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Unsung Heroes 2020: Bobby Bähler, Gurtenfestival

Unsung Heroes 2020, published in IQ 95 just before Christmas, is a tribute to some of the organisations and individuals who have gone above and beyond to help others during a year unlike any other – be that through their efforts to protect the industry, or helping those who were in desperate need.

We turned to the readership and asked you to nominate worthy causes and personalities for consideration as the inaugural members of our Unsung Heroes awards. Now, IQ can reveal the dozen most-voted Unsung Heroes of 2020, continuing with Paul Reed of the AIF, who follows AIF’s Paul Reed.

Frustrated by the Swiss government’s handling of the pandemic restrictions, the Gurtenfestival team’s initial interaction with the authorities was to scold them for their haphazard approach, and bemoan the lack of dialogue regarding the live events sector.

However, director Bobby Bähler soon realised that, rather than bad will, the government actually didn’t understand the festival industry; the complexity of building a temporary festival ‘city,’ and the fact that an event that lasts four days can have a planning phase of several months, involving several hundred people.

“We went out on a limb and told [the government] that if they had a problem we could solve it, no matter what it was”

“We went out on a limb and told them that if they had a problem we could solve it, no matter what it was,” recalls Bähler. “A week later we received a request to build a [coronavirus] test centre that could test up to 1,500 people per day. After two meetings and 12 hours’ conception, we had the solution. And after nine days, the first person was tested.”

Bähler and his colleagues used Gurtenfestival subsidiary, EventOn, to build a software package for the test centre, making sure it could map the entire test process and handle everything automatically from registration to reporting the test result.

“We developed the entire medical process, engaged our event physicians, trained laymen to become test persons, and created the entire public and internal communication,” he tells IQ. “Our team at Gurtenfestival has really done a very extraordinary job, and it is an honour to work with them.”

All too aware of the serious strain coronavirus was having on the health care system, Bähler turned to the experts he knows to run the centre.

“In order to not deprive the health care system of specialist staff, we wrote to all of our employees – around 1,900 people – from the Gurtenfestival. Within 48 hours, we had well over 250 applications from people who wanted to work with us,” says Bähler.

“We were able to relieve the burden on the health system and provide jobs for people in our industry and the catering trade”

“In this way, we were able to relieve the burden on the health system and provide jobs for people from our industry and the catering trade, where they could earn good money with a meaningful job.

“All these people were laymen and were trained and prepared for their work by specialised personnel. Now, we have tested almost 10,000 people since 9 November and to date no significant errors or false results have been found.”

For the construction of the test centre, Bähler hired regional companies to deliver tents, containers, heaters, vehicles, etc. “Maybe we were able to save 2020 for some of the suppliers, with a good order before the end of the year, as many had suffered a 90% drop in sales this year.”

At press time, about 150 people from the live events industry remain employed part-time at the test centre. “But what is much more important is that we were able to show that we are professionals and that we can simply create something big and good out of nothing, with almost no time,” states Bähler.

“We are used to creating playgrounds for artists and demanding guests under the most difficult circumstances… this time we created a ‘testival’ instead of a festival.”

“Most likely we will run the test centre until the end of January 2021 and by then we will have tested 20-30,000 people”

The Gurtenfestival staff expects the centre to become increasingly busy as the holiday season rolls around, with concerned citizens anxious to know they are virus-free before attending family dinners and gatherings.

“Most likely we will run the test centre until the end of January 2021 and by then we will have tested 20-30,000 people,” adds Bähler.

But the work might not end there, as the Swiss government has also asked Bähler if the Gurtenfestival crew can assist in creating vaccination centres when the medicines start to become available.

“We must stand together through this time,” adds Bähler. “The virus will pass, but what remains is the deep desire to be together, to enjoy music, theatre and culture of all kinds in one place… When the post-corona period begins, a new and very promising time for us will begin. Society will appreciate that we exist and will take pleasure in compensating for what the pandemic has so miserably forbidden for so long.”


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