100th Anniversary of the Jungfrau Railway

August 1, 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of the Jungfrau Railway, the cogwheel train that takes visitors high up to the Jungfraujoch, dubbed "Top of Europe". The German word Jungfrau means virgin and joch refers to the saddle between the Mönch and the Jungfrau mountains.I had the amazing experience of riding this train and seeing the Jungfraujoch on my first visit to Switzerland many years ago and it turned out to be the source of one of my most thrilling but also funniest stories ever! I was saving it for my memoirs but now that the 100th anniversary is near I can't resist telling you about it sooner. I was staying with my friend Charlotte in Zürich and she insisted that I visit the Jungfraujoch because it was such a spectacular experience. So she sent me off to spend the night in Interlaken, in the canton of Bern, and although it was summer, she suggested taking her down parka knowing how cold it would be so high up in the glaciers. The train passed through beautiful mountain towns, stopping at Grindelwald, and then at Eigerwald and I was reminded of the Clint Eastwood movie The Eiger Sanction. The conductor explained to us that to reach the final station we would be going through a tunnel of rock and that there would be only one track so on the descent, if there were a train mounting, our train would be sidetracked. (Finally I understood the literal meaning of this word!) When we reached the top, there was space for only about three people at a time to go out into the small open space, which revealed stunning views of a land of ice, glaciers, and snow covered mountain peaks. I silently thanked Charlotte for keeping me warm in her parka while all the other tourists were shivering. When we started the descent, at first everything seemed to be going well until all of a sudden the train started slowing down, the conductor leaned his head out of the window, and screamed out what sounded exactly like something my grandmother would have screamed in Yiddish had the end of the world been imminent: oy gavooooolt!" I exchanged a look of wide-eyed terror with the other two people in the car who, I could tell by their accent, were from Brooklyn and clearly were thinking exactly what I was thinking which was "oh my G-d--there's another train on its way up and our train didn't side track." We waited for the impending crash but nothing happened. Then it dawned on the three of us, at the same moment, that what he was screaming, in a voice conductors the world over call out the stations for all to hear, was Eigerwaaaald and we burst into relieved laughter. Many years later I attended a special Chateau Margaux dinner at the Four Season's Restaurant in New York City and had the pleasure of sitting next to Alex von Bidder, one of the owners. Alex is the most charming and elegant man I know and I had never really had a chance to have a conversation with him before. As we started talking, I noticed that he had the barest trace of an accent and asked him where he was from originally. His answer was Switzerland. By this time I had visited the country at least six times and knew the regions pretty well so I asked what part of Switzerland. His answer: "Oh it was a very small mountain town--I'm sure you never would have heard of it." When I explained how well I knew Switzerland he couldn't hold out any longer and I heard the word my psychic soul suspected: "Eigerwald!" How could I resist? I just had to say it: "Oy! Do I have a story for you!"