Posted by: Nazausgraben | July 24, 2009


We walk past the gate separating the Roman Road with the path across the farmers fields; the double-rutted thin dirt path leading to Pinswangs one road through the village. The gate is nothing more than two short thin logs slipped between metal loops on either side of the fence opening, not designed to keep the intrepid wanderer out, but to keep the herd of cows inside, where they graze away the day.

The Gate to the Roman Road

One favorite bit of innocent sport is to plant oneself on the bench strategically located a few feet from the gate, and spend some time watching how strollers and bicyclists make their way onto the via Claudia. Some elect to shove aside both of the logs, carefully sliding them back into place after crossing the portal onto the via. Others remove the top log and hop over the still-in-place lower obstruction to free movement. Most do just fine in grand Olympic high-jump finesse.

On rare occasions, there will be a poor soul who, usually in the act of trying to impress his lady friend, will fail in his attempt to clear the admittedly low height of the lower log. Picking himself up off the landmine into which he has invariably fallen, the fellow will laugh it all off as if the pratfall was all a grand witz designed for the delight of the young lady.

Another variant of this is the attempted ‘limbo leap’ between the two logs. They are separated by a few inches and offer a challenge to all but the thinnest and most agile.  Here too, there will be those who are able to make the leg-first, bent back at the hip chest-up barely clearing the nose move between the logs. However, there are those who, by virtue of their enlightened girth, lack of adequate cerebellar control, or too many visits to the schnapps girls, will find themselves draped backwards over the lower log, looking like one of Dali’s melted stopwatches or a sopping auto rag drying in the noonday sun. Any attempt to withdraw from this position lands the unfortunate contortionists popo (rear end)  first into the same landmine visited earlier by the high jumper.

Susi and I normally elect the somewhat less elegant and decidedly less painful ‘diving through’ attitude, where one plunges between the logs starting with ones left leg, followed by ones head, upper torso, a quick grasp of the upper log, and a final pulling through of the other leg.  No landmine dangers and intact egos are the happy result.

Ahead lies a lovely walk between the sloping green fields of summer wildflowers. One will have many encounters with others on this popular pilgrimage into the surrounds; such momentary walk-bys can tell you much about the individuals headed in the opposite direction. What they are wearing (or not), their language, especially their dialect, and, most importantly, whether or not and how they greet you in passing; this last is the key to which your attention should be attuned.

Locals and Bavarians will usually greet passersby with a “Servus (if Austrian) or “Gruss Gott” (if either Austrian or Bavarian). On occassion, one will hear the kurzform (shortened) version of  “Servus Grüß Dich”, sounding something akin to “G’risti!” or, with abit of dialect added, “Griesdi!”  Americans always smile and provide either a simple  “Hi!” or make a “Groosgad” attempt. Older northern Germans will pass with a formal “Guten Tag” and the younger volk will  provide an oft jovial “Hallo”.

Don’t expect much from the sport bicyclists, no matter from whence they have come, for they invariably will pass you by without so much of a “howdy do” or hardly any acknowledgement at all. The pilgrim must not take offense at this, for one must understand that these pedalists are very serious in their practicing for the 7th leg of the Tour de France. Clearly that must be their intent, as they whiz by wearing second skin spandex frictionless racing outfits emblazoned with all sorts of  ‘sponsor’ logos, plastic helmets designed to facilitate the easy flow of air around and about their crouched down heads (isn’t it odd that these helmets always appear to be way too small as they  seemingly float above the heads of their owners…Oliver Hardy wearing Laurel’s derby), and  those expensive sporty military standard ruggedized plastic wrap-around sunglasses that have been adapted for use by troops in southwest Asia. The faces beneath the floating helmets and shades are pictures of concretized seriousness and their purpose is all business. If you receive any acknowledgement at all, it will be in the form of a slight sweat-laden head nod or a breathy exhaustion-induced grunt that will change in Doppler effect pitch as the mountain bike streaks by.

By the way, if, by any chance, you are walking the via Claudia and hear a lilting bell and crackle of pebbles coming up from behind, just move to the side for the moment and watch as a non-sport rider cycles past you…..probably with family in tow. If this is the case, you will indeed receive one or more of the greetings noted above.

After some minutes, we approach a locked fence with a gate stretching across and slightly to either side of the Roman Road. It is a curious sight until one realizes that its sole purpose is to direct the path of the landmine layers onto the surrounding grassy knoll and away from the parking lot and footpath leading to the nearby inn. Bipeds are able to wend their way through, employing an s-like maneuver between the offset fence posts that characterize this type of  barricade.

A few steps further and Susi and I pause once again; we cannot help but absorb the tranquility of the pastoral scene about us, and especially off to our right, where horses graze and loll about in their boundried fields. What dominates this scene, however, is a large beautiful aged wooden Wegkreuz (Footpath Cross), affixed into the rocky earth at the side of the path; it is one of many such crosses and shrines, some very old and others contemporary, that line paths and roads throughout Catholic Austria and Germany…..providing those  who wish to pause or even cast a fleeting glance, with a moment of transcendence, prayer and a reminder of this region’s living Christian heritage and foundation.


Such Footpath Crosses are usually constructed of wood, but are sometimes found carved in stone or iron. Typically, a crucifix is mounted onto a thick hand-carved post, about 1.5 to 2 meters high; a backboard and small tiled roof are then added for protection. The cross is most often set upright into the soft ground to the side of the path, however it can also be found affixed to trees, fences, homes, stables or other nearby edifices. The figure of the crucified Jesus may be painted in life tones or left in natural wood that darkens with age. There are often fresh wild flowers from the field in a small water-filled glass on a wooden ledge at the base crucifix. These flowers will quickly wilt in the warm summer western winds, but will always appear a few days later, living, fresh and beautiful.

We now walk by the lovely Gutshof zum Schluxen inn, and wave at the busload of Americans arriving as part of a regional tour. Weather permitting, they will soon be taking the same path upon which we now tread, into these mountains that separate Austria from Germany and on to the castles of of Bavarias King Ludwig.

(to be continued)


  1. Wonderfully written, Andy. We enjoy reading your blog very much. You and Susi are truly in your element. What a lovely place to live.

  2. People-watching. Great sport that! I enjoy it myself and hope someday to sit on the same bench and observe this scene.

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