axel, where do you actually live?
in kitzbuehel, tyrol, an ideal place to get spoiled. i’m talking about the contrasts you can find there: on the one hand, there’s great wealth, on the other hand there are people that don’t have to do anything with it. i find it really exciting to play along and live in this spiral. these contrasts made me realize that the civilised world is mainly about unimportant things. of course it’s easy to say that money isn’t important when you’ve got enough of it. of course money makes lots of things in life easier. but it also quickly looses its charms when you’ve achieved and bought certain goals once or twice. that’s when the dimension of money loses its value and ability to satisfy.
are you satisfied with your life?
i often compare life to school holidays: in the beginning, everything is great and marvellous. the holidays seem to be endless. and then, after a certain time, you realize that, whoops, it’s already half time. then you think, no problem, i’ve still got the other half, but do i really want to go on like this? during my almost 40 years of life, all of these questions have come up: is the path i have chosen the right one? is it reasonable and sustainable what i do all day? should i go on like this or change … over the years i’ve come to the conclusion that the only thing you really have – and the only thing of real value – is time!
was it a deliberate decision to spend your life in the mountains and in nature rather than in the city?
my theory is that there are only two or three major decisions in your life, everything else is fate. i came to the mountains because of skiing. i actually hated hiking when i was a kid. for me, hiking was simply too little of a challenge. later, i found my personal way of hiking. at its core, hiking is a marvellous activity when you just walk along quietly and in even steps. i don’t want to have thousands of people around me when i’m in the mountains. during the last years, i became more of a hiker, sometimes with my girlfriend, sometimes with friends. however, i like to be on my own most of the time. it’s as if you were home alone in your room with the house full of people – alone but feeling secure.
do you think the longing for being alone is some kind of refuge?
to a certain extent, being alone is surely an egoistic thing. i can tell you a little story about it: about 15 years ago i hiked through south america all by myself. back then, i had a girlfriend from argentina and wanted to get to know a part of her continent. i flew to venezuela alone and thought that with a bit of english, french and italian i would easily make my way to argentina. far from it! either you speak spanish or you have a problem. the more remote the regions, the more difficulties i had with making myself understood. however, looking back it was still one of the most beautiful trips of my life. it was pure nature: mountains, jungle, difficult terrain, breathtaking landscapes. later i’ve been to south america with other people but it was never quite the same like when i experienced it alone.
what do you think is the main difference between a person living in the mountains and someone who has grown up in the city?
maybe that sounds a bit lame but i think the main difference is the close relationship to nature. i just want to be able to run or walk through the woods; i want to have a meadow in front of my doorstep, not concrete. i simply think it’s a shame if a ten-year-old kid can’t drive in a nail, if teenagers can’t even really run or move. granted, it’s not a must to be a good runner in this world but i simply think it’s sad if people can’t even move or find their way around their environment anymore.
probably it’s all about a fine balance in life? to find harmony between technology and nature and to use both in an intelligent way. after all, we ourselves are part of nature and can find many answers there …
i’ve got my own theory on this topic, or it’s rather part of my character to try everything first before deciding if it’s good for me or not. maybe that justifies my chaos. many things just happen without big decisions – maybe that’s the whole truth. but i can say one thing: i clearly don’t want to waste my time, i’d rather ride my bike, go climbing, swimming, spend time with my girlfriend, read books … i don’t find time for everything but still i prefer this active lifestyle to any other one.
sounds like a perfect way of living …
... to me it is! i’ve got another story for you: last year we were on a bicycle training camp in majorca near the legendary “el arenal” with its “ballermann”. once in my life, i just wanted to see one of those infamous bars. one evening we went to visit one of them and on the table next to us there was a group of 40 to 50-year-old women all wearing the same yellow t-shirt saying “hooray, once a year life makes sense. el arenal, 2006.” and i thought: this can’t possibly be true? if that’s supposed to be the highlight of your year i don’t event want to see the rest of your lives! i mean, these people also watch tv, they see all these beautiful cities, marvellous mountains and landscapes and then this bar, whose name i have already forgotten, is the highlight of their year?
you seem to have found the right way of living for yourself. do you often draw a balance, look back on your life or to the future?
there are only few people, including myself, who do something for mankind, something sustainable. when i look back and reflect on what’s happened during my 39 years of life, i can say that there were lots of things that were important for my life: my trip through south america, my most beautiful skiing and mountain trips … many people surely don’t give a damn about what i do. on the other hand, there are probably many that envy me. usually, the activities i mentioned are something you can only do on the weekends. during the week i sit in my (architect’s) office for 8 to 10 hours a day just like everybody else, filling small rectangular boxes on my computer and clicking away.
architecture and mountaineering, actually quite a beautiful combination, isn’t it?
pure coincidence. although both are about a basic sense of beauty. however, in nature an old, gnarly tree is also considered as truly beautiful. i can’t even say why … actually an old tree doesn’t live up to our concept of beauty at all. in fact, it rather stands for the failure of architecture. it shows us that beauty and function cannot be defined clearly. especially with architecture, most things are reduced to mere taste. however, i think that quality comes before taste.
assessing dangerous situations, finding better paths, making the right decisions – do you think it is possible to learn from nature?
i’m not sure i would always want my experiences in nature to influence my work. but i can surely say that i like it that way. i just couldn’t live in the city. flat landscapes make me nervous and i simply need a frame of landscape around me. i couldn’t even live in a flat landscape. it already makes me feel better if there are a couple of hills, a forest and some trees around.
are you more of a skier and free-rider or rather a mountaineer, climber and hiker?
initially, skiing was most important to me. but at some point the ski lifts and helicopters weren’t enough for me anymore. where the journey ends for the mountaineer – that is on the summit – it really only starts for the skier. so this combination of mountaineering and skiing came as a logical step to me. so to speak, it’s a double experience of getting up and making it down again. however, skiing will always be my number one, climbing comes second.
was it important for you to always go further and higher?
the mountains i climbed simply became higher and more difficult over the years. the feeling i get when climbing – no matter if it’s rock or ice – is unbelievably beautiful. most of the time, i’m all alone. for me, climbing steep ice walls is heaven on earth. it’s just so satisfying when you’re perched atop an exposed spot, an abyss of hundreds of meters right below you. in fact, it’s a very meditative way of moving – click, click, hand, hand, foot, foot – often for hours, always in the same monotonous order.
is climbing rather about finding your inner rhythm or about the kick of getting up there quickly?
i’m rather the type who wants to get up there fast. you could also say that something that doesn’t challenge me isn’t attractive to me. and the feeling of being completely empty and exhausted at the end of the day is very rewarding, too. the certainty of having achieved something is simply wonderful. it’s not about world-class records but about giving your best on that very day. i only know that i enjoy it and that it makes me happy. there’s something happening in my body ...
did you get the feeling that man is really small and insignificant compared to nature on your trips through the impressive mountain worlds of new zealand or the himalayas?
you could be philosophic and say that nature is more powerful than man. of course it’s more powerful, much more powerful. i mean, nature doesn’t care about man at all; it will always adjust to any conditions. rocks or stones don’t care if i step on them or drive a hole into them. basically, nature doesn’t need us at all. there are simply many things you can’t explain and many mysteries will remain unsolved for the next 1.000 years. but i can live with that.
who comes up with the ideas for your trips, for example to alaska or mount cook in new zealand? is it about constantly increasing the danger of the routes?
some of the trips are my own ideas, sometimes they’re a product of coincidence. concerning danger i can only say that yes, these trips do have the potential to kill. you need to be extremely concentrated and watch your every step. we simply don’t have the time to wait 10 days for better weather. for us it’s always like this: today the weather’s not good, tomorrow it won’t be better – so we’ll risk the ascent – “let’s risk it”, that says it all. that takes me one level up from the actual plan.
i always say: that’s where the experience of the older mountaineers takes them one step ahead of the younger ones: it’s this mixture of knowing how to interpret the mountain and the weather and to keep a cool head in dangerous situations instead of completely losing it. every tour that goes on for a couple of days and leads you far away from civilization bears the possibility of dangerous situations. one wrong decision can be deadly. but i don’t really think of that because i don’t want to get myself killed.
are there certain guidelines you should live by in the mountains?
don’t shout. a mountaineer is never loud in the mountains. in the mountains, i have the feeling i’m not allowed to speak up. it’s like in church where you’re quiet too although there’s no explicit rule telling you to. you should act unobtrusively when you’re in the mountains, because you’re really just a tiny part of nature. to nature and in the mountains, man really isn’t of much importance.
what do you learn from your trips to foreign countries?
for instance, we europeans could learn a lot from the people in nepal. and they don’t even know how balanced their lifestyle is and how many people go to see them because of that! i only think it’s sad when a mountain farmer from nepal suddenly thinks that he needs a tv or dreams of a porsche although they don’t even really have roads there. it’s the most beautiful playground in the world, there’s really not much else you need there.
how do you manage your time to fit in all your activities?
i tend to take on too much and sometimes it makes me wonder why i’m doing this to myself. from time to time, i also want to get bored. it’s the same with the mountains that just stand there. it’s about just staying where you are when you should actually already be at your next appointment ...