Posted by: Nazausgraben | December 24, 2017

Es ist Advent

The Advent and Christmas seasons here are, at least to me, the loveliest of all the year’s celebrations. The weeks leading up to Christmas day are all so quiet…the overall pace of life noticeably slows somewhat. The gray cold cloud bedecked days with the occasional flurry segues into a chilled darkness that descends so early. Yet, even when the flurries turn into wind-driven blizzards, all remains quiet. You can hear the snow fall, faintly but distinct as it becomes visible for but a moment in the street lamps and lights of passing vehicles. This is the best time of day to don multiple layers and head out, to explore when but a few intrepid others are about.

A walk to the village center (a small plot with an ancient stone fountain from which the cows can drink and rest in the Summer grasses in the shade of a mighty elm) reveals the lights lining the saddle top roof of the hut (the Glühweinstandl’) where hot spiced wine, punch and other drinkables and edible delicacies of the season are purveyed. Manned by two young members of the (appropriately) Young Farmers Association, the Glühweinstandl’ has become one of those timeless icons here in Pinswang that simply must be at this time each year. It is as much a part of the Christmas season here as is the lovely Nativity scene in Tirolean style displayed on a side altar within the St. Ulrich’s Church, the beloved concert of seasonal music performed by local musicians every third Advent Sunday evening, the so-called ‘Wald Advent’ where the doors of some storage barns (located at the edge of a forest that divides Lower and Upper Pinswang) are opened and children from the village play Christmas carols whilst a host of villagers gather to enjoy the ever so tasty hot Glühwein (red or white depending on the grapes you prefer), fresh pork sausages, roasted chestnuts and Christmas cookies…all outside in the frosted breath chill of a December Winter’s night. Thus the stoic few gather at the Glühweinstandl’ discuss the few minor local scandals, laugh at jokes (which, when told in machinegun paced dialect, sound to me more like an unintelligible mix of Finnish and Rätoromanisch and therefore impossible to  understand) and shake heads in dismay over the absurd socio-politico-cultural madnesses that dominate the world outside of our end of the valley. The moments imbibing the hot spicy drink come to an end, and it is time to move on, for staying any longer might subject one to an offer of yet another cup of the steaming elixir. The warmth it provides on such a brisk night is welcome, but the side effects of its substance are best avoided by those like myself not accustomed to partaking in the manner of those for whom such drinks are but sweetly flavored water.

Our village church of St. Ulrich is the next stop. Located on the highest hill in Pinswang, one struggles to remain upright in the decidedly minus temperatures and icy path underfoot. Having attained the sacred heights before the church entrance, one can turn to the left and see the lovely Christmas tree alight in the surrounding pitch. To the right is the village Krippe; the nativity scene with its large hand carved wooden figures of the infant Jesus Mary and  Joseph. The scene is housed in a large wooden hut surrounded underfoot by seasonal greens. Turning to the right, we enter into the darkness of St. Ulrichs with the only sources of light being those of small votive candles and of the street lamps illuminating the exterior of the church; the latter causing vast arch- and cross-shaped shadows of the tall glass window frames to be seen stretching across the church walls and fading into the gloom. To the right is one of the two side altars. Atop the flat marble table-like surface is a very large and highly detailed Nativity scene. It was built a few years ago by one of our neighbors here in Pinswang. The centerpiece is a house constructed in Tirolean style. It is lit from within and next to the house entrance is a tiny lamp, also lit by an even tinier bulb. The house is surrounded by fields, a pond, hills and trees (all in miniature, of course). The background is a massive painting of the mountain range surrounding our valley. Hand carved wooden sheep, peasants and travelers are all depicted, as are the innkeeper, Mary and Joseph standing at the front entrance of the remarkably detailed house. Clearly the innkeeper is telling the holy pair that there is no room within. On the third Advent Sunday, one can return the Nativity scene and see that the façade of the house has been removed to reveal a lovely (and again, highly detailed) interior. There one now sees Mary and Joseph kneeling by an empty food trough that will soon become a cradle. It is at Midnight Mass that the figure of the baby Jesus can be seen in the cradle. No matter how often I visit the side altar to see this wondrous work, I am always taken by the time, effort, devotion and love put into its creation.

Leaving St. Ulrich’s, one can peer down the hill into the embracing night, seeing the even darker silhouettes of homes, farmhouses and the distant village inn, windows alight with candles and Christmas decorations. A walk down the hill from the church and a quick left turn quickly leads one to the ancient Via Claudia Augustus, the ancient Roman Road; merely a dirt, gravel and grass path that for centuries has been trodden by villagers, pilgrims, sellers of goods and soldiers headed into war. Walking this path this cold night, crunching into the snow, one passes the Earschbach, a biotope pond that is all that remains of the vast and rather nasty wetlands that covered this entire area during the times when the Celts and Romans called this valley home. From here, one can look back across the farmer’s fields toward the village center, the Glühweinstandl’, the St. Ulrich’s Church, the homes where families will soon be exchanging gifts, singing Stille Nacht (Silent Night) next to their Christmas trees and small Nativity scenes and then heading to St. Ulrich’s for Midnight Mass. With all of this in mind on this most holy night, our thoughts turn to family and friends, some nearby and others so far away.

Dear reader, Susi and I send you and your family all of our heartfelt wishes for a Blessed Christmas and a safe, happy and healthy New Year to come!

Posted by: Nazausgraben | August 7, 2012


A basking July day…Midsummer’s heart. The kind of day when each step on the Roman Road raises a small gray earthen cloud around the edges of one’s shoes. The humid heat is tempered only slightly by the wisps of cool that meander over the short narrow nearby hillside path known as the ‘Kratzer. The heavens above our valley, now so pale blue, will later fill with disruption as lines of cold ferocious storms batter the Tirol with walls of rain and torrents of damaging hail. Yet, for the moment, there is naught but the countryside stillness, broken at times by the flutter of colliding stiff Papplbaum leaves… a sound that evokes an image of a flowing stream where none exists…and the echoing bellow of a distant cow calling.

The nearby mountain lake…the Alatsee..calls.  It is located atop a mountain overlooking the nearby village, Vils.

A small, quiet village in area and population, Vils is actually registered as being the smallest city in this region. Situated on the border between Austria and Bavaria, Vils was (like Pinswang) once a fortified town. All that remains of it’s battlements today is the still-majestic tower ruine. It was recently purchased and is now lovingly cared for by Reini and Silvia…good friends who are the heart of Vils’ rich cultural and historical life.  Vils was also recognized as a center for quality violin-making, a role that diminished and was thereafter eventually replaced with the coming of small industry.

Today, this lovely village is known for the Vilseck tower ruine, it’s very beautiful Baroque Church of St. Anna, a jewel of a Nativity scene museum located in an ancient house (next to the Church) known also for it’s  ‘Luftlmalerei’, a splendid village museum, an excellent antique and curiosity shop (Antique Stadl) owned and operated by Reini and Silvia,  and the Alatsee.

The Church of St. Anna in Vils. To the left is the house wherein one can find a splendid collection of beautiful historic hand-crafted Nativity scenes

The heat becomes stifling and the cool waters of the Alatsee beckon. A short drive to Vils and our transport is deposited at a gravel parking area at the base of the mountain. The clearly marked entrance to the trail upward is our guide, as we ascend via the winding and not very steep dirt path carved into the face of the mountain. It is about a 30-minute climb until we reach our destination.

The Alatsee, an ancient glacier lake, sits quietly, majestically midst a hilly, thickly forested prominence. A large oval covering about 12 hectares, the lake is almost 500 m long and 300 m wide. It’s depth varies between approximately 15 to 32 m. It is  much sought-after locale for respite. When one is not walking the paths at the perimeter of the lake, one can lie on the thick grasses of the surrounding fields, soaking in the sun. After a swim in the always cool waters, it might be time to satisfy a hunger or thirst at the nearby inn, where one can sit at a table located on the terrasse overlooking the lake.

Made famous not only by it’s great beauty and inviting waters, the Alatsee has become known for it’s role in a best-seller crime novel, “Seegrund” by the talented and prolific authors, Volker Klüpfel und Michael Kobr. It is in the Alatsee that their intrepid Kommissar (Police Inspector) Kluftinger finds…well…I dare not spoil it all with the telling of the tale. The series of Kluftinger books (to which Susi has become addicted) are all available at local bookshops and, I suspect, on-line.

There are apparently many mysteries associated with the Alatsee; many ancient (and not-so-ancient) stories and myths about hidden gold and wandering spirits. One tale that is not fiction surrounds the testing of  prototype aircraft by the German Luftwaffe (Air Force) during the Second World War. Apparently, it was in the Alatsee that metal braces held fast models of the Focke-Wulf Ta 154 for underwater testing. Why underwater, one might ask? Nothing mysterious here…the flowing water was employed to test the ‘aerodynamics’ of the craft around the wings and fuselage. These metal braces can still be found underwater today.

The Alatsee (Ref: Thodie86, accessed 08.2012 from

Finding a comfortable piece of thick grassy earth upon which to stretch out, we doff our outer layers and in suitable swimming attire, plunge into the breath-taking cold of the Alatsee. The sand and gravel underfoot by the shore keep one steady whilst the occasional small fish darts between one’s legs.

Returning to terra firma, we now bask in the early afternoon and observe our exposed areas as they commence to cook…taking on a slight healthy darkening that will soon be the envy of our friends imprisoned in their metal and glass city-center hives.

At the southwest end of the lake, there is a somewhat steep hilly rise; a green pasture that is a favorite of the local cows. They are there during the Summer months, lulling about, enjoying the fresh mountain air, the nourishing vegetation and….and… something else… strange!

Susi notices that there is one mid-sized cow, standing by the barbed wire fence that separates the grazing field from the sizzling sunbathers. How odd it is…the  cow seems to be making a seemingly half-strangled strained if choking on something. Susi also notes that something keeps bobbing in and out of the cow’s mouth…a long, slender tube is coughed out an foot or so, and just as quickly disappears back into the animal’s mouth. The creature is clearly in distress.

A small crowd soon forms and gawks…. most clearly bewildered and amused at what they are seeing. They watch with intent, but none makes a motion to help.

Seeing this, Susi wanders over to the scene, right up to the fence. As she approaches, the cow opens it’s mouth and a long tube-like object started to protrude. She cannot believe it…the object is the a piece from an umbrella that has somehow found it’s way into the poor beast.

Now, it is not everyday that one sees such remarkable incongruities; an umbrella protruding from the mouth of a cow is an oddity that breaches logic and the natural order of things; an aberrance that no amount of rationalization can normalize. One can only see it and wonder how it came to be.

Now, whilst the crowd stands by, staring, commenting, laughing, ignoring, the poor creature continues to suffer. You know..they type of crowd that forms when the Police arrest a violent miscreant or when a teenager, having borrowed Dad’s brand new Ferrari, misjudges the horsepower and, making a left hand turn too quickly, promptly wraps the thing around a telephone pole.

But this is a cow with an umbrella stuck in it’s throat…this is something that could not pass; a cure had to be found. Susi waits for the next cycle to commence and, seeing the umbrella once again appearing, brazenly reaches over, grabs the offending item and yanks it out of the cow. The crowd applauds and disperses, the cow stands there, smiling, and in thanks, promptly deposits a sizeable landmine.

Susi returns to the comfort of her blanket and resumes her basking position thereupon. She sighs…content in the fact that she has done something quite important today. Being a loving wife, mother, grandmother…all of this pales in comparison to reaching into a bovine maw to extract a small colorful umbrella.

One won’t see this tale of heroism reported in any of the local editions. However, in the years to come, I shall take great pride in telling and re-telling our little ones about the day that their Nana saved the cow that swallowed the umbrella.

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