Friday, September 26, 2014

Freight Forwarding and Logistics Group Receives a Most Unusual Honour

Recognition From a Time When Intermodal Services Included Mule Trains
Shipping News Feature

AUSTRIA – WESTERN EUROPE – You know you’re famous when you appear on a banknote or a postage stamp and one freight forwarding and logistics concern has now had its remarkable history honoured by the introduction of a series of four postage stamps commemorating its achievements. From Saturday September 27 customers at post offices in Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein and Switzerland will be able to buy the stamps which commemorate a historic courier service and consequently the early history of today’s global logistics company, Gebrüder Weiss.

Between 1474 and 1826, the Milanese courier took goods, letters and travellers from Lindau via Fussach and over the Alps to Milan on a weekly basis. It was the shortest connection between the strong economy of the Northern Lake Constance region as far as Augsburg and the metropolis of Lombardy. The operators of this courier service were the ancestors of the Weiss family, who are still active in transport and logistics today as Heidi Senger-Weiss, Chair of the Supervisory Board at Gebrüder Weiss, explains:

“The Milanese courier not only provided the basis of our company history for 350 years, but was also unique throughout the entire history of transport in Central Europe. As the only independent courier service in the German Reich, the courier was not subject to state control and therefore enjoyed a special status. We are particularly delighted that the four post offices, including the German post as successor to the imperial postal service, are commemorating this important institution.”

For hundreds of years, this unique courier service was even able to uphold its independence in the face of the mighty Imperial Thurn & Taxis postal service. The ‘lasting peace’ between Switzerland and the Habsburgs enabled the ancestors of the Weiss family to operate a regular courier service as of 1474. The 330-kilometre journey through Austria, Liechtenstein and Switzerland was covered in five and a half days. Even back then, intermodal transport was already the order of the day: by ship across Lake Constance and Lake Como, by horse and wagon through the plains of the River Rhine and Lombardy, and as a ‘Säumerzug’ with mules through the gorges north and south of the 2113-metre-high Splügen Pass which bisects the Alps between Switzerland and Italy.

The difficulties of travel in the region were apparent to writers such as Conan Doyle and Mary Shelley who, writing as late as 1840 described the introduction of a ‘marvellous new road’ which made the journey more practical. The transport service across the Alps was also referred to as the Lindau or the Fussach courier, depending on perspective and bearing in mind that several languages are involved on the route.

Each of the four countries which are issuing the new commemorative stamps has its own design. In Austria, the stamp honouring the ‘Fussach courier’ depicts an historical map showing the transport route from Lindau to Milan. Germany, Liechtenstein and Switzerland also have their special stamps of the ‘Lindau courier’ with a different design in each case. Special presentations of the stamps will be set up at post offices in Fussach, Lindau, Balzers and Chur. In addition, a number of philatelic associations are organising exhibitions and excursions along the historic transport route.

Gebrüder Weiss has of course come a long way since those mules followed the trails of shepherds in the mountains. The group now employs around 6,000 staff at 150 locations and turns over in excess of €1.2 billion ranking it as one of the leading European logistics companies.

Photo: This detail from an 1860 sketch by Edward Whymper, the first man to scale the Matterhorn, showed that mule transport was still often the only available means of practical transport as late as this.