Tuesday, 14 August 2018

DANCE ME TO THE END OF LOVE ...























Last blog post was about a Siberian High, causing Hammarby Sound to freeze over. This seems like a world apart today. The past month proved to be the hottest hereabouts in recorded history (dating back to the mid 1700s). If 35° weren't enough, humidity went to the extreme, envelopping us in a wet blanket day and night and leaving us no place to escape. Our apartments here in Stockholm are built with generous windows, granting the sun free access to us sun-loving Northerners. It now dawns on us that sun-flooded rooms are not what the doctor ordered. Even if my apartment is facing north, the sun starts sneaking in around 6 pm, getting up the heat just in time to prevent me from having a healty sleep.

Extreme times crave desperate measures. I discovered that a daily visit to the neighbourhood (Swedish style) Sauna was the way out of misery. After sitting about 10 minutes in it, sweating out at 90° (Celsius) of dry heat and taking a cold shower afterwards, 35° outside heat appears almost normal!

In the same spirit, I decided, in the beginning of last week, to take a quick trip to Southern Turkey. There, temperature surpassed even 40° in daytime and humidity was at its outmost; just like in a Sauna, but a Finnish one. The idea was to spend three days there and return to a more moderate Stockholm, cooler by at least a few degrees. Now, that I am back, I am glad to say that Hammarby Sjöstad has cooled off considerably during my absence. Or is it the contrast to Lykia in Turkey that makes me believe that?



















The recent heat wave got me to recognosce up-to-date findings about climate change. Not bothering with reading the most recent articles in scientific journals, I contented myself with gathering insights from Youtube videos in the field. Don't ridicule me! There is quite serious knowledge to be gained there. As an example, let me point to a recent lecture by Professor Wadhams of Cambridge University. He is a convivial enough fellow, hardly prone to exaggerate.



My research, albeit sporadic, leads me to conclude that we already seem to have passed "the point of no return". Even if we drastically diminish carbon dioxide emissions forthwith, we will still surpass the red line (the 2° temperature increase) early on in the next decade. Thereafter, and with sizable methane emissions from the Arctic continental shelf and from melting Siberian permafrost, climate change will accelerate and lead to a more than 3° increase within the following decades.

An increase by more than 3° may not sound a lot, but it will most probably put an end to the main conduit of global food production, the grain belt girdling the northern hemisphere; not to speak of rendering the subtropical regions, Southern Europe among them, into deserts. So the writing is on the wall.















Interestingly enough, Scandinavia, as well as Great Britain, Ireland and Iceland, may not be exposed  to the same degree of heating as the world at large. The global deep sea current transporting warm water north-eastward is already getting weaker and will no longer lend support to the Gulf stream (which is mostly driven by wind), thus counteracting to some degree the overall heating up.

Should we find comfort in this? I fear not! Think about the hundreds of millions living south and east of our borders and getting ever more desperate, as deserts spread in Africa and Southern Europe and food supply is drying up further north. The Völkerwanderung of the 5th to 7th century AD is just an inkling of what lies ahead of us! To get an idea of what this means, look no further than to the failed states in the Middle East and the millions from there streaming into Europe just two years ago!

What can be done about this? On a global scene, probably nothing. That is, unless geo-engineering at hitherto unexperienced scale could be enacted within the near future, which is hardly likely, if even feasible. Better to look at it from a personal angle. Here we have a problem: climate change is not happening in a linear fashion. Feed-back loops are pushing to the forefront and will greatly accelerate the change, even if we at present still appear to experience only a modest and gradual warming. This makes it difficult for us humans to grasp the high probability of a timely demise of civilisation.

To fix ideas: imagine that a meteorite will strike the Earth in thirty years' time, enveloping the Earth in huge dust clouds and rendering food production infeasible over all of Earth for a number of years, except in north-eastern Europe. How would you as a person prepare for such a catastrophe? Speaking as an old-timer, my life would go on as usual, with maybe a bit more propensity to nurture friendships and family relations. For our children, they will have to be more philosophical; we all have to die, sooner or later, and it may just be a bit sooner for them. It is the grandchildren whom we should pity. They will be in the prime of their life and, instead of fulfilling all their dreams of family and career, they will be in constant war and struggle to fend off the hungering hordes invading the few territories where food can still be obtained.

This leads me to suggest a collective action that still could be taken to make life a bit more bearable for those poor grandchildren. Why not re-introduce comprehensive conscription for all 18 year olds, boys and girls, starting a decade from now. Why not borrow experts from the Israeli army to help introduce an efficient training programme involving weapon use, martial arts combat and living off the land. With an intensive training of this kind, we will at least provide these poor youngsters with a minimum of crafts to cope with the coming catastrophe! This quite apart from maintaining the regular army, manned by professional experts, as is the case at present.

Am I an extremist? Probably so, but I think that I will be considered a moderate ten years from now, when the red line of 2° warming will have been crossed and warming will accelerate. A pity that I probably won't be around then to feel righteous about it! Instead, why not enjoy the good life as long as it lasts, and let art and music come to the rescue, when my thoughts risk becoming too dire.


Wednesday, 28 February 2018

IS THIS SIBERIA?

Freeze-over at 6.55 am on 25 February

The above view is a very rare one indeed! Why do I say this? Well, you can expect to see it only about once in every four years. Several rare events have to coincide to result in this outcome. First, temperature the day before should not be much lower than 0° C, to prevent partial freezing over of Hammarby Canal. Second, there must be a sudden and large drop in temperature after midnight (after the last boat has passed the canal). Third, this drop of temperature has to be accompanied by a slight snowfall. Third, the snowfall must stop before dawn. And, fourth, I must have the good luck of looking out of my kitchen window just slightly before 7 am this time of the year, when dawn is already in motion, and before any ship has passed or crossed the canal.

Temperature not much lower than 0°C, the day before

Last week was a heavy one for me. On Monday, I had a jaw operation, which is preventing me from eating solid food until the stitches are taken out (will be tomorrow). As a result, I am living at the moment with a diet of cottage cheese, soup and yoghurt. This has a surprising effect on my contours, since I have lost more than 5 kilos in weight already. But it also somehow dampens vitality, with the body attempting to heal the wounds and coping with being sustained only by fluids at the same time. 

On top of that, I also caught the flu. This actually dampened my longing for fast food, but compounded the loss of vigour and caused my sleep to be troubled, short and interrupted. So it happened that I was driven out of bed already a bit after 6 am on Sunday last. A pity, since it was still dark and I had to turn on all the lights in the apartment to enliven spirit. But, gradually, as I was preparing breakfast [making coffee and opening a can of cottage cheese ;–)], dark changed to dawn and I started to glimpse a first rosy shimmer above Hammarby Sound. My kitchen table is located smack opposite, so I could watch it through the window without having to put my nose out into the cold.

And what a view it was! Silence supreme was reigning over Hammarby Sjöstad, not a sound, not even with a window slightly ajar. The lake surface looked like a newly painted hospital floor, white and even and, above it all, the perfect trimming of a rosy dusk.  

7.00 am. The first ferry disturbing peace and view

Alas, serenity did not last. As I was surpling my Nespresso, and the hour advancing versus sevenish, suddenly, the first ferry started up on the Southern Island and started its traverse towards our side of the Sound. This was no silent process, I can tell you! The vessel had to labour hard to get going! And the sound, the sound! Like a giant cracking giant hazlenuts! On and on the boat laboured, first forward a meter or two, then backward again to push off and get going again. Eventually, after 15 minutes hard work it reached the opposite berth, a traverse that usually takes only about four minutes.

This Sunday was special for yet another reason. The sun kept shining until early afternoon, a rare sight indeed in Stockholm winter time. Under a blue sky, and as the day progressed, large ship after large ship passed Hammarby Kanal in their voyage from the Baltic to Lake Mälar or vice versa, breaking up the ice and providing me with yet another view, this time smack below my balcony, and  far more common than the view shown in the head picture.

4 pm, large boats having broken the ice during the day.

How does Siberia come into the story, you may well ask. Very simple, our part of the world is at present subject to strong North Eastern currents, stemming from a high pressure zone hovering around Northern Siberia. They cause exceptionally cold air to stream over the still warm waters of the Baltic Sea, sucking up moisture as they go and unloading it in the form of very cold snow on us poor Stockholmers. Ever since last Sunday, each morning is greeting me with the picture you can see below.

Getting to my usual breakfast haunt, for a cup of coffee and a newspaper, means bulking up, wading through decimeter high snow drifts (plowing on my street is starting first later in the day) and being blasted by a storm of sharp icycles. How will this all end, I ask you! Will climate change bring consolation? I fear not! Whilst the continent down South will getting warmer, the Gulf Stream, a giant pumping action from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic, and warming Scandinavia (not to forget Iceland and Greenland), will surely start to subside, changing our climate up here to become more like that of Alaska (Stockholm is at the same latitude as Kodiak after all!). So I fear that we have to see this Siberian interlude as a first sign of things to come. God help us!

Every morning the same; blizzard after blizzard!


Sunday, 31 December 2017

IN DULCI JUBILO–O–OH!

This time of the year darkness prevails during most of the day. Difficult to decide when to get out of bed, since daylight chooses to appear first around 9 am, and that only hesitantly. The other day, I managed to rise a bit early, fumbling around in the dark before turning on all the lights in the apartment to jump start my sleep-drunken mind. During the holiday season, my favorit breakfast haunt stays closed, so I was sitting at my kitchen table, sipping coffee and hoping for Hammarby Sound to emerge from its sombreness. 

Suddenly, a ferry emerged, like an apparition, to commence its round-trip on the sound. Out with the camera and, "Clapunck!", the view was preserved for your contemplation. The boat shined like an apparition in the general gloominess and its delicate luminance got me thinking about a carol that we used to sing in our high school choir around this time of the year. In fact, it is the only song I remember from singing at school. The reason being, I believe, that the verses are half Latin, half German, which must have impressed me greatly in those days.

Hearing this song, you would not have guessed that it is more than 700 years old. But it has its roots in the Gregorian Lithurgy, the singsong that can still be heard in catholic masses, at least in the more festive ones. In early middle age, the officiating clergy must have tired of these, let's face it, monotone recitals and tried to embellish them with more melodious outbursts, called Tropi. The song "In dulci jubilo" is a macaronic tropus, with text in alternating Latin and German phrases. 

In dulci jubilo,
nun singet und seid froh!
Unsers Herzens Wonne
leit in præsepio
und leuchtet als die Sonne
matris in gremio.
Alpha es et O.

When hearing it performed, it strikes you that it sounds jubilant, indeed. You almost can feel the energy released, when allowing oneself to get rid of the traditional bonds of endless recitals and start singing a melodious song at long last. I am almost tempted to call it the true "Ode 'An die Freude' ".

In this spirit, permit me to finish this post by addressing you all, my faithful and patient readers, with  

 My very best wishes for Year 2018 



Thursday, 2 November 2017

FEUILLES MORTES

Street lock on Hammarby Quay

Our brain sometimes can play peculiar tricks on us. The other day, when taking my usual 45 minutes' walk after breakfast, suddenly some phrases bubbled to the surface, as if trying to accompany the wind blowing around nose and ears from Hammarby Lake. Let's see if you can recognise them.

"Les feuilles mortes se ramassent à la pelle.
Tu vois, je n'ai pas oublié...
Les feuilles mortes se ramassent à la pelle,
Les souvenirs et les regrets aussi.
Et le vent du nord les emporte
Dans la nuit froide de l'oubli.
Tu vois, je n'ai pas oublié
La chanson que tu me chantais." 
(Jacques Prévert: "Les feuilles mortes").

"Feuilles mortes" at Luma Park

These melancholic words accompanied me on my continued walk, adding to my appreciation of the late autumn atmosphere all around me. Eventually I arrived at the mid-point of my venture, where two giant oaks welcomed me as usual, but, unusually, one was still full of leaves, the other completely bare. A third should have completed the scene, but only its trunk was left, the crown torn down by an earlier autumn storm. 

At mid-point of my daily walk

As I went on with my training round, the sun came out of the clouds and temperature rose appreciably. It was as if autumn yearned to turn into summer again. Even the mallards seemed to enjoy the mellow atmosphere, paddling contentedly among the reeds along Sickla Quay.

Ducks among the reeds along Sickla Quay

I hate to admit that I am a bit in arrear with my blogging. A series of engagements, the foremost a great wedding party in Austria, have kept me from my favourite pastime. This is a pity, since this autumn provided us with many interesting events, at least as concerns the weather. In early October it looked like we would have an early winter again, with temperatures early on tending down to zero degrees (Celsius). Then again, days were back to warming up. Then came a period, still with us, with every-second-day weather, bringing alternately warm and cold temperatures. 

As a result, there are still trees keeping their leaves, even if they have started withering with a vengeance lately. On the day when the above pictures were taken it felt like summer would come back any time. Compare this to last year, when there was a three days' blizzard, preventing me from leaving the apartment, since snow kept accumulating on the streets. 

A rather peculiar event occurred back in October, meriting a blog of its own, which I am sorry to have missed out on. I usually wake up when traffic starts getting heard, and it was already light when I got out of bed around 6.30. Since my breakfast haunt opens up first at 7.30, I could doddle around in the apartment for an hour before getting out into fresh air. Judge of my surprise: it had gotten dark again, as if day had decided to take a sudden turn into night. The sky was dark as soot and I could hardly see my feet moving on the sidewalk. "Götterdämmerung" is the appropriate word for this event. 

People around me were shaking their heads, barely discernible in the dark, and nobody could find a good explanation for this sudden somberness. Day after, the newspapers told the story. A strong southern jet stream had brought sand from the Sahara, mingled with soot from the many fires raging around the Mediterranean. A sign of Earth' future if any. 

But we are spared the travails of Earth warming up here in the North. After an hour or so, the sun managed to break through the massive wall of darkness. Rays of light, clean and polarised, as if from a search-light, brightened the scenery opposite my balcony. Whilst the continent will begin to suffer from climate warming, it will indeed become more agreeable up here!

Sofia Church after "Götterdämmerung"

Being eager to bring this blog to its well-deserved conclusion, I almost forget that there is another autumn day to remember. I sorely missed the 25 years' jubilee on 24 September, of the Great Crisis Nadir of 1992. For those not familiar with Swedish history, or those who have suppressed the sad event, let me freshen up your memory by citing myself from a report I once wrote about it.

"On a sunny day in late September 1992 (24 September) I arrived at the office early, to work on an article on capital adequacy in banking. I did not get a chance to do any work that day, however. The phone started ringing as soon as I entered my room (at 7 AM) and did not stop during the day. The calls came all from foreign bankers and financial experts/journalists and were all about the same theme: How solid is the position of the Swedish Banks, Mr. Ems, how long can they hold out in the onslaught of credit problems and exchange risks. Being a Central Banker I could do little else than utter vaguely encouraging mumblings. But the frequency and intensity of calls indicated that the end was near for interbank lending to Swedish Banks. Fair enough, the same afternoon, Government held an urgent press conference, telling the world that it felt obliged to guarantee all of Swedish Banks' liabilities and that it would undertake a general scheme for bank support to counter the on-going banking crisis. This was without comparison the most demanding and challenging day of my life – it was the nadir of the Swedish financial crisis."

The world has gone on since then, and even experienced a comparable crisis on a global scale 15 years later. We are still suffering from its aftermath. This brings me to the question, whether there could be a repeat of such a sad event in near future. The question is far from futile, since both the BIS and IMF both have recently been making noises about the great indebtedness of nations. Sweden is no slouch in this respect and asset prices have been rising steeply the past few years, a sure sign of a financial crisis being imminent. In my mind, I can see some similarity between the year of 1991 (the build-up year of the great crisis) and the present year.

Most notably, real estate prices have ceased rising and are on a downward trend. Minor building companies are already in difficulty and some even under receivership. So, keep your fingers crossed, lest we will be sliding into bad times. Let's all join in an incantation to be repeated over and over again: "This time is different! ... This time is different! ... This time is different! ... ... ..."

Best not to think about such sad things. Let's get back to where we started and invite a famous French singer to phrase the poem mentioned at the beginning of this blog!





Friday, 18 August 2017

WALTZ FOR EMIL


The white night of Summer. 

We are in mid-August now and can already begin to sense Autumn's first inklings. But the white nights will still be with us for a week or so. This can be seen in the above picture, taken at 8.30 pm day before yesterday.

Even if serene calm seems to reign over Hammarby Sound and Canal, there is a snake in Paradise. You may recall my lament from 4 May last year about a terrible noise at 5 am. A small boat had chosen that early hour to empty its septic tank. Since it used a lorry as receptacle, I let it go, since the action was not illegal, after all. But judge of my surprise, when the same boat woke me up again, at 5.45 am, two weeks ago. This time it was worse, since the owner did not bother with commanding a lorry to take care of the waste.

To the owner of this boat: if you read this blog, beware! Any repetition of this evil deed will be reported to the authorities forthwith, well documented by a sequence of pictures as solid proof. So there!


Misdeed on Hammarby Canal
































But we won't let this sad occurrence trouble our mellow Summer mood. Whenever ripples of discontent threaten to affect my feelings of content, I am drawn back to my early days in Sweden, when vigorous youth met ebullient Gründerzeit. Usually, I let my thoughts dwell on many a Saturday evening, back in August 1962, when I sneaked through a hole in the fence of Hässelby Strandbad, to join Swedish youth in dancing and frolicking till midnight. No waltzes, polkas or marches were being played there by the band. Rather, big band music in syncopated rythm. One song in particular tickled my fancy, and from it, I learned my first Swedish words.

På västerbron i den himmelska ron
en spårvagn går ensam och tom ...

This was a brand new song and was played throughout Stockholm, in dancing halls and radio. The singer's voice was smooth as velvet and her song was so elegant and elf-like that it went straight to my heart. Her name was Monika Zetterlund and, ever since, she remains for me the quintessence of a Swedish singer. But music tells more than a thousand words, so why not have a go at the video below (please click on the word "VIDEO":

Thursday, 29 June 2017

LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT

Hammarby Sound, Solstice Day at 10 pm




















I have to admit that I am a bit in arrear with this post. Days are getting shorter as I am writing this. But don't you worry, the "White Nights" will be with us for another month, even if Solstice Day lies already behind us.

Summer weather this year is a bit unusual, more of an April weather really. If I am stepping out in the morning for my Nordic walking exercise, the sun may still be shining, but upon my return to the apartment I can be certain that clouds will build up again and rain will soon be pouring down. Then the sun will re-appear and the whole cycle repeat itself.

Annoying though this is, it spells heydays for us photographers. On 21 June, for instance, nature delighted us with spectacular solstice opportunities throughout the evening. This tore yours truly from his Summer lethargy. Nowadays, I usually spend evenings watching TV, but this time I just could not resist taking out my camera again and clicking away.

As reward I was allowed to witness a rare event. A sunset, or should I say firebrand, that stretched over almost a quarter (90°) of the horizon! As if all of Southern Island was on fire! About two thirds of it are visible in the picture below. You can just about make out the sun sneaking along below the ridge to the left of Sofia Church and the mauve "flames" emanating from it to reach beyond its tower and much farther towards the right.

Hammarby Canal. Solstice Day at 11 pm















Mightyly satisfied with having documented this unique experience, but also tired, I went to bed and fell asleep almost immediately.

Suddenly, an enormous ruckus threw me out of bed. It was as if a rock band with its humongous loudspeakers had lodged itself smack on my balcony. Windows shook, balcony rails vibrated widely with the sound waves and my hair stood on end. Enraged I rushed out into open air, camera in hand, to document this outrage, with picture and sound, for my intended complaint to the police.

What I saw was what looked like an oversized cottage lodged on an immense barge, and filled to the brim with rowdy youth, screaming, dancing and bending like weeds to the sound blasts emanating from the structure's interior. This abomination was parked on the quay smack below my balcony. I was about to fetch buckets of water to throw upon the maddening crowd below, when, suddenly, three youngsters debarked and the Leviathan of a boat cast off again.

Hullaballoo at 00.30 am!

As the cacophonous misfoster was slowly cruising away towards Hammarby Lake, surely awakening all of 20 000 people living in the vicinity, it gradually came to me that its trajectory seemed an apt metaphor for the progress of Sweden's economy. With its rambunctious growth, whipped on by unfettered consumption, fed by uninhibited monetary growth and expansionist fiscal policies, clawing at the limits of capacity, with unemployment virtually extinct (excepting the uneducated and the recent immigrants, which are deliberately being kept out of productive society) it much resembled this construct sailing towards the horizon in blunt negligence of all that is normal and sustainable.

But, as we economists use to say, that which cannot last, WILL NOT LAST! Suddenly I got a vision of the boat smashing straight into a glassen wall, ending its progress, just like an economy that has gotten out of control will be crashing into subsequent depression. But this is easier to show than to explain. So why not click on the picture below, to see my vision enacted on Youtube. But, "Patience!", the bitter end comes first a bit into the video! There you will also discover a melody that for me is the most frightening of them all.

From boom to doom!

























You did not find the song frightening? Then you must be young, so let me tell you that this melody was once sung to conjure up, in vain, some hope during a time of utmost distress and desolation. I tremble when even thinking about the possibility of it coming back to haunt us.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

CLAWING BACK MY YOUTH?

"Quite impossible!", you may say, and I may be forced to agree with you, looking at the two pictures above. Whereas a group of eleven year olds had, once upon a time, been frolicking up this mountain top like sprightly chamois, I barely made it, and only on all fours, lest I lose balance and tumble down into the abyss.

You are witnessing here a re-run of an event from way back in 1955. Pupils of a renowned high-school, the venerable BEA Graz Liebenau, had rounded up their first year of studies with an excursion to Teichalm (Austria). The mountain top they had ascended was Hochlantsch. Their older selves decided this year to have their 55th anniversay-of-graduation meeting at the same place.

Speaking of our Alma Mater, this was no ordinary school, so permit me to tell you its engaging story. It started out as a Cadet School, founded by Emperor Franz Josef in 1854. After the Great War, when a smaller Austria emerged from the Empire's ashes, fumbling for its raison-d'être, the state decided to restart the school as an elite gymnasium and boarding school, especially targeted at gifted pupils from modest backgrounds or from remote regions without access to such education. 
  
BEA Graz Liebenau. Main school (former Cadet School) building.
Photographer: Wolfgang H. Wögerer, Wien

After a short (and sad) interregnum, when the Nazi regime put its own imprint on the institution, the reconstituted Republic of Austria decided to restore the school to its former glory in 1947. It regained its status as elite gymnasium with universal teaching and kept it until the end of the 'seventies, when it was integrated into a reformed system of federal boarding schools.

In its heydays, the BEA's (there were more than one) contacted, each year, the elementary school teachers in Austria, asking them to single out, among their fourth-grade pupils, the most gifted and send them to the Länder capitals (e.g. Graz in Styria) for entrance tests. Out of them, some 90 boys were enlisted for an eight years' elite high-school education in Graz Liebenau. I happened to be one of those admitted to the cohort of 1954. This thanks to Frau Pieber, my first teacher, who had prepared me for the tests with special tutoring, during the afternoons when ordinary pupils could enjoy their free time. 

The education in our school was not only utterly comprehensive, encompassing both humanities and natural sciences – not to speak of art, music and sports – but also utterly demanding. Three classes of thirty students in the beginning were trimmed down to one class of some twenty in the end, and, out of those four students had joined the class years later. There are tight bonds between us, the few – the precious few, who made it; thus we are meeting every five years to celebrate our good fortune of having passed the "needle's eye".

Most of the few – the precious few, who made it!
Photo: Herman Farnleitner

Now on to this year's excursion, celebrating the 55th year of our graduation. As usual, it started with an inspection tour of our old school grounds, where the above picture was taken. Thereafter, we had lunch in our former students' mess, and – you may be surprised – even with two of our teachers present, Professors Jungwirth and Gugerbauer. Like most of our instructors, they had been in their twenties in our school days, due to the state's ambition, no doubt, to deliver us from any bad spirits that may have lingered from the totalitarian regime that had been terminated only a decade earlier. 

After lunch, off we went to Teichalm, following in the footsteps of our younger selves from 1955. There festivities began, with many a pleasant chat over dinner, to relive our eventful days of yore. Amidst the general ruckus, Herman Becke, the most hardy hiker among us, rose and challenged us all to climb the prominent mountain in the area, the Hochlantsch, the following morning. 

Sure enough, a small group of five assembled in front of the hotel at 9 am sharp next morning, eager to make the climb. The track started just behind our hotel, the Teichwirt and was quite pleasant to tread at the outset, inviting us to keep a lively conversation going along the way.

Here I am in lively conversation with school friend Volkmar Lauber
Photographer: Herman Becke

But soon enough, the path lost itself in the forest and changed into a steep incline, reminding us of the fact that we had an altitude gain of some 600 meters ahead of us, along a track that went straight upwards and into the clouds. No more chatting for me, thank you! Step after step, I stumbled upwards, rather stoically, keeping the eyes on the stony ground ahead of me, and this for almost two hours!

A short break for the Hardy Five.
From the left: Volkmar Lauber, Emil Ems, Helmut Kroiss, Hermans Becke
and Herman Farnleitner
Photo: Herman Becke




























At long last, and to my great relief, a marvellous vista opened up, showing the top of an immense glistering limestone cap, as if rising to the occasion of our memorial efforts. If you put your eyes on the cross, in the picture below, and let them slide towards the right from there, you are looking at a rather narrow ridge which we would have to clamber up on our way to the top. The last bit of this access proved embarrassingly difficult for me, since it implied balancing on narrow and slippery lime stone, always with the risk of sliding down into the abyss.

For a moment I considered to give up and back down the way I had come, but the prospect of reuniting underneath the summit cross gave me the necessary impetus to keep going. My friends, who seemed to maintain more vigour and balance in their steps, watched with amusement my manner of  proceeding on all fours.

A narrow ridge to reach the "Top of the world"!
Photographer: Herman Farnleitner

The reward came, when our small team assembled around the cross for a triumphant group portrait, emulating the title picture taken so many years ago!

The Hardy Five on "Top of the world", el. 1720 m
Photo: Herman Becke

From then on, it could only go downhill. However, as foretold by Herman Becke, who had been here many times before, the first part of the descent, down the back of the mountain (to the left of the title cross), would be quite intense. But, in fact, a new path had been forged out of the lime stone and we had no major problems getting us through those stony traps. Furthermore, after a good hour's labouring downhill, a welcoming vista could be discerned, even if still far below our feet. 

This was a well placed – and visited – restaurant, situated halfway down into the valley, just perfect for having a leisurely lunch before returning back to Teichwirt. We were quite exhausted by then and spent a whole two hours there eating, drinking and gossiping.

Like a mirage: the welcoming tavern "Steirischer Jockl"
Photographer: Herman Farnleitner


























Not quite two hours, though! Well before that, Herman Becke, our indefatigable leader, urged us on, or rather down an innumerable number of steep steps hoed out from the sheer limestone cliff below the tavern. This turned out to be the sidetrack to Schüsserlbrunn, one of the holy springs found at many a place in Austria.

It is a peculiarity of the Alpine regions, especially limestone mountains, where springs are rare, that natural wells are being venerated as blessed by Virgin Mary and considered curing all kinds of disease for those taking a sip or two. So it came to be, for this humble crack in the cliff, within which water is appearing drop by drop, that it was adorned with a small cross and chapel, as seen in the picture below. But not only that, a quite substantial church was added, like plastered to the cliff, welcoming pilgrims all through the year, but especially on 15 August, when it is difficult to find even a place to stand for those worshipping Godmother and her holy spring.

Schüsserlbrunn, a humble well, blessed by Virgin Mary
Photographer: Herman Farnleitner

Whilst admiring this simple but venerable crack in the wall, it occured to me that my water bottle needed filling. So I approached the crack with reverence, hoping for sustenance, if not healing for my ailing body. But getting into the hole proved quite impossible for this well fed senior citizen, with a stiff back to boot. Herman Becke to the rescue. He had filled his bottle there many a time before and knew how to spiral himself into the crack. It took some time to get the bottle filled, drop by drop, but eventually I had it back in my hand and could take a healthy gulp.

Herman helping me out with his flexible demeanour
Photographer: Herman Farnleitner



Thus refreshed the hike back to Teichwirt worked like a charm. There was just one bit of experience missing from the schedule. Early on, Herman Becke had promised us the experience of watching a rare animal, the Alpine Ibex. I was astounded to hear it, having thought this long-horned goat to be long extinct in our mountains. 

True enough, the last specimen was shot in the beginning of the 19th century. Not all, really, since the King of Italy, an avid hunter, wanted to keep a herd for his private shooting pleasure, and declared a small area in the Italian Alps, in the Gran Paradiso region, to be his Royal Hunting Preserve. Nowadays it is a national park. From there, the Ibices, or Steinbocks, have been replanted in several Alpine mountains, among them the Hochlantsch. 

Apparently, not having been hunted for almost a century, and much admired by visiting hikers, they are no longer as shy as they used to be and rather fond of us humans. Unfortunately, they had other plans for the day, so we did not get hold of a single bock. But a young lady we met in the tavern, a friend of Herman's, had indeed seen a flock and lent us her picture so that we have something to show for in this blog. 



This about ends this interesting outing of us veterans. But let me just round up the exposé with a little music, to vent the artistic aspect of our schooling. It is a melody that inspired us greatly, when we were young, and got us to start our own small band, in the upper classes. 

The picture below shows our ensemble performing at an outing in eighth grade, just months before graduation. We were then visiting our sister school (there were BEA's for girls too, in those days!) in Altmünster near Gmunden and tried to impress the other sex with our performance. Unfortunately, the music we played is no longer with us, but if you click on the picture, you will hear one of our forebearers, albeit from some thirty years before our time. 

Our teenage school band performing in Gmunden
From the left: Emil Ems, Udo Jonas, Raimund Wurzer and Claus Weyrich
Photographer: Herman Becke