Hotel Beau-Rivage *****
History of the five-star luxury
hotel in Geneva, Switzerland
reservations for Hotel Beau-Rivage.
Added on October 31, 2007
20 years after the death of the
German politician Uwe Barschel in the bathtub of the Hotel Beau-Rivage in Geneva
and speculations in the press about the cause of death, the attorney general of
Schleswig-Holstein its 1998 report
Article added on December 9, 2003
The Hotel Beau-Rivage is one of
the pearls on the shores of Lake Geneva. Its history began in 1865
when Jean-Jacques Mayer founded the still privately owned five-star hotel. He
is the great-grandfather of the present owner and administrator, Jacques
Mayer, who runs the hotel together with his mother and sister. In a long and
substantial conversation during my stay at the hotel, Jacques Mayer told me
the history of his hotel and showed me old guest books.
Especially in the German speaking world, the Hotel Beau-Rivage is linked to
two tragic events: the assassination of the Austrian Empress Elisabeth (1837-1898)
and the suicide of the German politician and possible successor of Chancellor
Helmut Kohl, Uwe Barschel (1944-1987).
The Austrian Empress Elizabeth ("Sisi" or "Sissi") remains one of the most popular historical
figures. Her fame is partly due to tear-jerking, kitsch films with Romy
Schneider interpreting the role of the empress, who, at the age of 32, decided
that no more picture of her should be painted and no photograph be made.
Therefore, her public image remained one of an eternal beauty.
In 1898, despite warnings of possible assassination attempts, she traveled
incognito to Geneva. She stayed at the Hotel Beau-Rivage, where she had
already spent a week in 1897.
On September 9, 1898, she returned to Geneva with the one-o'clock boat to
visit Baroness Julie de Rothschild. Accompanied by Countess Irma Sztaray, the
two women strolled along the quay and then ate some of their favorite ice
cream. On returning to the Hotel Beau-Rivage, the Empress spent a long time
relaxing on the lounge balcony.
Unfortunately, a Geneva newspaper revealed that the elegant guest traveling
under the pseudonym of Countess of Hohenembs was nobody else than Her Majesty,
the Empress Elizabeth of Austria.
The following day, the Empress awakened very early. At her request, her
breakfast was served with a selection of rolls of all shapes and flavors.
Afterwards, she paid a visit to Bäker's music shop in the rue Bonivard, where
she purchased a magnificent music box and several rolls of music.
At 1:35 pm, the Empress and Countess Sztaray left the hotel on foot to catch
the boat. They walked along the quay, passing in front of the Brunswick
Monument. Her servants had already left by train for Territet, by order of the
Empress, who said that she did "not like processions".
The Italian anarchist Luigi Luccheni had just been waiting for such an
opportunity. He had been in Switzerland since May 1898 where he joined an
anarchist movement with the objective to abolish the state. In fact, his prime
target had been the Duke of Orléans. When the duke did not come to Geneva as
expected, he changed his plan.
As the ship's bell announced the departure, Luccheni approached the Empress.
He seemed to stumble and made a movement with his hand just as if he wanted to
maintain himself upright. In reality, he had deadly injured the Empress with a
According to the official police communiqué, the file had penetrated the
breast, lung and heart at the fourth rib, creating a heavy internal bleeding
which gradually and painlessly led to death.
After the assassination attempt, the Empress collapsed. A coach-driver helped
the unknown woman to stand on her feet. He alerted the concierge of the Beau-Rivage,
an Austrian by the name of Planner, who had been watching the Empress as she
had walked towards the ship. "It is nothing" she repeated, "we
must hurry or we shall miss the boat." As she walked to the jetty, the
Empress remarked to the Countess of Sztaray: "I wonder what that man
wanted. Perhaps he was trying to steal my watch."
The Empress managed to walk to the boat where Planner arrived and informed
them that the offender had been apprehended at rue des Alpes. As he fled, he
threw the file into the entrance to No. 3 Rue des Alpes, where its was found
the next day by the concierge during his morning cleaning.
After boarding the boat, the Empress staggered and fainted. On reviving, she
thanked a lady who had helped the Countess lift her up, and then fainted
again. Only at this moment, the Countess opened the Empress' blouse and
noticed a small wound near the heart filled with a droplet of blood.
Meanwhile, the boat was already sailing out of the harbor. When the captain
learned the identity of the fainted lady, he turned the ship around and drew
alongside the landing stage in front of the Hotel Beau-Rivage. Elizabeth was
laid on an improvised stretcher made with a sail placed over six oars and
several cushions. Six boatmen carried her to the hotel.
The head of staff of the hotel held her hand which was dangling limply.
Everybody was in panic. She was brought to her suite. When Dr. Golay arrived,
it was too late. According to Fanny Mayer, the wife of the then-hotel director
Charles-Albert Mayer, the Empress had the death rattle when she arrived at the
hotel and passed away of increasing internal bleeding some twenty minutes
later. In 1898, it was impossible to close a heart wound.
Luccheni, the assassin, was sentenced to life imprisonment. In 1910 he committed suicide in prison.
2 of the article about the Hotel Beau-Rivage.
The hotel by night. Photo © Hôtel Beau-Rivage Genève.
More articles about Geneva
with Cornelio Sommaruga, President of the ICRC
of all categories in Geneva.
The atrium. Photo: © Hôtel Beau-Rivage Genève.
The hotel on Lake Geneva by day. Photo: © Hôtel Beau-Rivage Genève.
reservations at the Hotel Beau-Rivage.