In Memoriam of Bernhard Batschelet (1951 – 2020)

As you may probably know, Bernard Batschelet left us last month. Barbara Ehringhaus, President of ProMONT-BLANC and former Member of the Board of Mountain Wilderness Switzerland, wrote the following lines in memory of our extraordinary friend, long-time Guarantor of Mountain Wilderness International.

Bernhard Batschelet

Founding member and former President of Mountain Wilderness Switzerland

We sadly record the unexpected loss of Bernhard Batschelet. He left his mark on Mountain Wilderness Switzerland in the early years, in many ways. With his perseverance, his unceasing commitment, his immense desire to change apparently unchangeable things, he pioneered mountain wilderness preservation both here and abroad.

Persevering both in the mountains and with his ideas and plans

If Bernhard did something, it was full of enthusiasm, imagination and consistency. Also for the mountains. As one of the first Swiss Alpine Club (SAC) environmental officers, he was committed to environmental protection and unspoilt mountains in the Basel Section. That was not enough for him, however. He wanted an alternative to SAC. Therefore it is not surprising that he joined the emerging alternative mountaineering scene and travelled to Brig on 16 January 1994 to participate in the founding of Mountain Wilderness Switzerland. He then became a member of the Board and in 1996 took over the Presidency, a position he held until 2004.

Bernhard, who came from the Basel “Daig”*, was a man of many faces. He was a musician and carnivalist. But at Mountain Wilderness he was an environmental activist. Once, as part of the “Stopp dem Schrott” (Stop the scrap) campaign, he staged demonstrations to demand that the military clean up the mountains of ammunition residues. Then again, he convinced his contacts in Basel to support our projects, which led to long-term funding partnerships. And he was the colleague and friend with whom one enjoyed spending a long evening. Discussions with him were exciting, stimulating and lively, always spiced up with a pinch of bitter, biting Basel humour.

He always saw himself as a mastermind. At Mountain Wilderness he was a mastermind for an unspoilt mountain wilderness and sustainable mountain sports. Environmentally-friendly trips to the mountains, ecologically run mountain huts, sustainable alpine architecture were just some of his issues. He loved to lively and convincingly discuss his ideas, always and everywhere. Preferably directly on site and in the mountains, for example at the Bec de Bosson hut in Val d’Hérens when the new building was planned, or at the Prix Wilderness award ceremony at the Cabane d’Arpittetaz. His ideas often took off before they became public. One example is the temporary closure of climbing areas in the Basel Jura to allow endangered bird species to breed undisturbed.

The highest mountains

And then there was the Mont Blanc massif, which fascinated Bernhard and didn’t let go of him. Bernhard persuaded Mountain Wilderness Switzerland and the Basel mountaineering scene to devote themselves to the protection of Mont Blanc. Building on the work of Mountain Wilderness International, he developed a campaign for the highest mountain in the Alps, the symbol par excellence of mountaineering. This was Bernhard as well. He did not shy away from big issues. On the contrary, they seemed to inspire him.

Thus, in 1996 and 1998 he actively participated in various multi-day international expeditions with several dozen participants around Mont Blanc, taking the then National Councillors Pia Holenstein and Rudolf Strahm to the summit. And after the end of the “Göschenen Model Region” project, which had been initiated by Mountain Wilderness in the 1990s, to him helping in drawing up a similar plan for the Swiss side of Mont Blanc was only the logical thing to do.  He started the project by organising a one-week exploration both at La Fouly in 2002, and the following year at Les Marécottes.

The welfare of the umbrella organisation Mountain Wilderness International was also very close to his heart. Although more artist than manager, he tried persistently and over the years to set up efficient, clear structures. Another matter he cared very much about on the international scene was the Caucasus in Georgia. Together with Mountain Wilderness Germany, he laid the foundations for a soft tourism there, among other things with a clean-up campaign on Mount Kasbek.

Musician, glacier camper

We at Mountain Wilderness only heard little of his music and his love for the Basel Fastnacht. All the more wonderful for me personally was the premiere of his oratorio in a packed Basel Cathedral, his spontaneous participation in a theatre play for my birthday and the records he gave me as present with Bach’s jubilant flute/organ duos and with his manifold Basel Fastnacht innovations.

But what connected him with all of us at Mountain Wilderness were the mountains. Whenever he could, he was drawn to the peaks and preferably to the ice-cold glaciers, where he bivouacked several days in a row.

The last years Bernhard lived on Bali, near Ubud, in the middle of rice fields in a homestead designed and built by himself. “The world seems to be a little bit thrown off balance locally and globally. All the more reason to strengthen our closer personal environment with imagination and seriousness, I think. It is difficult to stay calm”, he wrote more than a year ago, signing himself as Bali-Bernhard. In February 2020 he had returned to Basel for the carnival, as he always did. Due to the Corona pandemic the Basel Fastnacht could not take place this year and Bernhard was unable to return to Bali. On 19 May 2020 Bernhard’s heart stopped beating and he left this world while in his Basel apartment.

Barbara Ehringhaus

President of ProMONT-BLANC and former Member of the Board of Mountain Wilderness Switzerland

*expression referring to the social, political and economic  elite of the city