bône (today called Annaba), where Victor opened a restaurant, Au Rosbif. The family ran this for about 10 years but then World War II came along and they packed up and returned to Switzerland. Back in his homeland, Victor bought the Hotel Mont Cervin in Visp/Wallis in 1941 and was a successful hotelier for the next 8 years until he died on October 13, 1949.”
13 Responses to Victor Kuonen 1875-1949
Peter – A really wonderful personal history that helps bring these grand dames alive.
Interesting to think that he Cesar Ritz was also born in Valais, Switzerland (in 1850), also from a large family and also went off to find a career in hotels. The rest, as they say, is hotel history!
My question: can more information be provided about the various jobs that Victor held during his Egyptian career? The article mentions being concierge in Baden-Baden, so I wonder if this was a role he held in Egypt.
Victor used to work as a concierge in both hotels (Shepheard’s and Winter Palace). Another interesting matter is that Andrea Badrutt (the famous Badrutt’s Palace Hotel in St. Moritz/Switzerland) was his Hotel Manager in the Winter Palace Hotel in Luxor in the late 1920s. At the same time, another Swiss fellow Alexander Seiler (Seiler Hotels in Zermatt/Switzerland) made his first experiences in the Charles Bähler Hotels in Egypt.
Victor Kuonen, a brother of my grandfather, moved so far away (like my grandfather who went to America) and that at a time without airplane, internet, mobile phone… A man without fear of new countries and people. Inspiring!
What a fascinating read ! Victor Kuonen is my great great grandfather, these are the first pictures I have ever seen of him. Great family history lesson. Much appreciation all the way from Canada 🙂
I am living in Canada, and am the grandson on Jacqueline Ambrusch, her father was Oscar. I have to say that this is very interesting , into some family history. Thank you.
FYI …her maiden name was Jacqueline Kounen….Rose is my sister lol.
I am the Victor Kuonen alive and happy to read about my great grandfather and it’s marvelous to have him eternally in the Web!
Looking forward to meet you soon!
Interesting about your grandfather Victor Kuonen. He must have worked with my father who was General Manager, Carl Gustave Schaetzle,under Charles Baehler first at the Winter Palace in Luxor and later as GM at the old Shephards Hotel in Cairo until 1914. After WW1 he was GM at the Esplanade Hotel in Berlin.
Do you have any photographs of your father at either of the Egyptian hotels he worked at?
I only found your.message of last year now.
Yes my father was GM of Shepherds Hotel in Cairo until.he was taken by the British Army
Beiträge eing a German Citizen at the start of ww.l in 1914
and sent to Malta for internment for four years.
Dear Descendants of Victor Kuonen,
I am a British writer called Frances Osborne and the book I am best known for is The Bolter. I want to recreate the wonderful atmosphere of the Winter Palace in Luxor in the 1920s and wonder if you could help me in any way.
This is a message to Olaf Bonde Schaetzle: I’m curious about your father Carl Gustav Schaetzle. What were the dates he was the general manager at Shepheard’s? Was he there in the early months of 1915? The reason I ask is because I found a report of a German spy who in the spring of 1915 had made friends with the “manager agent” as he called him at Shepheard’s. This would have been April or March 1915. Are there any other managers at Shepheard’s beside your father that you know about?
My father Carl Gustav was taken by the British Army while being General Manager of Shepherds Hotel in Cairo in 1914 because he had German Nationality and certainly not because he had any spy connections. He was never a German Nationalist, but he was a hobby archeologist with an excavating permit in the Valley of the Kings near Luxor especially after he was GM of the Winter Palace in Luxor before Charles Baehler called him to Cairo. He spent the years 1915 to 1918 as a civilian POW in Malta becoming the interpreter for British prisoners of war. He lost his property, a home on the Nile which was also taken by the British Army. After the war, as reported he became General Manager of the Esplanade Hotel in Berlin.