Switzerland’s long hot summer of 2017 – the hottest for over a century, with temperatures soaring as high as 34°C throughout May and June – was violently interrupted in the first weekend of July when heavy storms finally broke. Particularly badly affected was the town of Zofingen in the canton of Aargau, where Bethge AG Textilveredlung has operated as a commission fabric finisher since 1834.
“It started with the hail,” recalls the company’s plant manager Frank Katzenstein, “the most fierce hail storm I’ve ever seen, with stones as long as four centimetres. This was enough to close all of the local roads and then the rain started and just didn’t stop – and the flooding and landslides began.”
Nestled in the foothills above Zofingen, the Bethge plant was in the direct line of a 1.6-metre-high wave which thundered down onto the town when a dam above it finally burst its banks. “It was unbelievable in its ferocity,” said Katzenstein. “It crashed right through the steel doors of the plant and completely engulfed our machines. Almost everything was destroyed.”
More than 450 rescue workers were mobilised to deal with the chaos in Zofingen, with the electricity down, the railway station underwater and the motorway around the town closed in both directions for many hours. Miraculously, although a number of people were taken to the hospital, nobody was killed, but the freak storm had caused millions of francs worth of damage, with the Bethge plant taking the brunt of it.
The following week a crisis meeting was held by the directors of the family-owned company and it became clear that its finishing lines – including the existing Monforts stenter and shrinkage range – would have to be completely replaced.
“It really looked like the business was finished unless we could resume operations in a very limited amount of time,” Katzenstein said. “For many years we have specialised in the finishing of woven textiles for third-party brands and distributors, primarily based on cotton and linen, as well as some polyester and polyamide. These are destined for the home and hotel tableware and bedding markets in Switzerland, Austria and Germany.
“Hospital linen is another key end-use sector for our fabrics, and as one of the few remaining textile finishing operations in Switzerland – where both costs and environmental standards are extremely high – our just-in-time delivery and quality guarantees have been crucial.
For full story: Read ITJ Feb 2018 issue