The interesting people you meet when you work in a mountain hut

Since mid-February I have been working in a mountain hut 2147 meter high in the Austrian Alps. When I brainstormed about writing a blogpost about my stay here, I came quite quickly to the conclusion that I wanted to write about the people. Their characters shape my days and make this place so unique. Not only are my colleagues a very (internationally) varied group of people, they also make guests come back again and again.

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In the far distance you can see the Franz-Senn Hütte

 

But the people you find here are interesting for another reason. It is quite a radical decision to spend multiple months working in a mountain hut that is spatially secluded from civilisation. To get here you need to drive for half an hour from the nearest village and then still ski for three hours or sit in a cableway for some time. The people you are surrounded with are limited to your colleagues and guests. When you have a day off your options are limited to skiing, taking a walk, sleeping, calling, reading and chilling with guests. You might think that I am not enjoying myself here. Quite the contrary, but these challenges made me wonder what drives people to choose for this kind of life.

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This is Magdalena. Magdalena is 4 years old and the daughter of the couple in charge of the hut, ‘Beate and Thomas Fankhauser’. Her hair appears to be made of shiny gold. She loves candy and has the cutest presence on this hut. She doesn’t talk that much to me – I am working on that -, but seeing her walking and running around is a treat already.

Horst

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Horst is the 73-year-old legend of the Frans-Senn Hütte. He ran this hut for 40 years together with his wife Klara, whose parents ran the hut before that. Horst impersonates an important wisdom. People that are impressive don’t stress their achievements. Their acts speak for themselves.

 

Horst climbed three 8000 m high mountains in the Himalayas successfully and survived 4 avalanches, but will only talk about those experiences when you ask him. For the three successful climbs he paid a high price. He almost died himself once and lost two friends on the mountain during one of his climbs. At the time his children were very young and he decided to quit for at least a decade before he climbed his last 8000’er when his oldest son had turned 15.

 

About all these experiences Horst talks bluntly, but modestly. He is sceptical about attempts to control nature and modest about his ability to forecast weather and estimate avalanche danger, despite his lifelong experience with mountaineering.

 

However, what is most impressive about Horst is his charisma based on kindness, modesty and humour. He is one of those people that are kind and warm because they are in a good place themselves. Moreover, he gets along with pretty much everyone. Believe me, his smile will make you smile too.

 

Another fun fact : when Horst was young he lived in the Netherlands for a few months. He even had a dutch girlfriend!

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Klara’s life story is fully intertwined with the Franz Senn Hütte. Although she grew up in a different hut, she spent the rest of her life in or close to the hut. Its where she met her husband, Horst. Its where she raised her three children. And the hut is the place where she now spends time with her grandchildren. With some people you have the feeling that they are a walking history book. And I mean that positively! Klara is such a person. She knows so much about the history of the hut itself, but also of all the mountain guides active in Austria, and the different type of guests that come to the hut. (She likes Dutch guests). That makes it fascinating to talk to her. Her sharpness, leadership and intelligence inspires me. Moreover, she makes the nicest pizzas!

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When you ask Dambar how he is, he always says “super”. When he asks you how you are, or how it is going, he will say ‘Super oder?’. He is from Nepal. His German mixed with English shows an endless positivity, of which I still have to find the source.

 

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In another life Angelika would have been a comedian, or in her own words “maybe just crazy”. You should see her during the process of preparing a käseknödelsuppe. Her expressive faces provide her colleagues with endless joy. When people ask her on a birthday party what she does ‘beruflich’, she answers that she ‘cleans’ for a living. Yes, she likes shocking people! She studied ecology at university, graduated with good grades, but decided then that she better liked working with her hands. People were a little surprised then, but after some years had nothing left to do but to accept her decision. The coolest job she ever had was being a receptionist at a small art gallery with two photos. No one came to visit, so she could spend the whole day reading, sleeping, calling, and studying, while receiving 8 euros an hour. Oh yeah… a glass of red wine can be found in her close proximity during dinner, as well as stories about her travels to Nepal, Asia, and Latin America.

 

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This is Jan. He comes from Slovakia. In another life he was a famous lab scientist. He has Einstein like eyes, which you might see if you look at this picture long enough. His hair seems to have exploded during an important discovery of electricity that I may or may not have witnessed. The name Jan therefore now no longer stands for the average normal Dutch guy, but for an epic breakfast partner in crime. (He turns the disgusting sticking marmalade salami plates into butterflowery smelling ones). #respect. Typical for Jan are his work ethic and his wide-open eyes when you ask him a question or when someone tells a good joke. Also, he is epic at cutting wood and making fires that last the whole day and warm the hearts (and backs) of every guest in our ‘Stube’.

 

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On the left here you see Laco, who is also from Slovakia. His favourite sentence is ‘whop chiep chiep’, which is to express some kind of secret message that has something to do with ‘his Schatze’ and sexy dancing. Or with dancing in bikini’s in the snow when it is warm outside – which is to say 4 degrees -. Not that anyone has done that, so far.

 

Obviously, he likes cutting onions with ski goggles on so that he can get right back to skiing when he is finished with the onions. The thing is I have not yet caught him skiing, but I am convinced that is because of his legendary skill and speed. I just wasn’t quick enough. As you can see, Horst liked this scene as well. To which Laco responded: “If you are a photographer, then I am a celebrity, right?”.

 

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Miriam is my roommate. She can enjoy a little quiet sometimes, like me. Our favourite activity together is cutting apfelstrudel into pieces when it comes right from the oven in the morning. There is always some delicious crust left over on the baking tray (sorrynotsorry). She likes knitting, listening to music, and is a psychology student from Bayern in southeast Germany. Her English and Spanish are impeccable. Writing this text, I realised how difficult it is to write about her, because there is nothing ‘outrageous’ to be told. She is just incredibly charming, funny, and a great person to go a little crazy with behind the bar.

 

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Steffen comes from a little town in Western Germany nearby an already little town called Bielefeld. So the question he has to answer all the time is how he comes to work on a mountain hut. You are wondering it too right? Well, he worked in a bank before, but needed a new challenge. The rest is history. Even though he had no experience with working in hospitality before coming, he is now nailing it. Bringing the soups to all our guests, cross country skiing up the mountain multiple times in the blink of an eye, being a chess master, he does it as if it is nothing to him.

In the morning Steffen and I run breakfast together and are supervising the eggs of our guests in the egg cooker. Our jokes include the ‘Eiermaffia’, ‘Eiermama’ and ‘Eierpapa’ and much much more. He loves telling stories of guest asking remarkable questions and of him giving even more remarkable answers. There is one thing I am sure about with Steffen: in 10 years he has ran a marathon and is still just as funny, if not funnier, as he is today.

 

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This is Mario together with Klara. Mario is your go to person for solid advice on ski-touren and to order a beer. Mario literally loooves ski-tours. In his breaks during the day he goes – guess what ?– to make a skitour. But what is a ski-tour? It is climbing a mountain but then on ski’s. The advantage of that is that you can ski back to the hut and don’t have to descend by foot. Most people come to the hut for those weird tours.

In a few weeks, Mario goes on holiday for a week to to go, – yeah right – make skitours for a whole week. Is there then anything else to know about Mario? Yes, he gives great to ask advice on skitours – or did I already say that? – , gives skiing lessons, understands me when I speak Dutch to him – omg yes – and would like to become a ‘bergführer’ one day. Pretty ‘bergbegeisterd’ I would say.

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Last but not least, Matthias is the oldest son of Beate und Thomas. He just started going to school in the village in the valley so he is only here during the weekends. Matias likes helping out around the kitchen. On the picture he is helping Angelika preparing the soup for dinner, but you might also find him doing the dishes for a few minutes in the afternoon. The moment you bring a plate, he jumps up to place it into the dishwasher with an enthusiasm, curiosity, and commitment that I believe you can only find in children. We also call him the ‘junior chef’.

When I see Matthias walking around here at the hut, he makes me wonder. Where are he and his sisters in ten, twenty years? What is expected of them, not outspokenly but implicitly, but also what joys and experiences will their unique childhood bring them?

 

Conclusion

That was it already! I hope you got an impression of the wonderful people that surround me here!

All photos by Vera Vrijmoeth

 

P.S. As you might understand I wasn’t able to make a portrait of all the people working for or affiliated with the hut. This says nothing about the people that were not mentioned. My aim was mainly to shed some light on the interesting aspects of the kind and inspiring people here that you might not (fully) see when you visit for a day or two.  I hope and wish that despite it being far from “complete” reading this article was interesting to you! 

 

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Veldhoven – A town that you should know about

Biking on a futile day, at a futile moment through Veldhoven, I can’t help but feeling overwhelmed by the ordinariness of it all. I bike past planted trees in between houses, water channels, newly built “modern architecture” but also older run-down housing. The town of Veldhoven is a typical Dutch suburb. How can we look at this heavily urbanised and relatively young town in the province of Brabant? Are feelings of normality and of the town being ‘ordinary’ justified? IMG_3574

Veldhoven was founded almost 100 years ago, in 1921, as a result of the merge of three small towns. According to Veldhoven’s Wikipedia page, in 1930 it had a mere 6900 inhabitants. After the Second World War this amount rapidly increased to the 44.680 citizens it has today.

Veldhoven grew along with the city of Eindhoven, which it lies right next to. The many technical and ICT companies settling in the area increased the demand for family housing enormously, the gap Veldhoven jumped into. It became the place to live for people with families working in Eindhoven. Veldhoven became to Eindhoven what Almere is to Amsterdam.
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In Veldhoven, you can find everything you need: numerous Albert Heijn and Jumbo supermarkets, elementary schools, sports- and music associations, and a shopping center ironically named: “het city centrum”. The real Veldhovenaar pronounces this as ‘het sitie centrumm’ or simply ‘het city’, combining the Dutch word for center, ‘centrum’ and the English word ‘city’.

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Veldhoven misses the ambience of Dutch towns with a richer history, but has its own charm. The planned design of the architecture sometimes seems to reflect the character of the inhabitants, as if the clear structure of the buildings is mirrored in peoples’ lives. On random moments, I spend a few minutes imagining how some people spend their days: getting out of bed, having breakfast, going to work, doing groceries, cooking dinner, playing with the kids, watching television, and going to bed again, and repeating the whole cycle the next day.

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Being submerged in this environment, where so many appear to ‘live’, I cannot help but ask myself: what is it all for? Why do we – myself included –  go through such repetitive routines? However, these questions can equally be applied to life in the city. The only difference is that we associate cities with being cultured and lively, and therefore less repetitive and with more meaning. 

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In Veldhoven there are no techno parties, but monthly ‘disco swimming’ nights for 12 year olds. There is no anonymity, but neighbours will join you for ‘gezellige’ neighbourhood barbecues. There are no Greenpeace demonstrations, but there is a lively community of volunteers working in the local churches, associations, and elderly homes. In Veldhoven there are  –  apart from an occasional evening in the library –  no intellectual discussions on the ‘future of capitalism’, but here one can enjoy a relaxed huisje-boompje-beestje life. And there is nothing wrong with that.

It is comfortable. It is affordable. It is free of pretentiousness. Veldhoven is the Dutch town we vaguely know about but never visit. It is beautiful in its predictability and simplicity. It is special in the way that it is not special at all.

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The local community gives many a sense of fulfilment that cannot be found through any career, achievement or individual pursuit. It might sound simple… but people support each other and have fun together. 

So if for some reason you end up in Veldhoven some day, or in a similar town for that matter, remember: it’s cool. Enjoy your house, ‘het city’, and the valuable community. You can always visit the city every once in a while for concerts and some neoliberal critique. 

All photos by Vera Vrijmoeth

 

#2 Series Figuring out the Future

We are super proud and honoured to present the second article of the series Figuring Out the Future by our guest blogger Inge Corino. In this piece she has captured the duality of feelings that come with being in her comfort zone but also in limbo of what to do.  

 

Leaving the Pillow Fort

I love my pillow fort. It might not exactly be a fort, more like a dozen pillows stuffed in every corner of the couch, plus a blanket piled on top of me. But to me it’s a fort. When I’m in there, I feel only warmth and comfort. It keeps the nasty world out and it can entertain me morning to night with Netflix. I feel good when I’m in my pillow fort.

 

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At the same time, I hate my pillow fort. I’ve gotten much too familiar with it since the start of my gap year.

 

If you read the notes on my computer, you would find a lengthy list of goals I wish to accomplish in my gap year. To me, this gap year feels like the moment to do everything I always wanted to: to get the most amazing internship, have an adventurous job, travel to unfamiliar places, volunteer, write a book, become a ridiculous good DIYer and so so so much more. The purpose of my gap year, I have been telling myself, is to blossom into the person I desire to be, but never had the time to become at uni.

 

Surprise! This sickeningly cheesy fantasy is turning out to be fake news.

 

Currently, I’m going into the second month of this endeavor. Turns out that when you have no busy job or school to go to, shockingly, you have a lot of time on your hands. Somehow, I’m not very good at spending that time efficiently and often end up back in my pillow fort. I’ve been in there all day today. It’s not that I don’t have enough ideas. I can show you my list if you need proof. The problem is that I’m still attached to the stupid fantasy of a perfect gap year. I want everything, and I mean everything, to be perfect.

 

I am tremendously privileged to be able to take a year off, so I better do something glorious with the opportunity. But the fear of failing to do so makes every step seem too risky.

 

Yes, I am terrified of failing. I don’t know why but I would guess the serial perfectionism you probably picked up in this article has something to do with it. (I’m not a certified psychologist though, so what the hell do I know.)

 

It’s the biggest fear I have and quite honestly, it’s crippling. I have been trying to force myself to start some of those projects on my list for the past weeks. I sit in front of my computer, ready to start writing a great letter of motivation for that internship and I freeze. “I’m not good at writing letters of motivation, it will probably turn out shit.” “What if I put in so much time and they don’t even invite me to an interview?” “What if I do get it and then bust it?” “What if I get the internship and it turns out I hate it?”

 

My year would be a failure. I would be a failure.

 

Imagine such thoughts for every goal I have written down and having plenty of time to think of and repeat those infinitely. The fear is paralyzing and most times I quickly end up back in my pillow fort. Of course, rationally I can tell myself that such thoughts are only detrimental to my plans. Wish I could tell you that is enough to change my attitude. It also doesn’t help that doing nothing is so easy. Like I said, I love my pillow fort. Who doesn’t love a pillow fort?

 

However, I am realizing I need to step up my behavior, because doing nothing for the next 10 months would be so much more of a failure. In the meantime, I did write this blog post and it might not be perfect, but I still did it and that’s pretty great.

 

If you have any tips for me to dismantle my pillow fort or if you ever felt the same, let me know!

 

Model Marit Vrijmoeth
Pictures Vera Vrijmoeth

Thursday Night

I wrote the following short story during my last semester at university, in March 2017.

 

Thursday Night

 

It was that night of the week again. As she walked over the campus quad, the pebbles underneath her Dr. Martens made a crisp crisp sound. She vaguely heard the deep bass coming from someone’s speakers. As she neared Voltaire, the name for the Humanities academic building, she recognized the lyrics.  “Do you need me? Do you think I’m pretty?” What a horrible song. A group of girls walked past her, chatting excitedly with one another: “I’m only going to have a few drinks at Lars’, I got a lot of work to do tomorrow.” “Yeah right, you say that every week and in the end it’s you who drinks the most of us all.” Laughter. 

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She opened the door with her access key. The committee’s posters on the pin board promoting their events went unnoticed: “The True Cost – Movie Screening by EcologiCo”, “Classy Campus Concert by MusicCo”, “Do you need help writing your CV? – come to the CV Workshop hosted by the Acquisition Committee in collaboration with the Future Centre”. The swinging door make an almost inaudible creaking sound when she pushed her upper body against it. Along the wall of the broad staircase were writings and scribbles – students had either been rebellious, poetic or simply bored.

 

Walking up the flight of stairs, it was the early evening sunlight shining through the window that made her temporarily leave her internal monologue for what it was. She took out her iPhone to capture the fierce red-orange glow. She noticed the contrast of the concrete, monotonous block of student dormitories, known among students as the Wall; and the vivid streaks of orange and red in the sky above, slowly moving out of sight behind the building. She was ready to post it on Instagram. People found it surprising that she of all people had an Instagram account. She simply liked how her perspective shifted by looking at those photos. She had to find a suitable filter though – she couldn’t find one that accentuated the contrast well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Completely concentrated on her phone, she did not see the sign in front of the little campus library which read: “You do have time to read!” Automatically, she pressed the big black button and the heavy door to the campus study area swung open. She installed herself at the square, Ikea-like table where she always worked at. She swapped one of the uncomfortable wooden chairs for a round one which was adjustable to her height. It was the perfect spot – the large windows gave her a good view of the early 20th century building in the heart of the campus that was home to the university staff members.

 

 

Now she only needed to get started on her essay. It was due tomorrow. She started way too late, as usual. Lost in thought, as she looked up she was surprised to meet the eyes of a guy sitting alone, behind his Apple MacBook. Shyly, he smiled at her as she unpacked her backpack. As if to say: “Thank you for coming. Now I no longer feel so much of a loner for sitting in Voltaire alone on a Thursday night”. The music and laughter all of a sudden seemed to be further away.

 

Thursday Night blog 2

 

 

Afterthought

 

I re-read this short story now that I have graduated from UCU (University College Utrecht). It made me contemplate how small my daily life was. I spent hours, entire days even, studying and writing papers in Voltaire, one of the academic buildings on the college campus. It was such a convenient location, right next to my dorm room – I literally could roll out of bed and I was there. Having this luxury, however, was also limiting in a way. I didn’t go into the city centre of Utrecht as often as I probably would without having a study area right next door.

 

In general, I find it odd how limited and confined the physical space is we maneuver through during our daily life, merely a tiny part of the entire surface area on Earth. For me, the small UCU campus exacerbated this further. It was my familiar home for three years, but also a place that could be suffocating at times. We did everything there and followed our daily routines: we lived, had our classes, studied and ate within the parameters of our campus.

 

On the other hand, living on a campus with a study area next door helped me study and find the motivation and discipline to work (there was no excuse of the library being too far away or closed). Also, if I hadn’t spent all those days on campus, and specifically in Voltaire, I wouldn’t have been so familiar with the place. I am not sure I would have been able to write “Thursday Night” the way it is now.

 

That being said, sometimes it might be good to make small changes to the daily grind of our lives (e.g. take a bit of a different route to work, cook a new recipe, call someone we normally wouldn’t call). This way we can break through our routine and renew our energy.

#1 Series: Mental Health & the Millennial Generation

This is a little introduction to the first post of a series I will be writing on young adults and mental health.   

I find this an important issue to write about as many of my peers are struggling with their mental and emotional well being. These challenges might a part of growing up and reaching adulthood but I still find it alarming. That being said, this first post will be personal. It is a short fragment of a creative writing class I took last year.

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– – – 

 

 

 

Vicious Cycle

March 4, 2016. 03:15 AM.

Unable to fall asleep. I turn on my back so I have more lung capacity. “Take a deep breath in… Hold for 5 seconds… And breathe out again. Release all your worries with your breath.” I try to follow the instructions of the audio podcast. “Falling asleep” is episode 6 of a whole series of meditation podcasts – recommended to me by a friend.

By now the podcast has been playing for 7 minutes, but I do not feel like I am getting much closer to a state of sleep than before the audio. The male voice of the podcast is somewhat soothing. However, my critical inner voice is telling me how ridiculous it is that here I am, doing breathing exercises at 3 in the morning, when really, all I should be doing is dreaming of flowers and daisies. I have a class at 11 AM tomorrow morning – no, not tomorrow morning. Today. Damn it.

“Envision the color red. See the color red. It can be an object that is red, or simply the color.” The soothing voice then goes on to orange, yellow, and ends with a visualization of the color indigo. Basically he goes through the entire color spectrum of the rainbow. I wonder whether the effect of the audio wears off after listening to it a certain number of times. I reckon it does. I struggle taking this podcast seriously. But I have to! I need to sleep.

The most urgent post-uni-student crisis : NS & travel costs

Coming out of three months in East Africa and four years as a student enjoying all the stresses and pleasures of NS, a harsh reality crashed in when I entered my post-uni life: I no longer had the right to travel for free by public transportation …(think: dramatic music).

 

I was left with an OV card that now solely offered me the option of paying full price for my travels. This challenged my creativity and I came up with a novel solution (thank you Internet): pretending to travel with other students, or people with a discount subscription in order to pay 40% less (samenreiskorting). When traveling by train, I started asking strangers to be my travel partner (or rather me be theirs) in order to once more make my travels to friends affordable.

 

So there I was, on my way to Utrecht. At the ticket machine I loaded 40% discount on my OV card. Standing on the platform of Eindhoven’s station I scanned all the people around me… who would be a student or a frequent NS dweller and would be so kind to include me as their fellow traveller?

 

I got on the train and sat down opposite the first person – a friendly looking older lady.  I politely asked in Dutch: “May I ask you something?” to which the lady responded “yes of course”. So I asked her whether she had a ‘Dalvoordeel’-abonnement (Discount subscription) and whether I could travel with her. She responded affirmatively. So that was that, I had found my travel partner!

 

Contrary to my earlier experience of there being a lack of conversation with strangers in the train due to smartphones, the lady started quite an open conversation with me about her life. She had lost her husband a few months ago to cancer and was now travelling to see her daughter who had just delivered a son. The woman told me how she struggled with the conflicting emotions of dealing with the loss of her husband but also being happy with her newborn grandson. The day before she hadn’t had the energy to visit her daughter and grandson, but that day she managed to get herself together and take the train to see her family.  

 

This was not the only time that my simple question “Can I travel with you?” led to a nice and interesting conversation. A week later the same request led to a conversation with a pretty cute guy on my way to Dordrecht. He gave me all kinds of tips of what to do and where to go there and even offered me a drink on his costs in a café of his friend. Along followed a filmmaker, four guys from a major rowing association in Delft, and others that were happy to help me out, asked for my name, or simply enjoyed a pleasant silence with me.

 

A recent email from NS made an end to my frantic search for a travel partner every time I traveled by train. They offered me a free discount subscription for a year. And although I like having attained the comfort of no longer having to fear being caught when yet another travel partner leaves for his or her destination, and the freedom to sit wherever I want, a part of me misses the conversation pick up line of “Can I travel with you?”. Meeting new people in the train like this is cool … so I might just pretend to be searching for yet another travel companion next time I enter NS territory.