From Innsbruck to Ober-Ammergau
( Originally Published 1903 )
WE didn't stop in the pretty little village of Zirl, but set out north on the great high road over the mountains, hoping to accomplish much before night came on or we were worn out with our walking. It was a hard afternoon's work that we went through with. Our road was uphill most of the time, and we were always digging our alpenstocks into the gravel to help ourselves along. The scenery continued to improve as we reached the higher altitudes, until at one time in the afternoon we had spread out before us a panorama of snow-clad mountains which extended in every direction for miles and miles. We tried to keep on walking without stopping to rest, but when we turned a ledge of rock and saw this wonderful view, we unloaded our bags from our shoulders and sat down to admire it. It was all so wonderful that we disliked the idea of leaving it. There were no houses visible anywhere about, and we thought it fun to imagine ourselves to be explorers in a new country, who had suddenly discovered a land of wonderful beauty. In fact, this Tyrolean district is one of the oldest in Europe, and the very road which we traveled had been used for centuries.
While we were resting there, a party of three boys came up the slope. We knew from their appearance that they were either Austrians or Germans, and as they had bags over their shoulders and carried alpenstocks, we supposed that they, too, were out for a holiday, and were probably on their way to Ober-Ammergau. They came up to where we were seated, and began to talk to us in Austrian-German, which we couldn't understand very well. I asked them if they spoke English, and one of them answered that he knew a leetle." It seemed that he had learned it in the schools, where French and English are both taught. We were able to carry on a conversation of a certain kind, and we learned that they had walked all the way from Vienna, and that they were going to see the Passion Play. We told them where we were from, and, as usual, their faces expressed great surprise when we spoke of our homes in America. It was really amusing to travel in a district where Americans are seldom seen, just to see the expressions of surprise when the natives discovered our nationality. An American was almost as great a curiosity in some of these Tyrolean villages as a Fiji Islander would have been. The children followed us in the streets, and their parents peeped at us from behind closed -shutters. We felt like freaks, just escaped from a circus, and often wished we were less conspicuous.
We Meet Some Friends
The boys asked us if we wouldn't join forces with them to Ober-Ammergau, and we were glad to accept the invitation. We knew that a party of five would probably make greater progress than a party of two, and certainly we would have a better time than if we were alone. The boys seemed to be nice fellows, and we thought it a piece of good fortune that we had met them. The eldest of them was only nineteen, the youngest was fifteen, and the middle one seventeen. The older one was certainly a good walker. He led us all as we went up or down a mountain, and to keep up with him we had no time for loitering. This was an excellent thing for us, for otherwise we might not have reached Ober-Ammergau in time to have secured seats for the play. Our leader told us that we would either have to walk fast or stay behind, and when the younger boys wanted to rest, he told them that they would have plenty of time to rest at night, and that the after-noon was the time to walk. He told me afterwards that he had to be severe with the two boys he had as companions, or they wouldn't have been forty miles from Vienna in a week.
Over a Precipice
Late in the afternoon, however, we all agreed that we ought to have a good rest. We had been walking fast in the hot sun, and Jack and I both felt that our faces and necks were getting badly sunburned. We came to a place where the road turned a sharp corner on a cliff. On one side was the rocky side of a mountain, and on the other there seemed to be a great precipice which reached to the valley, far below. The view, as usual in this neighborhood, was very fine, and I sat as far as I could at the edge of the cliff in order to get the full advantage of it. We were talking all the while, and after about five minutes I turned round to answer some question. Rudolph, the oldest of the Austrians, told me to be careful and not fall over backwards, and I thought that I was sitting some distance from the edge. I was mistaken, though, and all at once I felt the grass giving way under me, and the first thing I knew I was falling down, down, down. The sensation was horrible. I thought that I would certainly fall over the rocks clear to the valley far below, and it was probably the scare more than the fall that made me unconscious. I don't know how long I remained insensible, but when I opened my eyes the boys were soaking me with water from a spring, and from the look on jack's face I think he was pretty badly scared. I got up slowly and rubbed my eyes, and then I felt so weak I could have cried. I felt myself all over to find out whether or not I was injured, and could hardly believe that I had come off without any harm save a few scratches and bruises. The boys were delighted that I wasn't hurt. Jack said he certainly thought I had broken a leg or an arm, and that we would have to remain in the mountains for weeks until I had recovered. That would have been hard luck, indeed, after we had traveled so far and sacrificed so much comfort for the sake of seeing the Passion Play on the following Sunday.
I was astonished when I looked up to find that I hadn't fallen more than twenty feet. Instead of the precipice ending in the valley below it had stopped at this grassy plateau, which I hadn't noticed from the cliff above. It was a great piece of luck, we all said, and it was a lesson to us all that we must be very careful about what we said in the neighborhood of cliffs. We shuddered when we thought of what might have happened, and I felt that I should be a very thankful boy.
After this adventure, we continued our journey in silence, plodding along up the mountain, until at about seven o'clock we reached a gasthaus in a little village where we thought we might get supper. Jack and I found it a great convenience to have some one with us who could speak the language perfectly, and who knew just what was good to eat and what was not. The Vienna boys always ordered for us as well as for themselves, and in this way we fared better than we had expected we would. After our supper, we continued our journey in the cool of the evening. Rudolph had been over these mountains before, and he said that he knew of a gasthaus which we could easily reach before darkness came at half-past eight. It was pleasant to walk in the cool air after the sun went down. We made more progress before and after nine o'clock, morning and evening, than in the interval of the middle of the day. It was much easier to plod ahead when the sun was not beating hot upon us.
We spent the night in Mittenwald, which was quite a town, compared with some places we had passed through. It was the first place, moreover, within the boundary of the German Empire, and on our way there we passed a plain sign which said that here was the division point between Austria and Bavaria. Jack stood with one foot in one country and one in the other, and said that he didn't know which he liked best. The Austrians thought that a funny joke. At Mittenwald we had to undo our bags and allow some officers to investigate whether we had any dutiable articles with us. Of course they found nothing, for the boys from Vienna were not so foolish as to carry anything with them which could be taxed twice, going into Germany, and returning into Austria. We found the gasthaus which Rudolph had visited before, and were given a large room with five beds in it. We were all ready to pile in without any delay, and the whole crowd were asleep within five minutes after the candle was out. We found that mountain-climbing was good for making one sleep and eat, and even in two days Jack and I imagined that we could see a great difference in our appearance. We thought that we looked much better than when in Paris.
Early to Bed and Early to Rise
At five o'clock we were wakened by the house-girl, and from the looks of things I think most of the Mittenwald folk must have been up for about two hours.
The people in the gasthaus had their early duties done, and our coffee was waiting for us in the dining-room. As soon as we had drunk it, we started off on our road, and during this last day of our journey to Ober-Ammergau we had things much easier than before. Instead of having to climb up and down mountain-slopes, we were able to walk along a level stretch of road, with only here and there an incline. We were approaching the railway now, and before noon we had reached Partenkirchen, where the line from Munich ends. That we were " again in a civilized country," as Jack said, was evident everywhere. Instead of gasthausen, we found in Partenkirchen several hotels, and there was more bustle in the streets. We remained there only long enough to get our dinner, and then pushed in to Oberau, where we left the railroad again, and went through a district quite as beautiful and interesting as any we had yet seen. We had a lot of fun on this last afternoon. We were all thirsty at one time when we came to a pasture with a fine drove of cows. Rudolph said that he guessed he would milk one of them, so that we could refresh ourselves, and we were all delighted with the prospect of having some fresh milk to drink. We told him to be careful, though, and not get kicked. He took a large cup and jumped the fence. Then he looked around to try and find a gentle cow. He saw one which looked harmless, but he soon found that he had been wrong in his judgment. He sat down confidently to milk her, and had succeeded in getting nearly half a cupful, when the old beast raised her hoof and sent him sprawling in the grass. She would have butted him, too, if he had been less nimble in getting out of her way. He had the milk spilled all over his clothes as it was, and his leg was bruised from the blow she had given him. We all, thought he would be ready to give up the milking business then, but he said he was going to get some or die in the attempt. He went to the other side of the pasture, and this time he was more fortunate in his selection of a cow. He succeeded in getting several glasses filled, and we had all that we could drink. The farmer who owned the cows came up before we left the pasture, and we expected him to object to our milking his cows. But instead of that he only laughed, and told us to take all we wanted to drink. One of the boys told him about Rudolph's getting kicked, and he thought it the best joke he had heard for a long while.
We left him laughing, and continued our way to the village we were so anxious to reach before midnight. We met many persons on the way who were also walking to Ober-Ammergau for the next day's performance of the play, and as we made friends with some of them, we were quite a party when we finally arrived. There being no railway in the neighborhood, the country folk had to walk or drive to get about, and as they all expected to remain in Ober-Ammergau over Sunday, they didn't want to take their horses with them. They were all good walkers, however, and had always been used to using their feet.
It was nearly five o'clock when we rounded a turning, and saw spread out before us a quiet valley, with the famous village lying in the very centre of the green. We recognized the church and the Passion Theatre at once, and the whole place looked so interesting that we hurried our steps in order to reach it as soon as possible. Jack and I were very much afraid that we would be unable to secure seats for the performance. Nearly all the people we met in the road had already booked their tickets, and we knew that that would have been the safest plan for us to have followed. But we hoped that there might be some of the cheaper seats still left, and as soon as we entered the village we hurried to the information office to find out for sure. They told us that all the tickets were gone. "The play will be repeated on Monday," said the gentleman in charge, " and you'll have to attend then." We looked at each other with disappointed faces. We had hoped to leave Ober-Ammergau on Monday to continue our trip, and we didn't want to change our plans if we could possibly help it. But the gentleman said there was nothing else for us to do.