The story so far… My friend, Alan, and I are staying down in Pfronten on the Bavarian/Austrian border and hope to spend our Sunday skiing in the morning and paragliding in the afternoon.
I woke up glowing with enthusiasm and the kind of energy that a mountain view and clear blue sky give you. Alan was just glowing. Alan is a very blond chap with very “British” skin and really should always use sunscreen. But we were so excited yesterday about getting out on the snow that we both forgot. When we checked into our “Pension” (B & B) the guy on reception just pointed at Alan’s face and said “Sonnencreme”. Things had settled down slightly overnight but not much. My face was just hot – not quite burned but close. We really have no excuse as between us we must have about 70 years of skiing and mountain experience.
There are lots of little ski villages dotted along Germany’s southern border. Up until international travel became cheaper and more common in the 70s and 8os these places did really well. But now that there is less snow and the high, snow-safe, resorts in Austria have become so dominant, these old ski-hill towns are not so busy. That’s fine by us and means you can still book a place over the weekend even in season. We paid about thirty-five pounds each for a clean, warm B&B with a great ensuite bathroom, it’s own sauna and gym and even a self-service bar for those that wanted it. As usual, everything was spotlessy clean and fresh.
I lived in this area for my first 8 years in Germany and am always drawn back there. The older I become, the more I appreciate the slightly faded atmosphere of the place. There are only three ski-lifts on the mountain, the Breitenberg, and after half an hour you’ve covered all the pistes but still the views are wonderful and it has a unique charm. My affection for the place is partially nostalgic. I can remember skiing once in a snowstorm that was so awful that my brother and I were the only ones out. A friendly lift-operator liked the fact that we were braving the elements and would appear from his little hut and give us drop of schnapps every now and then.
Not all of the lift operators were that friendly. Most of them were farmers who needed some work in winter. The local farming is a tough way to make a living and the farmers were not selected for their customer-service skills. Until about ten years ago the only chair-lift on the mountain was a strange construction. It required the lift operator to give the customers special advice when getting off the aforementioned lift. I had never seen a chair-lift like it before or since. It was a two-seater but with a small gap between the seats. The seats were hinged at the top so that they would swing outwards, apart from each other, when you reached the top. If you were on the lift, you had to stand up and keep still so that the seats would swing out on each side and pass you. Standing up and keeping still at the top is exactly the opposite to what you do on every other chair-lift in the world. So most first-timers would try to move off to the left and right of the chair and end up getting bashed by it as the seats swung outwards. Rather than having a sign on the safety bar of the lift which you could read in the 15 minutes you were on the lift (it was really slow) the operators chose to keep you guessing. Confusion at the top was inevitable and the chosen course of action was for the farmer/lift-operator to shout, very loudly, “standa bleiba!” at each pair of guests that came up and didn’t know the drill. “Standa bleiba” is local dialect for “stehen bleiben” – keep still.
They’ve replaced that old lift with a much faster 4-seater which is more comfortable, efficient, cleaner and no doubt cheaper to run but I miss the grumpy call of “standa bleiba” ringing out across the Breitenberg.
I had intended to write about our weekend, I’ll do that later in the week.
P.S. I heard that the old chair lift was not thrown away but sold to a place in Romania. So if you find yourself on it one day you know what to do… standa bleiba!