Heading out of Munich Friday morning on highways matching Long Island’s for congestion, the weather turned nasty and stayed that way for two days, making what should have been a glorious trip through the Alps quite a tiring go behind the wheel. And this was a stretch where I’d planned on vigorous hiking to hone in on a critical place related to my story.
Bypassing some of the most picturesque places in southern Germany (the castle Neuschwanstein, Oberammergau, the Chiemsee, even Hitler’s hideaway in Berchtesgaden), I headed south for the Austrian border city of Kufstein, in the mountainous vicinity of which my protagonist met a mysterious and violent death in a snowstorm in 1939. Again I’d done advance research, including lots of zooming in and out on web maps. Still, it took an hour of attempts before I found a sign for the Kaisertal, a route I’d identified close to Totenkirchl, the mountain on which my man died.
The Kaisertal, it turned out, was an almost vertical trail, actually stairs in places, rather than an auto road. I did chug up it, despite the rain, far enough to get my heart beating wildly. I stopped to rest at one point and pulled out a key account of the man’s death and reviewed it, only to find I was way off in taking the Kaisertal. I would get closer by way of Soll several miles away. I changed course, and on a wall map in the Soll town square I pinpointed my target address further up in the mountains. But, exhausted and soaked through, I convinced myself that the photos and video of the general area would serve my purpose and vetoed a second rigorous hike; after all, I’d come to locate where my man died, not reenact the event.
After a rainy night in a delightfully Austrian bed-and-breakfast above the sprawling ski town of Innsbruck, my plan had the next stop in the famed Lake Constance area, also referenced in my novel. Saturday morning I headed west and obviously upward, although I could see little through the still driving rain, which turned to snow at the highest point. Uncharacteristically, I let the weather talk me out of the slight detour required to pass through the mini-nation of Lichtenstein, thus losing the opportunity to add another country to my resume. Truth be told, I’m not sure how much more I’d have seen in good weather from the Austrian autobahns; they run more underground than on open road. For length and engineering prowess many of their tunnels make the famed Eisenhower through Loveland Pass in Colorado seem quite short and simple.
A bit miffed but willing to pay the weather its due, I satisfied myself with a few photos of the famed Bodensee, of which Lake Constance is a part, and pushed into and through Switzerland, my destination now the small town of Dornach, near Basel, in the northwest corner of that tiny country.