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.

Forgotten Innsbruck: The Irrwurzel

Fellow-blogger Paschberg has posted the following 1966 article from Innsbruck’s local newspaper, about a mysterious root found in certain places  which, should you step on it, will send you wandering through the mountains, completely disoriented. Here is an English translation by me, because I find weird legends like this kind of cool.


from the Tiroler Tageszeitung, Innsbruck, 25 October, 1966, Nr. 247, S.6

“Was terrestrial radiation to blame for the mental state of Johann König from Gnadenwald?

In response to Dr. Dietmar Assmann’s article “300 Years of Pilgrimages to Maria Larch near Terfens” in the October 8 issue of “TT”, I would like to tell a story which is interesting on ethnological, scientific, psychiatric and mountaineering levels.

The history of Maria Larch the legend is exhaustively discussed in the article. In conclusion the author writes, “like many other cultural sites of this kind, we see close ties of nature with the desire for protection from its violence.”

The saga tells of such violence. According to it, a mythical root grows in the Larch valley. The Tyrolean ethnologist Johann N. from Alpenburg wrote over 100 years ago, “in the forests and meadows, on mountain and valley grows a root which possesses such powers, that whoever steps upon it will meander aimlessly for days, just as the witches and masters of the dark arts understand how to distract a person and lead him astray.” Such persons would wander the entire night and came to only by the morning call to prayers. Such instances are said to have been frequent in the Larch Valley, although no one knew anything for certain.

Dr. Guido Hradil, Adjunct Professor at the University of Innsbruck, described such occurrences as terrestrial radiation which, like that which has been measured in the Gastein Valley, may also be observed in Gnadenwald.

On January 4th, 1912, innkeeper Josef Heiss, whose inn stood at the edge of the Larch valley and who also owned a timber business, was busy with his men and horses pulling logs on sleds from the forest near Maria Larch to Gnadenwald on sleds. They had been delayed by the shying of the horses and it was getting dark.  Hansel, a boy from a nearby farm, rode by on his sled as they were bustling about to go. The woodsmen called out, “Hey, where are you off to, so late?”, but he gave no answer. The company left the unfriendly boy alone and hurried home, as night was already upon them.

The next day word got out that the boy hadn’t come home. His family, the workers, the neighbors and soon the whole village was searching for him, along with the police. Soon enough they found tracks of the boy’s sled. The tracks led from Maria Larch, through the so-called Sau Valley through the woods, crossed the Umlberg road, went straight up nearly vertically on the steep and icy slope of the Walder Pass, cut through the meadow there to the summit and descended the north side into a gap, where with a sleepwalking instinct he had made his way between the cliffs down to the stream. Here his sled broke. His body was found frozen by the stream. He had pulled off his shoes and stockings.

The discovery caused an uproar in the region. Why did the boy leave the marked road in the Larch valley and sled through the fields? Even if he’d become snow-blind, how did he cross the road without noticing it? Why had he not noticed the village lights, clearly visible on the way up the mountain? How did he find his way through the pathless gorge in the dark? There were no answers, and no one wished to mention the Irrwurzel out loud.

In the Gnadenwald church’s chronicle the priest had written: “Johann König, single, farmer’s son, in the night of January 4th-5th, 1912, strayed in confusion, found frozen in the Vomp Gap and brought home.” In the city one spoke of an epileptic fit or schizophrenia, perhaps brought on by an unknown force of nature. — I.M. Metzler”

Also included in the post is an article written by the blog author’s father and found among his papers, and in English at that. Here with permission:




By Alois Schönherr

In the Tyrolean, Austrian and German folklore, there is the tradition of the so called “Irrwurzel”, a mythical root, which, if stepped on, allegedly distorts the orientation of the wanderer to such an extent that he or she will become unable to find one’s way even in a perfectly familiar environment. 1)

Alpenburg writing in 1857 relates that according to tradition the Irrwurzel is very frequent in the pastures below the Tratzberg castle, between Schwaz and Jenbach (30 kms east of Innsbruck), “where everybody is careful, not to walk through with bare feet” , but just how it looks – nobody knows. He also writes that “today the Irrwurzel is no longer known” (i.e. the term is not associated with a certain botanically known plant or root) because in 1803 a dying oil-trader from the Ziller-valley burnt the last specimen by order of a priest. 2) It seems that similar to the personifactions of natural forces like wind or ligthtning as gods, the Irrwurzel constitutes a sort of botanic rationalization for certain mysterious effects.

At least in the Tyrol, stories about the Irrwurzel aren’t always located in a vague, hazy, undated past or associated only with unknown persons and places. The following tale, also related by Alpenburg, can be considered as typical:

One day in 1832 at three o’clock in the morning the porter Jakob Tunner from Alpbach departed from the Kupal alp in the Hinterriss with a load of 100 pounds of butter for Jenbach. After a quarter of an hour, fog fell in but the porter proceeded as he knew the way very well, having used it a “thousand times” in both directions before. He walked for hours, but he never reached the pass leading to the Inn-valley. At noon he rested and prayed, then he went on again. Finally, late in the night, he perceived a hut in the distance. It was the Kupal alp, from where he had started twenty hours before. He was so confused that he asked after the name of the alp. The herdsmen there said he must have stepped upon an Irrwurzel. 3)


1) In Germany the term “Irrfleck” is more popular, which means a definite spot, a sort of haunted place so to say, where orientation is distorted.

2) Alpenburg, Johann Nepomuk Ritter von, Mythen und Sagen Tirols, Verlag von Meyer und Zeller, Zürich 1857, p. 409.

3) Ibid. p. 410

below the Tratzberg castle, between Schwaz and Jenbach (30 kms east of Innsbruck)”

Those Damn Socialist Roman Roads

Tafel_2_SchoengeisingJust poking around the internet for information on the Via Raetia (the Roman Road from northern Italy to Augsburg) and exactly where it would have joined the Via Julia (the Roman Road from Salzburg to Augsburg). I found this, and normally would not repost an image if I could otherwise manage to go there myself and take my own photo. But … can you find the reason I posted this?

Tafel_2_Schoengeising - Version 2
Agenda 21! The UN “plot to destroy private property rights and force upon us all a one-world government of ‘the elites’ through radical environmentalism“. Also, the plot to shut down all American golf courses. If you don’t understand me, be thankful you’ve been spared exposure to that nonsense.

Clearly Agenda 21 has plans to shut down the Autobahn and force us to ride bicycles to work on the Roman Roads. The horror.


Image found here.



The German word Frühjahr is, according to the online dictionaries, a synonym for Frühling, or “spring” (the season). However I sometimes have taken the word to mean “beginning of the year”, and so, with the proximity of the advent of spring for the ancient Irish Celts (February 1) and for ancient Rome (February 5), Frühjahr seems like just the right word for now.  Das deutsche Wort Frühjahr ist nach einen online Wörterbuch ein Synomym für die Jahreszeit Frühling. Allerdings habe ich gelegentlich den Begriff als „Beginn des Jahres“ verstanden, und so, kurz vor Ankunft des Frühlings (für die altertümlichen irischen Kelten der 1.Februar, für die Römer der 5. Februar), scheint mir Frühjahr  das richtige Worte für gerade diesen Zeit, jetzt,  zu sein.

IMG_1075Flower bulbs are sprouting from the soil already. It still seems  a little early for this. Blumentriebe sprießen schon aus dem Boden. Es scheint noch immer etwas zu früh dafür.

IMG_1076As an experiment, we took two small wild hollies or Ilex (Stechpalme) and transplanted them to pots on the terrace. One looked not to have survived the transplanting but we decided to wait and see if it rallies after the winter. (They are both from private ground with permission from the owner.)  Wir haben versuchweise zwei wilde Stechplamen in Töpfe auf der Terrasse umgesetzt. Einer sah so aus als hätte er das nicht überlebt, aber wir entschieden uns dafür den Winter abzuwarten um zu sehen, was sich noch zeigt. (die Pflanzen wurden mit Erlaubnis des Besitzers von einem  privaten Grundstück geholt).

IMG_1077Another transplant was this butterfly bush, Buddleia (Schmetterlingsflieder). Bought at a garden center, it survived the trip and took to its new home right away. I learned later that Buddleia will grow almost anywhere, including vacant lots and abandoned railways. There are clusters of the plant growing in an old lot on Amraser Strasse behind the train station here in Innsbruck, and later I noticed more along my train ride to Bavaria, especially around the station at Murnau, where an abandoned track area is now a field of high grass and wildflowers. I shall cut it back in March to stimulate growth.      Außerdem haben wir einen Schmetterlingsflieder gesetzt. Gekauft in einem Gartencenter, hat er die Umsiedlung überlebt und fühlt sich schon wie zuhause. Später habe ich erfahren, dass der Schmetterlingsflieder praktisch überall wächst, unter anderem auf Brachen und aufgelassenen Eisenbahnen. Ansammlungen der Pflanze wachsen auf einem alten Grundstück an der Amraserstraße hinter dem Bahnhof Innsbruck, später habe ich ihn auch auf der Zugfahrt nach Bayern gesehen – besonders in der Umgebung des Bahnhofs Murnau  auf verlassenen Gleisanlagen die von hohem Gras und Wildblumen überwuchert sind. Ich werde ihn im Frühjahr zurückschneiden, um sein Wachstum anzuregen.

>Weekend Mountain Blogging: Wildblümchen

>I went out to look for an endangered flower called the Innsbrucker Küchenschellen, or Innsbruck Pasque Flower (Pulsatilla oenipontana,) for which there are areas set aside on the sunny slopes north of the town. This unusual flower only grows around here, being a hybrid from two other types of Pasque Flower, which happened to have a Tirolean rendez-vous. Being so particular about where it will and won’t grow, it’s facing extinction. The reserved areas above the villages of Arzl, Rum and Thaur and the tireless work of reasearchers is helping to keep that from happening.
Unfortunately, my timing was off, or they just bloomed early, because there was nothing but grass. It may also be so well hidden that I did not find the right spot. But here is a photo from the web:
Being up there, and having a sunny, free afternoon before me, I climbed up into the woods and followed the trails back toward Innsbruck via the Hungerburg. On the way I learned about a few more woodland wildflowers.
Weisse Pestwurz, or Butterbur (Petasites albus), was growing right along the trail in shaded areas.
A close relative of Butterbur is Huflattich, or Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara), which, like Butterbur, has medicinal properties and is used to make cough suppressant.
One flower that’s certainly not about to die out is the Wood Anemone, which at this time of year covers a great deal of the forest floor. I found mostly violet colored flowers, but there were also many whites and a few dark pinks.

A good place to find information on European wildflowers (in German):

>Glacier First-Aid in Bavaria

>Part of the Schneeferner Glacier on the Zugspitz, Germany’s highest mountain, is getting a big white sunshade put over it for the summer months, to keep it from melting away entirely. The reason for this measure is not purely ecological, but also to help keep the ski slopes up there in business by saving a core section of the ice.
The tarps, 6000 square meters (nearly 65,000 square feet) in total, can be seen in a few photographs at this site (in German.) The Schneeferner has been shrinking considerably in the last 40 years; it is feared that the glacier may disappear by 2030.

>Mein Freund Der Baum Ist Tod

An enormous old tree across the street had been taken down early this morning. It had probably succumbed from the construction work on the underground garage, or maybe city life had just taken its toll on it. Telling my beau about it on the telephone, he was reminded of a 1960s pop song, one of his mother’s favorites, the refrain being “My friend the tree is dead, it fell in the early morning dawn.” The lyrics describe how a favorite tree has been felled to make room for a new modern building — sort of a German “Big Yellow Taxi”.
So I looked up the song and the singer, Alexandra, and found she’d had quite an interesting, if short, life. Born in a German area of Lithuania, expelled with other Germans after the war, married briefly at 19 to a Russian 30 years her senior, also performed songs in French, English, Russian and Hebrew, had a love affair with a Cold War spy, died under mysterious circumstances at the age of 26. Here is her Wikipedia entry and the song clip.

>Reschensee (Lago di Resia): II

I was looking — unsuccessfully — for an image of the actual village on the internet for the post below. Today I found (buried among other papers, of course) a postcard that we picked up when we had visited the area, which shows photographs of Graun before the dam was built. The 14th-century bell tower is easily recognizable in the top right and bottom left photos (also in the top left photo but I was unable to get a clear image from photographing a postcard.)

Things like this — ghost towns, abandoned railroads, sunken villages — fascinate us, don’t they? I find myself particularly fascinated by what one finds under the water’s surface. The rivers and lakes of Europe have claimed millennia of artifacts, from pre-historic jewelry to medieval swords, and on through to Third Reich memorabilia. This online article (update: sorry, link now dead)  about diving for artifacts in the Salzkammergut region gives one a good idea of what’s down there.

Update: Divers have left reports online that one may dive (with permission from the municipality) but that there is nothing to see below the surface — the tower stands in about 2 meters of mud, and so the old streets, etc., are completely covered.

>Reschensee (Lago di Resia)

>The Reschensee is an artificial lake on the Italian side of Tirol, or South Tirol. When the dam was finished in 1950, the waters rose over several evacuated villages, including Graun (in Italian, Curon), where 163 houses were destroyed. The 14th-century bell tower was left standing , having been designated an historical monument, and if you drive along the coast, that is all that you will see of the village that was once there.
I first learned of this bell tower from a photograph in a cycling guidebook, and so, several years later, when the beau and I were looking for some day-trip destinations, I said that I had always wanted to see it myself.

Update: Divers have left reports online that one may dive (with permission from the municipality) but that there is nothing to see below the surface — the tower stands in about 2 meters of mud, and so the old streets, etc., are completely covered.

>SOWI’s “Iron Cage”

>Behind my workplace is a complex of buildings referred to as SOWI (“so-vee”), a contraction for the University of Social Sciences. On one of its lawns stands a large, apartment-sized iron cage, containing a small, dense forest and doing double-duty as a bicycle stand, and bearing the unglamourous name “Garden for the New SOWI Building.”

As usual in Austria, in public buildings a certain amount of public money is spent on Kunst am Bau (art on public buildings). Selected artists are invited to present and incorporate their work into the context of the building…. The work is an impressive iron cuboid: 37m in length, 4m breadth, 3.7m high, made of steel (33mm) and a weight of 22 tons.
(Richard Weiskopf, Institute of Organization and Learning, University of Innsbruck.)

This “iron cuboid” was described by its artist in an interview as a “sign for deliberate renunciation of Gelassenheit (serenity) and non-intervention”:
“Within the boundaries I let things just occur: the planting, the becoming, the perishing, the permeability for the wind, the birds, the water.. . everyday rubbish does not have to be removed immediately.. .because out of the beautiful, pure, true, clean nothing emerges anyway…”

Events were organized which attempted to transform the “iron cage” into a “house of fantasy and desire” (some guy was actually living in it for a short while) the media commented on the event, others used the work as an occasion to protest against the “waste of public money” and the “death of social policy”, etc. (Which always happens when controversial art appears at taxpayers’ expense.)
At one point, some protesters took their cue from the artist’s own words and began stuffing trash into the cage, leading to fears of the thing attracting rats, leading to a clean-up effort. Nine years later, there are trees growing out of it, as you can see from the photo. To me it’s a reminder of what happens when man ceases to “manage” the land around him. Forest appears. Which is interesting since it’s across the way from the “Management Center Innsbruck”.