Recently, I agreed with the editors of this fine publication to read one of the first texts I published in this magazine years ago for their planned podcast. It is an excerpt from my novel “Der Übergänger” (The Border Crosser). They must have sensed how important this story was to me. Naturally, they selected a passage from the book that relates to the Bregenzerwald. After all, the novel deals with the theme of hero worship, which today has become a very outmoded concept, as I too thought at the time. The chapter describes a trip that my wife and I took to Damüls with the pianist Alfred Brendel, who was the object of my veneration.
This meeting had been preceded by our first interview in Schwarzenberg, which means that while it was not our first face-to-face meeting, it was nevertheless our first in-depth encounter. Brendel had been joined by his companion Maria Majno and after the interview they invited my wife Irena Rosc (who took the photos) and me to dinner at the Alte Mühle restaurant between Schwarzenberg and Egg. Afterwards, we drove to Damüls, where we had an unexpected encounter with a painting that even made it onto the cover of the novel. It was a monumental oil painting hidden behind an inconspicuous door to an adjoining room of the church. It displayed a hellish scene that satisfied the devil’s lust and the pianist’s bizarre sense of humour. The painting couldn’t have been more perfect, especially considering that I couldn’t get him excited about Franz Michael Felder, even though Brendel is a voracious reader. I didn’t take this personally, as his reading often tends towards the musical or the classical. Instead, he was fond of the legend of the Bezegg with its ritual of forced expedited decision-making. He is also very fond of the Bregenzerwald region, Schwarzenberg in particular. In fact, the suggestion to meet here came from him. We can lie down in a meadow among the cows and just chat, he said with a laugh.
Later, in the garden of the Gasthof Hirschen inn, it was almost like being in that meadow. I only have beautiful, sunny memories of the Bregenzerwald with Brendel. In preparation for the podcast, it was convenient that the makers sent me a few questions to answer verbally. I’ll share with you the notes I took on them: My first experiences in the Bregenzerwald were of hiking trips with my parents in the mid-1950s. But above all, I spent a holiday on a farm in Schwarzenberg. In those lean times it was a milk and butter paradise and my father built a tree hut with me in the forest which boasted a view down to the village. We collected wood and grilled sausages over the fire and there were cows, but they never intimidated me as I had been around them from an early age. Leather trousers (Lederhosen) were the only clothing I needed. The only annoyance was a German boy of my age with whom I constantly fought, which was unfortunate because he was a lot stronger than I was.
These days when visiting the Bregenzerwald region, I naturally relive my first experiences. Just imagine how much has changed! Most of it for the better, I really must say. However, the Wälderbähnle narrow-gauge railway, which steamed through my childhood and with which we went on many a school trip, is sorely missing. I consider it a blessing that the winding road through the Schwarzachtobel has been replaced by a tunnel. Here in the Bregenzerwald, I find myself in the centre of this incomparable symbiosis of tradition and modernity, of nature and technology, which seems to me to be better balanced than almost anywhere else in the world. I also think of the Langenerstrasse road, which leads people from Bregenz to the Lower Bregenzerwald area. I find it special that I come from the town for which the Bregenzerwald region is named. The first and plumpest primroses grew along the Langenerstrasse road. Along this scenic stretch in the shadow of the Nagelfluh range of the Känzele mountain and the Pfänder massif, one reaches the gentle Lower Bregenzerwald, where modernity is not predominant (not that it is lacking, on the contrary, we have the legendary village of Krumbach). Here the scenery unfolds from the wide middle to the increasingly narrow high mountains. When I think of this region, I think of the numerous unique personalities, the indomitable eccentrics, the special men and women with their extraordinary talents, who are probably only to be found here in such large numbers.
I think about the fact that culture has to be a lived, and how much a cultural landscape is shaped by those who don’t instantly allow everything to be snatched away from them, who appreciate that which is their own without becoming too narrow-minded. Such people welcome modernity from all over the world because, standing their own ground, they have developed ample self-confidence rooted in Alpine-pasture farming, modern tourism and timber craftmanship. Yes, maybe it’s all a bit of an over-glorification, but in a way I see the Bregenzerwald as an ideal contemporary landscape. Not to mention the fact I always look forward to skiing in Damüls whenever I can.
Author: Armin Thurnher
Issue: Bregenzerwald Travel Magazine – Summer 2021