Weekend Mountain Blogging: Mittenwald, Scharnitz, Seefeld

IMG_1999I needed to go to Mittenwald because of something I’d promised to do, and since I had the day free it seemed like a good idea to get some hiking in along with some sights.
As there’s only so much ground one can cover in an afternoon, I broke up the journey with short train rides. First, to Mittenwald.

IMG_1992Every so often, a sign that I’m on the old original Roman road. In tracing the route over the Alps one has the advantages and disadvantages of the landscape. Humans are practical above everything: the first mule paths made by the more ancient inhabitants followed the easiest ways over. The Romans built mainly on these existing paths because they were there (once they got onto more open land they had more options). After the Roman retreat in the 4th century CE, the roads remained and continued to be used for trade, later providing for much of the route of the Via Imperii during the years of the Holy Roman Empire. And so on, through the ages, until that ancient road over the mountains is now mostly (not completely) under the B2.

IMG_1995From Mittenwald I walked parallel to the B2 on a quieter trail, to get a sense of what Goethe may have felt when he came through here for the first time, in 1786.

Left Mittelwald at 6, clear sky, a keen wind blowing, and the kind of cold only allowed in February. The near slopes dark and covered in spruce, the grey limestone cliffs, the highest white peaks against the beautiful blue of the sky made exquisite, constantly changing pictures. Near Scharnitz you get into the Tyrol and the border is closed with a rampart that seals off the valley and joins up with the mountains. It looks very fine. One one side the cliff is fortified, on the other it just goes steeply up.

IMG_1996The fortification to which Goethe refers is the Porta Claudia, built in the 17th century and named for Claudia di Medici.
Back on the train, next stop Seefeld in Tirol.

IMG_1998“Bee Hotel”

I had seen this path many times from the window of the train, and often wondered what the signs said. Were they historical markers?  No, the trail is all about bees and honey!

This bee-themed nature trail ended at Reith bei Seefeld. From there a late-afternoon train brought me back to Innsbruck.

Posted in Austria, culture, environment, Germany, history, literature, Mountains, nature, travel | 2 Comments

Pending Moderation

I took the website back down for a very good reason — we want the blessing of our lawyer first, and he hasn’t looked at it yet.  In Germany there is the possibility that someone can send you an Abmahnung, which is a letter telling you that you’ve done something wrong, broken some consumer protection law, and this allows him or her to basically demand money. Wikipedia explains:

In most cases, the law allows the party sending the letter to demand payment of legal costs associated with the sending of the letter. In theory, this allows anybody that observes a violation of a law that may be covered by an Abmahnung to hire an attorney, have a letter sent, and be reimbursed for the attorney’s fees. In practice, a lawyer may do this without having been hired by a client who has been wronged, in essence searching for violators of covered laws and demanding payment from them for having found them. Since the enormous proliferation of web sites, this abuse of the law has led to the so-called Abmahnwelle (-wave), as lawyers and copyright holders are trawling the internet searching for even minor and usually unintended violations of e.g. copyright law, with some law firms sending thousands of letter per year demanding payment.

This is absolutely true, and we’ve fallen victim to these sharks already in the past, for example when a merchant software inexplicibly dropped the price of a book below the legally allowed price according to the Fixed Book Price Agreement. German websites and even German blogs(!)*, are required to include an Impressum, and there are strict laws about where it goes and what must be in it.

No need to put ourselves through that again! So, the site is temporarily down but will be up again as soon as we get a professional OK.

*this may explain why there are far fewer personal blogs in Germany. The laws are different in Austria, as far as I know, but since I’ll be blogging from across the border soon enough, I put one in as well.

Posted in Germany, language, Life Abroad, media | Leave a comment

Gounod “Funeral March of a Marionette”

I haven’t vanished in an alpine crevasse, I’ve simply been busy singing! The business has been part rehearsals, part teaching, and part working on some things for the future.

The rehearsals have led me to a small musical discovery, in fact. We have been working up Gounod’s Faust, and as I hung about on the side of the stage waiting for an entrance, I heard some very familiar music in the Walpurgisnacht scene. What was that? It sounded like the theme music to Alfred Hitchcock Presents, his successful 1950s television series.

Well, to make a long story short, it was. Or rather, it was a fragment of music which Gounod later expanded into a piano work called Marche funèbre d’une marionette. It’s this version which was then used on the television show.

Oddly, however, I haven’t found a version of the opera online which uses this music. There are other versions of the Walpurgisnacht scene, with a solo for Mephistopheles and/or long ballet music (those French operas all had extended ballets which are cut these days. It saves money in avoiding orchestra overtime and not having to hire dancers.) The version we are doing contains a section of men’s chorus which begins with “Un, deux et trois”, and that’s where the pertinant music is found.


Posted in culture, media, music, opera, theater | Leave a comment

What Bravery Looks Like

More power to you, Mo Asumang. Those neo-nazis, shown at the beginning of this video, were clearly too terrified to speak with you.

Posted in America, assimilation, current events, Germany, lives of others | 1 Comment

Oedenburg Castle, Bavaria

Not far from the Ammersee in southern Bavaria lies a hill upon which the ruins of Oedenburg Castle are found. It was a small hilltop fortress, mostly a tower judging from the size of the hill. I have been looking at the region by way of the Bayerischer Denkmal Atlas which shows the exact locations of all sorts of historical landmarks in Bavaria. (Special thanks to fellow blogger Zeitspringer for bringing this online atlas to our attention.) // Nicht weit vom Ammersee in Südbayern liegt ein Hügel, auf dem man die Ruinen von Ödenburg Castle vorfindet. Es war eine kleine Festung vorwiegend aus einem Turm bestehend – wie aus der Größe des Hügels zu schließen ist. Ich habe mir das Gebiet im Bayerischen Denkmal Atlas angesehen, der die genauen Standorte von allerlei historischen Sehenswürdigkeiten in Bayern zeigt. (Vielen Dank an den Kollegen und Blogger Zeitspringer der uns auf diesen Online-Atlas aufmerksam machte.)
Above, how it may have looked (image found here)… // So mag die Burg einst ausgesehen haben …

IMG_1957…and how it looks today. // …und so sieht sie heute aus.

Earliest found mention of the castle in written records dates back to the 11th century and allegedly belonging to a Count von Abenstein. When the nobles died out, robber barons used the castle for its excellent views on all sides. (Two main Roman roads crossed here at Raisting, and they may well have been used into the High Middle Ages as trade routes.) By the 16th century it was already a ruin. The trees took over sometime after 1960 (we met a man on the hill who could remember, as a youth, sledding down the bare slope in winter.) // Die älteste vorgefundene Erwähnung der Burg in schriftlichen Aufzeichnungen stammt aus dem 11. Jahrhundert, in der sie angeblich einem Grafen von Abenstein gehörte. Als die Adligen ausgestorben ware, verwendeten Raubritter die Burg wegen ihrer hervorragenden Aussicht in alle Himmelsrichtungen. (Zwei wichtige Römerstraßen kreuzten sich hier bei Raisting, und sie sind wohl auch im Hochmittelalter als Handelswege benutzt worden) Im 16. Jahrhundert war die Anlage schon verfallen. Bäume überwucherten irgendwann nach 1960 den Platz (ein Mann den wir auf dem Hügel trafen, erinnerte sich, das er noch als Jugendlicher, dort auf dem damals freien Abhang im Winter Rodeln ging).

An article about the fortress in the Augsburger Allgemeine mentions an old local legend, similar to other old legends about other old fortresses around these parts: the castle was later occupied by robber barons who, one night, celebrated a recent conquest with revelry. The folks down in the village heard shouting and clanging through the evening right up until the stroke of midnight, at which point all was suddenly still. The next morning, their curiosity took them up the hill, where they found that the entire castle and its inhabitants had been swallowed up by the earth overnight. // Ein Artikel über die Festung in der Augsburger Allgemeinen erwähnt eine alte Legende, die jenen über anderen alten Burgen in dieser Gegend ähnelt: Das Schloss wurde später von Raubrittern, die eines Nachts, den kürzliche Raubzug mit einem Gelage feierten. Die Leute unten im Dorf hörten Geschrei und Klirren durch den Abend bis um Mitternacht, dann war alles plötzlich still. Am nächsten Morgen führte sie ihre Neugier auf den Hügel, wo sie feststellten, dass das gesamte Schloss und seine Bewohner über Nacht von der Erde verschlungen worden waren.

IMG_1954All that remains today is this round wall of earth, circling what is said to have been the tower’s dungeon. That probably gets the attention of the schoolchildren who are brought here on field trips. // Alles was davon heute übrige ist, ist dieser runde Erdwall, der den Platz umgibt von dem man sagte, es hätten sich dort Turm und Kerker befunden. Das wird wohl die Aufmerksamkeit der Schüler, die auf Exkursionen hierher gebracht werden, auf sich ziehen.

Posted in archaeology, Germany, history, nature, theater | 1 Comment

Note to self: find more cheerful subjects for blog…

Over two weeks have passed since that Germanwings pilot deliberately crashed Flight 9525 into the French Alps, taking 149 passengers and crew with him. The news cycle is mostly done with the speculation over the pilot’s illness, motives, personality disorder, but the story is still brewing in my thoughts, due to one particular passenger, Maria Radner. She was one of two opera singers on the plane, having just closed a production of Siegfried at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, flying home to Düsseldorf with her husband and their young son.
I didn’t know her. Never met her, until now had never heard her sing. But the opera world is small, and only 1 or 2 degrees of separation stand between most of us singers, so I learned after the fact that we had a handful of mutual friends. // Mehr als zwei Wochen ist es her, dass der Germanwings Pilot absichtlich den Flug 9525 in der Französisch Alpen zum Asbturz brachte, wobei 149 Passagiere und Besatzungsmitglieder mit ihm umkamen. Des Nachrichten mit Spekulationen über den Piloten, Krankheit, Motive, Persönlichkeitsstörung sind nun großteils erörtert, aber die Geschichte geht mir persönlich noch immer durch den Kopf, wegen eines bestimmten Passagiers, Maria Radner. Sie war eine von zwei Opernsängern im Flugzeug, die gerade eine Aufführung von Siegfried im Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona abgeschlossen hatten. Sie flog zurück nach Hause, nach Düsseldorf, gemeinsam mit ihrem Mann und ihrem kleinen Sohn.
Ich kannte sie nicht. Ich traf sie nie und bis jetzt hatte ich sie nie singen gehört. Aber der Opernwelt ist klein, und nur über maximal ein oder zwei Bekannte kennen sich die meisten von uns Sängern. So erfuhr ich, dass wir eine Handvoll gemeinsame Freunde hatten.
I don’t want this post to be about me, and so I will try to keep it as universally pertinent as possible — if any wisdom can be gleaned from this tragedy after the fact, maybe it’s this:
It’s not easy to eschew competition as a singer, it being a naturally competitive field. We jockey for position, we judge each other (sometimes kindly, sometimes mercilessly), we make sacrifices in order to “stay in the running”, because the career demands them. Many singers are single, or divorced. Men seem to have it a little easier, but “having it all” as a successfully employed opera singer with a marriage and family or otherwise steady relationship occurs only when both partners are prepared to give a lot, and even then it’s a crap shoot.  How do you know you are making the right life decisions? You don’t. You never do. Even in hindsight, many of us surely wonder, as I do, if we may have done something differently in our pasts. // Ich kannte sie nicht. Ich traf sie nie und bis jetzt hatte ich sie nie singen gehört. Aber der Opernwelt ist klein, und nur über maximal ein oder zwei Bekannte kennen sich die meisten von uns Sängern. So erfuhr ich, dass wir eine Handvoll gemeinsame Freunde hatten.
Diese Beitrag soll sich nicht mit mir befassen, und so werde ich versuchen, es so universell relevant wie möglich zu halten – und wenn man irgendein Erkenntnis aus dieser Tragödie ziehen kann ist es vielleicht dies:
Es ist nicht leicht, den Wettbewerb mit anderen Sängern zu meiden, es ist von natur aus eines sehr Wettbewerbsorientiertes Genre. Wir rittern um unsere Positionen, bewerten uns gegenseitig (manchmal freundlich, manchmal gnadenlos) machen Opfer, um ” im Rennen  zu bleiben “, weil die Karriere das verlangt. Viele Sänger sind Singles oder geschieden. Männer scheinen es ein wenig leichter zu haben, aber “alles zu bekommen” als erfolgreiche Opernsängerin mit einer Ehe und Familie oder anderweitig festen Beziehung funktioniert nur, wenn beide Partner bereit sind, viel zu geben, und selbst ist es noch reinen Glückssache. Wie erkennt man ob man die richtigen Entscheidungen im Leben trifft? Es geht nicht. Niemals. Auch im Nachhinein fragen sich sicherlich viele, wie ich, was in der Vergangenheit anders gemacht hätte werden sollen.
And so, here was Maria Radner, who seemingly did “have it all”. She’d already had her Metropolitan Opera debut, in 2012, at age 30. An international career followed, the Bayreuth debut scheduled for this summer. Husband, first child, spectacular career in bloom.
To those of us who will never experience that kind of glory, it falls to us to simply look around. You may be never see your dreams fulfilled, but you are alive. Would you trade? Of course not. So look around at what you have, and make every day count. You can never know when, or how,  the journey will end. // Und hier war nun Maria Radner, die anscheinend “alles bekam”. Sie hatte bereits ihre Metropolitan Opera Debüt im Jahr 2012, mit 30. Eine internationale Karriere folgte, das Bayreuth-Debüt war für diesen Sommer geplant. Ehemann, erstes Kind, spektakuläre Karriere in voller Blüte.
Für diejenigen unter uns, die nie diese Art von Ruhm erleben werden, bleibt nur uns einfach umzusehen. Mag sein, daß wir nie die Erfüllung unserer Träume sehen, aber wir leben. Möchten Sie das tauschen? Natürlich nicht. Also freuen wir sich an dem, was wir haben, und nutzen wir jeden Tag. Man kann nie wissen, wann oder wie die Reise endet.

Posted in current events, Germany, lives of others, opera, singing | 2 Comments

In Memory Of A Girl


In memory of Ilse Brüll
Born 28 April 1925 Died 3(?) September 1942
and in memory of all those children of Innsbruck who were victims of this time

Ilse Brüll, a Jewish girl, attended school here in Wilten from September 15, 1935. She met her death in September 1942 at Auschwitz Concentration Camp.

From Ilse’s last letter to her family, August 30, 1942: “Please tell my parents and relatives of this letter and that they are not worry…”

thumb_ilsebruell Kopie

The story of Ilse Brüll is one of the saddest in Innsbruck’s Third Reich history. She grew up in an assimilated Jewish family in Anichstrasse in the center of town, her father Rudolf Brüll had a furniture and upholstery business. After the November 1938 pogrom (Kristallnacht) the family looked for ways to leave the country and emigrate to America, but without success.


Ilse Brüll and her cousin Inge Brüll were sent with the Quaker Kindertransports to the Netherlands, expecting to meet up later with their parents. At first brought to a refugee camp there, they sometimes entertained fellow refugees at events, by donning traditional Tyrolean clothing and singing duets. They were brought later to a convent with other children, and learned Dutch.


The Kindertransports brought Jewish children out of harm’s way to he Netherlands and Great Britain. When the Nazis invaded the Netherlands in 1942 they immediately began rounding up Jews, and demanded that the convent hand over any unbaptized Jewish children. It seems that Ilse had had the opportunity to be baptized but refused (Inge’s mother was Roman Catholic, and Inge had been baptized as a baby.)

Inge recounted in a taped interview that the convent felt it had no choice — if they had disobeyed the order, the entire colony of 200 children would have been disbanded. Ilse was taken to Westerbork Camp in August 1942 (Anne Frank’s family was just settling into the hidden apartment in Amsterdam, but would also pass through here 2 years later) before “most likely” continuing on to Auschwitz to be gassed. She was 17.

Ilse’s parents, Rudolf and Julie Brüll, were interned in Theresienstadt but survived, and returned to Innsbruck after their liberation. Rudolf Brüll fought for and eventually reclaimed his furniture shop, and was president of the Jewish Community in Innsbruck until his death in 1957.  Ingeborg Brüll died in 2011, also in Innsbruck.

Information in German here images 2, 3 and 4 from here. Image 1 by the author.

Posted in assimilation, Austria, Germany, history, Innsbruck, lives of others, memory

Weekend Mountain Blogging


Hohenwerfen Castle, from a train window.  I’ve been to this pile of rocks a couple of times in the past, when I lived somewhat closer to it. The last time was by invitation of a colleague on her birthday —  a tour of the castle, lunch and a falcon show. There is a falconry on the premises.

Wikipedia tells me that the castle has been used as a location for the 1968 film Where Eagles Dare as well as the 2003 Ashton Kutcher film Just Married.  (Tja!) It also supplied the backdrop for a scene in The Sound of Music  (it’s just a bit of a drive down from the town of Salzburg).

And, since we’re on the subject of Salzburg and films, the Salzburg Museum is featuring a photo exhibit right now called Help! The Beatles in Salzburg — Photographs by Christian Skrein. The photographs document the band’s visit for a location shoot in the Obertauern Region (Why did they fly all the way to Austria for that sledding scene? It may have been the only snowy, mountainous area where they wouldn’t be dogged by fans. In fact one of the groups which came out to meet them held up signs which said “Beatles Go Home”.)

Posted in Austria, current events, Mountains, music, travel

Euro-exotica, or The Reason I Don’t Read Expat Lit

In the recent New Yorker article Northern Lights: Do Scandinavians Have It All Figured Out?, Nathan Heller describes Michael Booth’s book “The Almost Nearly Perfect People” (Picador) as


“essentially observational; it aspires to a comic genre that might be called Euro-exotica. The form was well established by the time Twain published “The Innocents Abroad,” in 1869, and it has been carried through the twentieth century by writers as varied as S. J. Perelman and Peter Mayle. It usually involves a witty, stumbling narrator simultaneously charmed and bemused by the foreign nation he encounters. He is a naïf but not a boor: he wants to do everything right, but he is hamstrung by his ignorance of etiquette, by his squeamishness around unwelcome foods, and—this being Europe—by the daily, soul-crushing throes of bureaucracy. Euro-exotica is generally poured in a confectionery mold, light and tart, but its core is an assertion of the narrator’s cultural power. Change the balance of the recipe slightly—make it, say, about the bumbling adventures of a Guatemalan farmer in Florence—and the cookie hardens. Can you believe how these people do things? the Euro-exoticist asks, with the courage of his own convictions. In this sense, Booth’s book is as much about Anglo-American power as it is about the Nordic way.”

(Bolds mine)

Ah yes, the bumbling adventures. Finally an explanation of why I don’t like perhaps 80% of expat blogs (from my own observations I’d say more like 90%, but I’ll give the benefit of the doubt to all those I haven’t yet read.)
I felt compelled to comment after yet another of those All The Ways Expat Life Will Change You articles turned up on social media. There may well be parallels in other cultures (there are German television shows about Germans living abroad, for instance) but I think that what Heller describes belongs to the citizens of privileged English-speaking countries. (In my opinion it stems from a larger genre of what I’ll call “lovable idiot” lit, where the narrators stumble through all sorts of cultural or societal faux pas and yet are loved in spite of their imperfections, or perhaps because of them. Think  Bridget Jones’ Diary.) David Sedaris played with this genre, so did Bill Bryson. (I don’t mind when Sedaris does it, because his wit plays well in any location.)

In a discussion of this topic someone said that assimilation is not a goal of expats. It was always a goal of mine, however, if not to be considered a local (impossible anyway*) then to be accepted as part of the local landscape. I realize that for some people this is not desirable, and they maintain their American culture out of dislike for the local one as well as a love of their own. But I imagine those people are not reading Euro-exotica either. They’re probably reading 50 Shades of Grey.



*In my college German course we read a short story by Jànos Bardi titled Der Hunne im Abendland or The Hun in the West. I cannot find it online but the story is about a man, a “Hun”, who leaves his eastern homeland for modern western civilization. He buys western clothes, trades his local wine for something like whiskey, starts smoking western cigarettes,  and when he is invited to a party he rails on about all the things the locals talk about — politics, some soulless entertainment gossip, the usual things. After he leaves the party, the host makes some remark about him being a nice guy. The hostess ends the story with “Yes, but he’s such a Hun!”

Posted in America, assimilation, blogs, culture, Life Abroad, literature, lives of others, media, travel | 2 Comments

Hardy’s Map

While packing for a long train trip to Styria, I pulled a couple of books of the shelf to help pass the time. Thomas Hardy’s “The Return of the Native” was I book I supposedly had read in high school — although I couldn’t for the life of me remember what happened after chapter one, and it’s likely I really didn’t read it at all since none of it seems familiar now, beyond the Reddleman.

But what really surprised me was this map.

egdon-heath-map1It’s not a real place, or rather it’s a composite of places near Dorchester, real or renamed,   and re-ordered for the convenience of the story. Egdon Heath figures so prominently in the book that it’s been treated as a literary character in several analyses. Of course it has a Roman road, partially a modern road and partially remains of a track through the heath.  An ancient barrow (or grave mound) also features as a setting for several meetings.

Posted in art, literature | 2 Comments