City of Hot Baths Has New Hot Ticket : World Cup: Swiss village of 4,500 is more than happy to serve as host to a 1,500-1 longshot, the U.S. soccer team.
If the people in this Rhine Valley village at the foot of the Central Alps were as serious about their marketing campaign as they claim, they long ago would have exploited an innocent, young mountain girl whose story is loved the world over. There would be Heidi T-shirts, Heidi dolls and maybe even a Heidiland.
According to the story, Heidi was from a neighboring village on the other side of the river, Maienfeld, but the book was written here by Johanna Spyri, who had come to bathe in the soothing mineral waters.
It is the thermal bath, not Heidi, that literally put Bad Ragaz on the map after the townspeople in 1840 discovered a method for piping in the water from another valley. About a century later, in their initial attempt to tap into the tourist industry, they changed the name of the village. Ragaz became Bad Ragaz.
Bad, in German, means bath, and its presence has brought nothing but good to the 4,500 people who live here. About 60% of the village’s revenue is contributed by tourists, an overwhelming majority of whom come for treatments in 100-degree water that is said to cure everything from rheumatism to constipation.
In honor of the spa, Thursday has been declared a holiday to celebrate its 150th anniversary.
“We’re celebrating 150 years of hot water,” said Manfred Bereiter, who, as manager of one of the village’s largest hotels, the Bristol, appreciates such amenities.
Only an occasion of that magnitude could overshadow the presence this week at the Bristol of a World Cup soccer team. Although it is only the U.S. team, a 1,500-1 longshot to win the tournament, that hardly matters to the people of Bad Ragaz, who have treated the players like knights on a crusade.
It is a source of great pride here that the U.S. Soccer Federation chose this site over three others in Switzerland for a weeklong training camp before the team moves Sunday to its World Cup base in Tirrenia, Italy.
One reason for the choice was convenience. In the final two exhibition games before its June 10 World Cup opener against Czechoslovakia in Florence, Italy, the team will play tonight against Liechtenstein in Eschen, Liechtenstein, about a 15-minute drive, and Saturday against Switzerland in St. Gallen, less than an hour’s drive.
Bad Ragaz also made an attractive offer. The team is using the first-rate training facility, which was built four years ago for Bad Ragaz’s third-division soccer team, free of charge and is staying in the Bristol Hotel, which has been closed to other guests.
But the federation was absolutely sold after a visit here earlier this year by the national team coordinator, Doug Newman.
“We wanted a place close to Italy but not in Italy, so that we could have a quiet week with no distractions to get adjusted to the time change,” he said. “This is as quiet as it gets.”
How quiet is it?
It is so quiet that the only noise to be heard above the birds’ chirping on a sunny, crisp spring afternoon comes from the church bells that ring on the hour.
Concerned because the population soared by 500 over the last 10 years, the mayor, Robert Staub, placed a moratorium on construction. Reelected for a third term last year with 92% of the vote, he said his most pressing problem now is traffic.
There is no traffic light at the village’s only intersection, just two stop signs. Although it rarely happens, two or three cars can get backed up there, particularly if they are behind one of the horse-drawn carts that carry tourists around the valley.
The five policemen on the payroll were employed primarily to solve problems such as that. There is hardly any crime. The last murder was in 1981. Before that, there was one in 1953. People who use bicycles for transportation leave them on the sidewalks, unchained.
The ambience is largely unspoiled even in the summer, when the population swells to 10,000 because of the influx of tourists. Asked about famous visitors to the bath, the mayor produced a book including the names of Victor Hugo, Hans Christian Andersen, James Fenimore Cooper, Friedrich Nietzsche, Thomas Mann and Hermann Hesse.
But most of the tourists are unexceptional--Swiss, German and some American senior citizens seeking relief from various ailments.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m working in a home of the elderly,” said a young receptionist at the Hotel Lattmann Royal, which is at the other end of town, or about a 10-minute walk from the Bristol.
“Most of our guests are in their 70s and 80s. When someone comes in who is 50, I say, ‘There’s a young person.’ ”
Because of that image, the village leaders were excited about the prospect of attracting a World Cup soccer team. When he learned from a Swiss Football Assn. official that the USSF was looking for a site, the chef at the town’s one five-star hotel, the Quellenhof, offered Bad Ragaz.
“We’re very glad we have a soccer team here,” Staub said. “We can say now that we are not only for old people.”
Employing the same strategy, the village has played host to the Swiss ski team, which occasionally trains at nearby Mt. Pizol. Maria Walliser, one of Switzerland’s best Alpine skiers until she retired this year, lives less than five miles away in the village of Valens.
“We like old people,” said Peter Rupf, who operates the clothing store that has belonged to his family since 1944. “You can make money on them, too. But we’d also like to bring more young people to Bad Ragaz. We have tennis, golf, horseback riding, skiing, anything you want.”
Rupf is president of the local soccer club, which had promoted for at least a month a game Monday night between the United States and Bad Ragaz.
The problem was that most members of the U.S. delegation, including Coach Bob Gansler, did not know about the game until they saw it advertised on posters when the team arrived Sunday. Newman learned of the plans three weeks ago but thought little else of it after sending a fax to the club that said the U.S. team could not commit.
A reluctant Gansler said Sunday he would decide later whether to allow his team to play.
While watching a U.S. practice that night, the club’s manager, Elmar Schreiber, was panicked.
“Are you OK, Elmar?” a USSF official asked.
“Not OK,” Schreiber said in broken English. “No eat, no sleep.”
He did not relax until the next morning, when Gansler agreed to a game that would be played in three 30-minute periods instead of the usual 45-minute halves.
“It was the least we could do,” Newman said. “Everyone has been so hospitable.”
Gansler’s only other condition was that Bad Ragaz, an amateur team in the Swiss league’s third division, refrain from trying to earn a reputation by banging around the Americans, who made it clear they were treating the game like a workout by wearing numberless practice uniforms.
A crowd of about 700, who paid $3.50 each to stand in a steady drizzle on an unseasonably brisk evening, watched 90 minutes of passionless--but clean and occasionally entertaining--soccer.
Everyone who was able for both teams played. U.S. starters Tab Ramos, a midfielder, and Desmond Armstrong, a defender, sat out the game with minor aches but should be ready by Saturday.
No one was hurt or embarrassed. The United States won, 3-0, on two goals by forward Bruce Murray of Germantown, Md., and one on a hard, left-footed line drive from about 25 yards out by UCLA freshman Chris Henderson. The score could have been more one-sided, but the Bad Ragaz goalkeeper made two excellent saves and the cross bar above him stopped a couple of others.
Gansler called it a “tired rendition” by his team but seemed genuinely pleased that he decided to play, if for no other reason, because it made some people happy.
“When I saw the smiling youngsters in the crowd, it took me back,” said Gansler, who spent much of his childhood in West Germany before his family moved to Milwaukee.
“I remember when one of my favorite teams from Germany, FC Nuremberg, came to Milwaukee. My dad didn’t have a car. So I took a bus to the stadium. When I got there, I found out I didn’t have enough money to get in.
“Much like tonight, it was raining. I was standing there looking like the kid outside the candy store without a penny. Finally, when the first half was almost over, the guy let me in. I thought of that tonight when I saw the kids.”