American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Berchtesgadener Alpen

  • Book Reviews
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  • Publication Year: 1953

Berchtesgadener Alpen, a collection of articles, issued by the German Alpenverein. 232 pages, with 100 illustrations, and a sketch map. Munich: Bruckmann, 1950.

Certainly very few mountains in the world have been so intensively climbed over as the Berchtesgaden Alps described in this book. There are several reasons for this: the large population center of Munich is not far away, and there are many week-end climbers; financial restrictions and other hardships of the Hitler regime, World War II, and the ensuing Allied occupation, have forced German climbers to stick close to home for a good many years past; finally, the German love of orderly and accurate research is reflected even in their approach to mountain climbing.

“Berchtesgadener Alpen” is a combination history and guide book issued by the German Alpine Club to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Berchtesgaden Section.

The first 58 pages consist of a year-by-year history of the section’s activities. Next follows the history of climbing in the area, starting in the last years of the 18th century, when a young priest from nearby Salzburg completed the first ascent of the 8905-foot Watzmann, the highest summit in the district. A surprising number of famous alpinists— f.i., Hermann von Barth and Ludwig Purtscheller—devoted many of their best efforts to the Alps of Berchtesgaden. An era ended in 1881 when the guide Kederbacher found a route up the mighty 7000-foot East Face of the Watzmann.

The climbing history is brought up to date by a chapter on new routes, variations, and winter ascents of recent years, many of which reflect the great skill and reckless philosophy which are trademarks of modern German climbing. How crowded Europe is, and how intensively developed, even in the field of climbing! No face without a dozen routes through it, no slab or gendarme unnamed, no route without its variations. This whole book covers an area about the size of a Rhode Island county; it speaks of “eight separate groups of mountains” and contains photos of no less than 23 club huts in this territory.

The German genius for orderly record-keeping and research is demonstrated by the statistical section of the book. There are 47 pages of statistics on every conceivable “first,” peak by peak, ridge by ridge, face by face, party by party, summer and winter. This impressive array of information is dwarfed, however, by the bibliographical index, which lists 381 separate items on the Alps of Berchtesgaden.

Chapters on skiing and motoring (Bavarians are justly proud of their beautiful scenic Alpine highways) complete the picture.

All in all, this little volume is an impressive piece of work. Although probably too detailed and specialized to interest the average climber as mountain literature, it contains nevertheless much of considerable general interest, for it presents to the mountaineer a ‘total’ picture of a beautiful and fascinating corner of the Alps. The Berchtesgaden valley is a scenic and romantic place, which has frequently been in the center of history from the time when Charlemagne owned a village there to the time when Hitler built his “Eagle’s Nest” high above the town. It deserves to be better known by American mountain climbers.

Richard N. Meyer

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