Walchwil, 23.09.2019

Group of fifteen apprentices build section of dry stone wall


Admittedly, this is not the sort of headline to make one go on to read the full article, but a lot goes into the building of a dry stone wall, not least when one realises it is expected to last up to 100 years.

As mentioned, the project involved 15 young apprentices from the Industrial Trades College in Zug (GBIZ). What was good was that the companies who employ and train them gave them time off to do it, without them having their pay reduced.

The wall was built in the Unterutenberg area of the municipality, near where the SBB is laying an additional track.

The work was very different from what the apprentices were used to; they were not dealing here with uniform-sized bricks as normal. Each piece of quartz sandstone had to be chosen carefully, before being cut to the right size.

And, as mentioned, no cement was used, the weight of the carefully positioned stones ensuring the wall stayed in place.

As one apprentice placed a stone in the wall, another observed from a short distance away and mentioned how a bit more needed being chipped off. Once done, it was again duly positioned in the wall, this time to an approving nod.

What apprentice Morino Kneringer of Oberägeri enjoyed was the more leisurely way the work was done, in strong contrast to when on a normal building site. “I have really enjoyed working on this project,” he said.

This is in fact the sixth time that apprentices have had the opportunity to engage in a project such as this, though this is the first time one has taken place in the canton of Zug.

One of the ideas behind the project was to combine the areas of sustainability, nature and practical skills, as Pascal Kun of the bricklaying section of the EFZ (national qualification conferring body - similar to the City and Guilds organisation) explained. As to the “nature” aspect, it is hoped the new dry stone wall will eventually be a habitat for an endangered, but harmless, species of snake, smooth snakes, which are known to live in the area.

In fact, it is hoped other plants and animals will also benefit from the construction and continue to thrive in the area. Indeed, when the GIBZ mentioned the idea of building this wall, it was met with great interest by the canton. After all, here was the opportunity of restoring an old wall, providing new habitats for endangered species, and encouraging interest in a centuries-old skill.

The apprentices were involved in the remaining 30-metre stretch of the 50-metre-long wall, the first 20-metre-long stretch having been completed by volunteers through a foundation supporting environmental action in Switzerland.

Of note is that, for every square metre of wall, one tonne of stone was needed, though, as apprentice Erich Iten of Unterägeri said, it was not really heavy work, not that much heavier than what he was used to in normal jobs. Of note, too, as dry stone wall expert, Kari Gerber, explained, was that most of the work, 90 per cent of it, was done by hand, with very little machinery involved, just a digger for finishing off purposes.

Very pleased with the almost final result was Fabian Halder of Steinhausen, who mentioned how the experience had shown him a totally different aspect to his work. He subsequently took a stone and positioned it very carefully in the wall, there to remain for the next 100 years.