Bertha was Eduard Schmidlin’s first child from his second marriage. She was born at Castle Altmannshofen near Leutkirch in the Allgäu (Württemberg) on 18 September 1848. The birth registry entry gives her first name just as Bertha, later records also list her as Bertha Wilhelmine.
On 9 October, 1865, she was married to Otto Stephani in Brienz. He was an engineer from Mannheim, and at 32 he was nearly twice her age. Despite this age difference the marriage was, at least according to Bertha’s father Eduard, a love match. Otto Stephani had become the first director of the municipal gasworks in Bern in 1861 (his elder brother Ludwig was the director of the gasworks in Budapest). The couple lived in a house built specially for the gas director. It can still be seen in the Marzili quarter of Bern, down by the river Aare. Only four months after the wedding, Otto Stephani died after a long illness. Bertha went back to the Giessbach to help her parents with the running of the hotel. She and her sister Marie were both very popular with the guests. In ‘Der Löwe von Luzern’ (The Lion of Lucerne), a novel in four volumes, published in 1867 by the German popular novelist Philipp Galen, Bertha appears as a character, with her real name, in a chapter set at Giessbach. Galen calls her the Hebe of the Giessbach, and in a long footnote he refers to the well-known fact that she became a widow before reaching the age of 19 and then came back to Giessbach, where her grace and decency in serving the guests earned her the highest respect and sympathy with male and female visitors alike. Galen then goes on to say that in her demeanour and attitude – treating everyone with the same dignity and true feminine tact – she set a model for her younger, equally charming sister, and that they both contributed greatly toward maintaining the most favourable impression the Hotel Giessbach had made on all visitors to Switzerland from the very beginning. According to reports of the time, Bertha and Marie spoke very good English and also French in addition to their native language German. As the Giessbach is quite secluded and girls did not have even remotely similar chances of receiving an education as boys did, one wonders where the Schmidlin daughters got their language skills from. They may have been privately taught.
The original Hotel Giessbach now used as staff accommodation
Presumably, John Bullough was one of the visitors of the Giessbach, however, it is not known exactly how he and Bertha first met. When they were married at Brienz, on 11 February 1869, Bertha was a Swiss citizen as the entire Schmidlin family had become naturalised citizens of their adopted country in April 1868. Bertha went to live in Lancashire with her husband, and her two eldest children, George and Bertha, were born in England in 1870 and 1872. In 1880, Bertha and John Bullough were going through their divorce and she was living in separation from her husband and staying at the Bellevue Hotel in Thun with her parents. This is where her second son, Edward, was born on 28 March 1880.
When her parents retired from the Bellevue at the end of the 1882 season, they went to live in Dresden – according to an article in the ‘Schweizer Fremdenblatt’ (Swiss Journal for Tourists) in June 1883, they went to stay with their youngest daughter. This was Johanna, born at Giessbach in 1859. The first entries in the Dresden telephone directory for any members of the Schmidlin family can be found in 1884: Eduard Schmidlin, Johanna Schmidlin and Bertha Wilhelmine Bullough all have separate entries with different street addresses. Thus it has not as yet been possible to find out who first had the idea of going to live in Dresden, and there are no known connections with the Saxon capital prior to 1883.
On 9 January, 1886, Bertha Bullough-Stephani-Schmidlin was married for the third time, in Dresden, to Judge Friedrich Eduard Strüver, who was ten years her junior and with whom she would have one son and three daughters. According to one of her granddaughters, she was a highly respected lady in Dresden society, not least because she insisted that her children take regular baths, something which apparently was quite unusual at the time in German families. On 13 November 1913 Bertha Strüver died in Dresden and was buried in the protestant cemetery in the village of Leubnitz-Neuostra just outside the city. Her husband died in 1939, and he lies buried in the same grave, together with other members of the family.
The Struver graves
Text by Thomas Krebs