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 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.
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…..how 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 sound..as 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.