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die Eroberung der alpen

Contemporary History - The Conquest of the Alps

Director: Stefan Sternad , camera: Stefan Sternad


Production: ORFIII & ipFILM


Documentary: 43 min./2022

Stefan Sternad's documentary is a cinematic journey through the ups and downs of Austria's alpine history. Miguel Herz Kestranek, together with well-known mountain legends such as Sepp Forcher and Reinhold Messner, guides you through the golden hours of glory and the darkest chapters of the conquest of our Alps.

The local Alpine landscape has always been an impressive part of our living space. Although the huge rock ranges have shaped our landscape for many millennia, the Austrian Alpine history is comparatively young. To this day it is not entirely clear when the conquest of the Alps actually began. The first documentary evidence is provided by the poet and romantic Francesco Petrarca, who in 1336 climbed Mont Ventoux, a 1,909 meter high peak on the edge of the French Alps, for the first time out of “an impetuous desire to get to know the famous height”.

Until the 19th century, the population avoided the Alpine peaks, which were shrouded in legends and myths, and even when the first mountaineers tried their hand at the unknown heights, this initially remained a privilege for a few. Even with the founding of the Austrian Alpine Association in 1862, things remained that way for the time being because the tourism potential of the Alps remained unrecognized. Only with the development of the railway network could wealthier city dwellers be attracted to the Alps as day tourists.

The film is about one of the pioneers in Austrian mountaineering. The German-born Hermann von Barth declared the Tyrolean Karwendel Mountains to be his adventure playground in 1870, but it was only the daring free climbing campaigns and achievements of the Zsigmondy brothers, as well as Karl Gsaller and Ludwig Purtscheller that ensured that alpinism gained more attention.

This attention did not ignore the monarchy and politics. The first military mountain force was unofficially formed in 1907, which proved to be a successful investment later in the war, as the mountain front was the only truly successful one. When the NSDAP was banned in Austria, the Alps were used to smuggle illegal weapons and Nazi propaganda across state borders, and after the annexation of Austria, the successes of mountaineers loyal to the regime were often exploited for Nazi propaganda.

When, on July 24, 1938, two rope teams successfully completed the ascent of the last and heaviest unclimbed face in the Alps, the Eiger North Face, it was no different. After multiple failures and deaths in promotions abroad, the success of the two Germans, Anderl Heckmair and Ludwig Vörk, as well as the two Austrians, Heinrich Harrer and Fritz Kasparek, came as a perfect fit for the German propaganda machine. The two groups, which started as individual teams of two and only by chance united into a team of four, were exploited for propaganda purposes as a symbol of the success of German-Austrian unification.

Press Photos

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