Tales From My Hometown — Chapter 1
Personalities that Frequented Hinterstoder in the Past and Present
Hinterstoder became a tourist magnet starting in the late 1800’s, despite the obstacles in getting to the remote Alpine wonderland. The small unpaved dusty roads and the difficulty traveling by horse power made it a chore to come to Hinterstoder. One of the early, undeterred visitors was the renown Austrian composer, Anton Bruckner. As an accomplished organist, he often used the organ in the Hinterstoder church, which dates back to the mid 1700’s.
Anton shares his birthplace, Linz, with me, just 119 years earlier. One of the famous conductors that played his music described him as “half genius and half simpleton”. His music was complex, polyphonic, ahead of its time with dissonances, unanticipated modulation and wandering harmony. Yet in his personal life he was unsophisticated and simple. He was in the strange habit of tipping world famous conductors who made their way to Linz, if he liked their interpretation of his works with a few coins. He was even invited to dine with the Kaiser, Franz Joseph, at his summer palace in Bad Ischl. There the Kaiser, who was an enthusiastic prankster, played a little joke on him. He knew that Bruckner was fond of eating. At one of the sumptuous parties where Bruckner stuffed himself with all the goodies that normally were not available to him and pronounced to everyone present that he could not swallow one more bite. On cue from the emperor, Bruckner’s favorite meal was placed before the composer, stuffed roast goose. Bruckner managed to polish it off leaving only the bones. The Kaiser reminded Bruckner of his just recent mention of being full. Bruckner responded that it was like the Stephan’s Dome (the largest and most ornate church in Austria’s Capital, Vienna). The Emperor quipped, “How is that?” Bruckner answered, “If the Stephansdom were completely full on any given Sunday and His Majesty showed up for services, room would be made!” Franz Joseph even awarded him the coveted Order of Franz Joseph akin to being knighted, although I suspect it was for his musical achievements and not his gluttony.
Bruckner also had a sense of sarcastic humor. One critic wrote a rather nasty review of a recent composition. Bruckner in a letter to the editor of the paper thanked the critic for his remarks and gave him a bit of return criticism. “I am sitting in a little room, reading your remarks about my music. The article is before me, thankfully soon it will be behind me!”
Other authors who contributed to the world literature found their way to Hinterstoder among them Oswald Spengler (German philosopher and author 1880 -1936). His Opus Magnus, Decline of the West, was written in the Stegbaurn-Gut now known as the Johannishof. My favorite quote from him is: “This is our purpose: to make as meaningful as possible this life that has been bestowed upon us; to live in such a way that we may be proud of ourselves; to act in such a way that some part of us lives on”.
Another visitor to Hinterstoder was Huston Stewart Chamberlain (1855 -1927), an English born philosopher, who also gained inspiration from the same living quarters at the Johannishof with his book, The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century. This book led to his personal friendship with Kaiser Wilhelm II, earned him Wilhelm’s gratitude and praise, and undoubtedly influenced the history of the First and Second World Wars. Chamberlain was also a naturalist and contributed to scientific literature. Studies on Rising Sap explains the mystery of how sap is transported in plants as high as 100 feet by means of transpirational pull and root pressure. Being married to Eva, the daughter of the imposing German composer, Richard Wagner, also made him a Wagner admirer and authority. He founded the Wagner Society in Paris and had a great deal to do with popularizing the ultra-German’s music in France.
Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the book, Tales of a Country Surgeon, parts of which were written at the Dietlgut by none other than yours truly (1943-…).
Dietelgut then and now
Not only authors and musicians beat a path to this idyllic village, famous artists were well known amongst the people of Hinterstoder. Edward Theodor Compton (1849-1921) wandered the hills and valleys sketching the majesty of the granite peaks of Hinterstoder. He was born in London and educated at the Royal Academy of Art. He became inspired by the Alpine landscape, not only rendering them in his watercolors and oil masterworks, but also by climbing them. He made 300 major ascents including no fewer than 27 first ascents on particularly challenging cliffs. He is considered the foremost impressionist painter of mountains of his era, and his works are displayed in the most prestigious museums and galleries in Europe. Here is his depiction of an oft represented Alpine Massif, the Spitzmauer, one of the signature landmarks of Hinterstoder.
Albert Messany was an author, an opera singer (specifically an interpreter of Schubert Lieder- songs), a world traveler, an explorer, the founder of the Hubertus Orden, a photographic artist, and a citizen of Hinterstoder. If he had not acted in a very heroic manner in 1945 at the end of World War II, Hinterstoder might have become a pile of rubble caught between the jaws of two opposing armies, the remnants of the Wehrmacht and the 15th US Army led by General Mark Clark. There was an edict that came from the Führer himself that the army was to disperse in the mountains to offer the invading Allies a last final stand, a redoubt, to the death. Hinterstoder was one of those last stand locations. They brought in heavy artillery, all manner of military vehicles and even air power. Clark came up through Italy after a spectacular victory, including a dramatic march on Rome and controversial bombardment of Monte Casino, a well-fortified German stronghold. The two armies faced each other with Hinterstoder in the middle. It was Albert with a white sheet tied to a hazelnut stick, to serve as a sign of truce, who walked out between the opposing armies and brokered a surrender of the German army and avoided the destruction of Hinterstoder. Albert was also a good friend of my father. He lived in the back of the valley in a small but very picturesque hunting villa.
Road to Albert’s House (painted by another notable Hinerstoder citizen… Vladimir Iwasiuk)
Albert was the consummate Renaissance man! He even wrote poetry. The two foregoing poems were dedicated to my father, who was the town doctor throughout the Second World War. I wish I could do the works justice by translating them into English. You will just have to learn German to appreciate the subtle humor of these two poems.
He collaborated with Agfa, a once major film and graphics manufacturer, and was one of the first to experiment with color photography in the 1940’s and 1950’s, for which he garnished several international awards.
Here he is in his hunter, explorer mode, and below is his hunting lodge in Hinterstoder. He would travel to the United States, hunt with the Indians, then go back to Europe and write books about his experiences. The European’s of the 1930’s just loved his tales and could not get enough of them! After the war, he was in the vanguard of bringing tourism to Austria, specifically Salzburg. It was his idea to organize cultural and musical performances that eventually evolved into the “Salzburger Festspiele” (the Salzburg Festivals). He was also a frequent hunting companion to and translator for General Mark Clark who made Hinterstoder his headquarters as High Commissioner of Austria after the defeat of the German Wehrmacht.
In 1966 Albert restored an ancient organization dating back to 1695, The Order of St.-Hubertus whose purpose was then and is now to promote the humane sportsmanlike approach to hunting and fishing in an environmentally sound manner.