IMST - It's seven o’clock in the morning, and what’s left of the night’s thunder clouds sit perched wispy white above the rocks. Despite the cool temperature, Andreas Riml sits wearing a T-shirt on the terrace of his hut, drinking coffee and looking out over the breadth of the alpine valley that opens out toward Imst in the Austrian state of Tyrol.
Riml may have been managing this mountain hut called the Muttekopfhütte for 14 years, but he wouldn’t miss his morning coffee-mountain panorama ritual for anything. He still insists on making breakfast for guests himself. Doing so, he says, is a daily reminder that he's "one of the luckiest people on earth."
The hut profile being what it is, one might imagine its manager would be a dynamic artist, or at least a mountain climber. But before coming here Riml was a self-employed carpenter who realized one day when he was about 40 that he’d been happiest in life when he’d been hired to work on projects in the mountains.
When he saw the hut manager job advertised, he applied — along with 15 others — "and I got lucky." But even luckier was the Imst-Oberland section of the Austrian Alpine Association that hired him. They chose a carpenter who grew up on a mountain farm and guest facility run by his parents. What they got was a strategist.
Before Riml’s tenure, the prevailing attitude was that the hut was what it was, and guests would accept it that way. There’s no question that the Muttekopfhütte location is fantastic — along the E5 path (an EU long-distance mountain hiking trail) in the Lechtal Alps, also a mountain climber’s paradise — so for that reason alone climbers and hikers end up here, particularly during the high season and on weekends.
But Riml didn’t want guests to just "end up here," and decided to make the hut an attractive destination in its own right. He had at least one advantage in that it’s only a half-hour walking distance from a lift. But he was limited by the fact that there was no way to build on to the existing hut to increase the number of rooms and beds. And a dramatic hike in prices was also out of the question because of the owner association’s statutes.
His only remaining option was to dramatically alter occupancy — in other words, filling the hut outside of holidays and weekends when it was booked up anyway. He focused on off-season week days and developed a program that included not only climbing but also yoga, yodeling, ceramics, even "interactive family hikes." He started plugging the venue as a great place to get married. His fifth annual Nepal Festival is happening this year.
Good food is a permanent draw at Muttekopfhütte, where Riml employs two professional cooks and offers Austrian Alpine Association members a dorm-plus-dinner rate of 33 euros per adult per night. A mattress in a shared room costs members 8 euros a night, and a room costs 11 euros (non-members pay double).
Riml has positioned the hut as a venue with something for everyone. He says he relies less on market research for his ideas and decisions than common sense. "If you like something, there’s a good chance others will too."
He discovered that one of the things people liked best about taking courses at the hut was getting to know the others outside of course sessions — "up here, people can't just run off somewhere else." At the same time, he’s aware that fostering an "island" situation at the hut is no way forward, and so he's joined forces with lift and train operators, tourism authorities and tour operators to give hut guests maximum options to discover the area and its activities.
At dinner at the hut, where guests include a seasoned mountain guide, area farmers and botany enthusiasts, a young Nepalese serves. Over a bottle of Neusiedler See red wine, Riml quietly relishes the fact that he has succeeded in expanding without creating the impression that he’s spreading himself or the hut’s vocation too thin. He’s also celebrating the opening of a new terrace built for yoga practitioners.
Sometimes he says he does wonder about what he’s unleashed — "guests who come here without a clue as to what a mountain hut is, dressed to the nines, who think they can wheel their suitcase over from the lift station and are amazed to find themselves sharing rooms with others." But he's not judging, just summing up and analyzing.
His plans now include trial testing opening the hut for a few days during the winter (it usually closes mid-October), introducing courses about avalanches, and opening a sauna for his guests.
A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.
BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.
Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.
The incident at the cemetery
They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."
There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.
It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.
The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.
The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender
Crimes against Jews are rising
Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.
Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.
Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.
And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?
Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously
This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.
Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.
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