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Seeking My Authentic Bregenzerwald

Seeking My Authentic Bregenzerwald

Seeking My Authentic Bregenzerwald

Once more, the philosopher Peter Natter reads a book against the backdrop of the Bregenzerwald. This time, he selects "The Plague," "The Stranger" and "Man in Revolt" by Albert Camus.

During a not entirely voluntary, but nevertheless welcome excursion to a few world-famous and well-developed holiday resort areas, I had the pleasure of visiting Achensee lake, Seefeld, St. Anton am Arlberg and Lech. Compared to these destinations, the Bregenzerwald enjoys an extremely fortunate and privileged position. From my perspective, it remains an insider’s tip, which is to say that it has managed to stay out of the spotlight of the wider world. Philosopher Martin Heidegger believed in ‘living authentically.’ There is a lot of potential in this idea, and even more of a reminder. After all, those who believe in the careful use of resources retain their authenticity for the next generation.

That the Bregenzerwald exists as such is clear, the question, or rather the task, is: how? And to a certain extent: where? Is the Bregenzerwald also a resource? Perhaps not anymore? What is still needed? Authenticity and nothing more? In a place where there is such a vehement struggle for diversity, there is also room for voices who have a different or perhaps peculiar perspective and I’m not necessarily talking about just mine. And not just because I’d rather listen than talk.

I have once again returned to my Bregenzerwald retreat with a book: Albert Camus, Notebooks 1935-1951. “To be free for a single hour! / Free, far away!” as the poet Ingeborg Bachmann writes… to be far from the hustle and bustle, the churning of world events. Indeed, “who among us can say: I have experienced eight perfect days.” Albert Camus (1913-1960) confided this thought-provoking phrase in his notebook in the summer of 1941, quoting Fyodor Dostoevsky: “Truly we live only a few hours of our lives.” Again and again, I have poured through this notebook, which is a fascinating collection of reflections, narratives, questions, and notes of a philosopher who knew very well that “philosophies are only as good [sind] as the philosophers. The greater the man, the truer his philosophy.” In expressing this, Camus endeavours to express which variable truly counts: it is the human being – consciously in the singular. The life of Albert Camus was troubled, difficult and complicated. From his childhood in Algeria born into the simplest of circumstances to the early death of his father in World War I, Camus’s involvement in the Résistance, and his great literary successes “The Plague” (1947; and again a hit during the pandemic), “The Stranger” (1942) and “Man in Revolt” (1951). There are also the profound private and political-ideological conflicts as they emerge in the love letters between Camus and Maria Casarès published as “Correspondence 1944–1959.” Not to mention the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957. Throughout his life, he remained a seeker as well as a driven man. Finally, he found refuge in the small, picturesque village of Lubéron in the South of France. (“The first star over the Lubéron, the immense silence, the cypress whose top quivers in the depth of my weariness …”). But even here he did not enjoy much peace: On 4 January 1960, he died in a car accident on his way to Paris. An unused railway ticket and an unfinished novel entitled “The First Man” were in his pocket. He led a life like no other – and it was exemplary precisely for this reason.

When World War II reached France, causing a fierce internal division alongside the threat of the Wehrmacht, Camus notes: “The ivory towers have collapsed.” One could understand in this statement that the ideal world had broken. It is precisely this ideal world, or rather the more or less elaborate, exhausting, alienating attempt to construct it (or to pretend to), that I encountered while driving through the previously mentioned tourist strongholds. Reflecting on this experience, I feel all the more at home in my Bregenzerwald today. My Bregenzerwald exists, just as everyone can find his or her own version. Here and there, now and then, the attempt is made to present and sell the Bregenzerwald as an ideal world. What for? We don’t need ivory towers and we don’t need an ideal world. What counts, also for the traveller in my opinion, is the opportunity for authenticity and self-discovery.

Like all things, there are limits to the arbitrariness, the feasibility and the plannability of adventurousness: “Experience is not an experiment. You can’t just want to make them. You just make them. It’s a matter of patience rather than experience.” In this respect, the Bregenzerwald is a good learning environment for me, especially where it gives me space and time: open spaces, practice fields, windows of time on my own. Throughout his life, Camus resisted taking the easy way out. Ease is the enemy of truth. He became a traveller, but not purely for the sake of distraction: “What gives value to travel is fear.” During a trip to the Balearic Islands, he notes, “There is no pleasure in traveling, and I look upon it more as an occasion for spiritual testing … Pleasure takes us away from ourselves in the same way as distraction, in Pascal’s use of the word, takes us away from God. Travel, which is like a greater and a graver science, brings us back to ourselves.” By making the Bregenzerwald my destination, as opposed to one of the big hotspots mentioned above, I am not acting arbitrarily, not extravagantly, and not like an oddball. No, I have my sights well set: “Man is his own goal.”

What Camus sought in his travels, as in his life, was light: the light of the Mediterranean, of Provence, or of Greece. Anyone who has been to these areas and travelled beyond the disco balls and entertainment areas, knows what is meant. This light cannot be made. It’s there, or it’s not there. Try it out for yourself: you can also travel and love the Bregenzerwald for the sake of its light. The light in the valley of the Bregenzerache river, in the mountains, in the forests and on the meadows and snow fields. Nature is more than hiking trails, via ferratas, ski slopes or mountain lakes; it is religion, if I may say so: it is divine. “… like the Greeks, I believe in nature,” Camus writes. The goal of all movement is rest. It starts with the peace experienced at the summit and ends with being lifted up to eternity. If it sounds like a lot, it is. We can learn, in turn, the meaning of eternity from the “fleeting scent of the Corymb rose, from the valley of the olive trees, from our favourite dog…” or from the towering fir forest, from the Kanisfluh massif, from the murmur of the Subersach river or from the starry sky above. All you have to do is look up.

Author: Peter Natter
Issue: Bregenzerwald Travel Magazine – Summer 2022