Presented to Heidi Festel on her 90th Birthday: February 19, 2009 at the Frohegg Restaurant in Bern, Switzerland
Tonight, as we celebrate Heidi Festel’s 90th birthday, her son – my husband Ed – and I, have two gifts to present to her. Heidi calls me her daughter-in-love, instead of daughter-in-law, as most people say. I think also of Heidi as my Mother-in-love because even though we are joined through marriage, our relationship comes from the heart. Each year Edi and I visit Heidi and she tells me parts of her life story. She thinks I may forget, but I will not. My gift to her on this occasion is to share part of her story with you.
A long time ago and not very far away, in the city of Zurich, a little girl named Heidi Frei was born. Her family was poor but “der Liebe Gott im Himmel” gave this little girl a strong will to live and great ambition to work hard. At a very early age, Heidi decided that she would improve her situation in life.
Heidi Frei had a dream “Someday,” She vowed, “I will be a lady and wear beautiful clothes and every day I will walk in high heal shoes and on special days I will wear RED high heel shoes! And I will have my own children and live in my own house.” She was willing to work very hard to make this dream come true.
As the oldest daughter, Heidi helped her Mother after her two younger brothers were born. When she was four years old, the family moved to Herrliberg. Heidi did well in school and showed such a great talent using her hands to sew and make crafts that one of her teachers even suggested to her Mother Heidi should become a teacher in crafts. But it was not to be.
Her parents separated and at the age of 14, Heidi left school to help support her family. She started as a store clerk in a grocery store. Every week she would bring her paycheck home and place it on the kitchen table for her Mother.
Heidi loved beautiful clothes but she could not afford to buy them so instead she started to make her own dresses and to hand knit beautiful sweaters.
In her early twenties, Heidi met Fritz Festel. By this time, she was the store manager. They married when she was 25 and they lived together for 52 years.
In 1944, they moved to Bern for his work in the publishing industry. At that time, it would have been a disgrace to her husband if he did not provide for her and the family so Heidi could not work outside the home. This was one of Heidi’s greatest frustrations in life, but, being Heidi, she found ways around it.
Every month, when Fritz was paid, he brought home Heidi’s allowance and she managed the “household money.” She worked very hard to set aside a small portion each week. By now, they had two children, Peter and Eduard. She made clothes for herself and the children and pressed her husband’s suit every day. She says, “He was the best dressed man in his company, even if his clothes were not the most expensive.”
In 1954, Heidi’s dream of owning her own house came true when they bought a place in Spiegel. But Heidi did not give up on her ambition. She competed in tennis, becoming one of the top woman players in all of Switzerland.
Heidi taught tennis and saved her earnings to finance ski vacations in Lenk. In the mornings, the children had to walk up the ski hill carrying their skies on their shoulders and only in the afternoons would Heidi give them lift tickets. In this and other ways, Heidi taught her children the value of hard work.
Through Fritz’s work, they met many wealthy people. They were invited to parties and business events. And, Heidi wore beautiful clothes and high heel shoes. “No matter,” she said, “If they hurt my feet – I loved to be a lady and wear my high heel shoes.”
As time went on, Peter completed an apprenticeship as a print setter and Ed graduated in Geography. Ed moved to Canada and Peter moved to the Philippines. Sadly, Peter died there in 1998.
Heidi wanted to see the world so there was no question that it would happen. Together, she and Fritz travelled extensively in Europe, Africa, North and South America. In 1996, Fritz passed away and five years later Heidi moved into an apartment in Liebefeld where she lives VERY independently today.
Heidi, you are an inspiration to me. I am proud to be your “Daughter in Love.” You have taught me a great deal about life and if I present this short profile of your life, with the title “High Heel Shoes.”
In addition, Ed and I found a small gift for you to wear. It is a silver chain with two pendants, a miniature red high heel shoe surrounded by glittering rhinestones accompanied by a tiny square pendant with the white cross on red background, your very own Swiss flag.
These gifts are my promise to you that I will never forget your life and your stories.
- Heidi was quite a dynamo to the very end of her life in November 2011. Just a month before she passed on, we hiked around Schwartz See very,very slowly while I sang songs from The Sound of Music, Red River Valley, and Edelweiss among others. I cherish that day. I miss her constantly but am grateful to have shared many experiences with Heidi, a formidable force of nature and society - Claire