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.
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.
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 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!
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!
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.
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.
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’.
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?”.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!