Had you decided to winter in Egypt in the 1930’s it would have stayed at the best hotel, either in Cairo, Luxor or Aswan, and it would have been difficult not to encounter the name of Charles Baehler since he owned three of the most popular, prestigious and luxurious hotels in Egypt.
Swiss born Charles Baehler arrived in Cairo in 1889, a young man, eager to make his mark in the world, drawn no doubt by the popularity of Egypt at the time. An accountant by trade, Baehler befriended the genial owner of Shepheard’s Hotel, Samuel Shepheard, who, at the time was in a muddle with his books. Charles proceeded to sort things out and thus began his long association with the hotel.
Charles took over the ownership and management of the hotel and quickly began to expand his empire, building subsequent luxurious edifices, not only in Cairo but at Giza, Luxor and Aswan. However, Shepheard’s Hotel remained his flagship.
Prior to the beginning of the First World War, Egypt was a popular destination with Europeans, particularly Germans and naturally, Charles Baehler encouraged them to reside in one of his hotels during their visits. He became especially friendly with the Managing Director of Deutche bank, this fact, not going unnoticed by British intelligence.
As a result, at the outset of the war, Baehler was accused of having sympathies with Germany and therefore the Ottoman Empire and was subsequently deported to England and incarcerated in Brixton Gaol. He was released, however, his case never properly proven. Nonetheless, Baehler was not allowed to return to Egypt and spent the remainder of the war in Switzerland, returning to at the beginning of the following decade.
Of course, this was the beginning of the ‘Roaring Twenties,’ Egypt suddenly seeing a huge resurgence in popularity with foreign visitors, lured not only by the weather during January and April, but the spectacle of the newly discovered tomb of Tutankhamen. Charles Baehler, seeing the opportunity, took over the ownership and management of existing hotels as well as building more.
Although the terrace, the Moorish style dining room, the lush garden seethed with quiet tranquillity and gentility, across dusty Ibrahim Pasha Street, the pavements heaved with expectant dragomen, donkey boys and trinket sellers.
My intrepid pair of voyagers, Ronald Fry and young Mervyn Watson, on their arrival at Shepheard’s that day in January 1937 would have been grateful to hand over their trunks to this couple of willing porters.