On Friday night, 22 July 2022, a devastating storm in the Tyrolean Stubaital caused a mudslide not far from the Franz Senn Hut. The road to the Oberbergtal was no longer usable, the extremely popular via ferrata in the Höllenrachen was destroyed, bridges in the touring area were torn away, and the hut's own power station was silted up. We spoke on site with Thomas Fankhauser, long-time host of the Franz Senn Hut about the events and about the hut operation.
HMA e.V.: The storm here in Neustift brings back memories of the flood disaster in July 2021 in the Ahr valley. The infrastructure of the hut was hit hard. Why didn't you close the mountain hut?
Fankhauser: We have been able to establish a reasonably stable situation. But the situation is still vulnerable. Closing the hut was not really an option. Too many hikers and mountaineers rely on finding shelter and protection in the hut in case of emergency.
HMA e.V.: As quickly as the paths and technology were set up, the operation in the hut is as fast, consistent and well-paced. How important is teamwork in this?
Fankhauser: Teamwork is the be-all and end-all on a hut. You live together in quite a small space for several weeks. Somehow comparable to working on a ship.
HMA e.V.: What experiences do your Nepalese staff report on in their home country?
Fankhauser: They experience and learn a lot and try to implement this at home somehow. But they have modest means - even though a "seasonal wage" is a small fortune in Nepal.
HMA e.V.: With almost 55,000 square kilometres, Austria has the largest share of the Alps. Room enough for fantastic, wondrous and creepy sagas and legends. In Tyrol, the "Nörgelen" are said to frighten the Wander. If one is to believe tradition, these pot-bellied, bearded little men are always coming up with new teasing stories. Which story of the soon to be 140-year-old Franz Senn hut have you already thought up?
Fankhauser: Tyrol is a very mountainous country and mystical figures and legends have developed in every gorge. The Franz Senn Hut is an alpine base and we are expected to give objective and factual information. It's about the success or failure of alpine ventures. But it is especially about the safety of our guests. There is not much room for banter and made-up stories. Even if it is sometimes tempting.
HMA e.V.: What is the importance of mountain hiking for you?
Fankhauser: For us at the Franz Senn Hut, mountain hikers are part of our guest spectrum and of course correspondingly important. But we also accommodate alpine tourers, training courses, climbers and, in winter, ski tourers. Of course, we also enjoy the aforementioned forms of mountaineering - time permitting.
HMA e.V.: If the Franz Senn Hut could talk, it would certainly have a lot to tell. Which was the funniest story for you, which the saddest?
Fankhauser: Yes, there are many bizarre stories. But every one of them has a serious (or seriously meant) background or intention. Even if it is funny, in the end someone was just ignorant, naïve or thoughtless. If you had written it all down, the result would have been a funny book. We didn't. Sad stories are what they are: sad and tragic. We don't tell such things to others.
HMA e.V.: In Cologne, the first event is already part of the Rhenish tradition that is firmly anchored in the Cologne constitution. For example, the "Klüngel: People know each other, people help each other". or "Kölsch is the only language you can drink", it says. The Hofer and Fankhauser families have been providing the best hut host tradition for generations. What parallels do you see with the Rhineland?
Fankhauser: I'll have to pass. I don't know the Rhineland well enough for that. Of course, Rhinelanders are welcome guests here.
HMA e.V.: The Franz Senn Hut is located in the so-called "quiet area Stubai Alps". But it only gets really quiet after 10 p.m., when hut silence is ordered. Does every guest abide by this or have there ever been hut bans?
Fankhauser: As I said, the Franz Senn Hut is an alpine base. Most of the guests want to be fit and active the next day. We hardly have any problems keeping the hut quiet. Before anyone can become abusive, we already close the bar.
HMA e.V.: Nepalhilfe Tirol is closely associated with the name of Wolfgang Nairz, which unfortunately failed due to lack of funding. Where does the aid programme stand today?
Fankhauser: Nepalhilfe Tirol is an active association that depends on donations. At the moment, there are 5 current projects on the website. Everyone is invited to help. We know Wolfgang Nairz very well. He is enormously committed to the needs of the Nepalese mountain population.
HMA e.V.: Why is the Franz Senn Hut also called the "old lady"?
Fankhauser: The current hut warden of the Franz Senn Hut has called it an old lady in his book. All Alpine Club huts are many decades or over 100 years old and have developed their own character over the years. Hence perhaps.
HMA e.V.: The Franz Senn Hut looks back on 124 years of construction history. Apart from the topics of "energy efficiency" and "logistics", what building history can you tell our editorial team?
Fankhauser: In the last two years we have renovated the old and narrow mattress dormitories in the attic. In general, the trend at the huts is also towards a little more comfort.
HMA e.V.: Where do you see yourself and your family in the next 10 years?
Fankhauser: Times are very dynamic at the moment. No one knows what will happen in autumn - let alone next year. I hope there will be no major upheavals and that we all stay healthy. That's enough for me at the moment.
HMA e.V.: No, we don't ask about Corona at the end. That's why we would like to end this interview with a dialogue from the book adaptation. Timm Thaler (1979) end.
Timm Thaler (played by Thomas Ohrner), who famously sold his remarkably cheerful laugh to the Baron de Lefouet, richest and most powerful man in the world (played by Horst Frank), is instructed by the Baron for a business occasion:
Baron: I want to introduce you to some important people in your empire (...) There are three questions you need to know and three answers. The questions: Are you well? Are you in good health? How is the business? Now the answers: Impeccable. It could be better. Thank you. Simply thank you! You can interchange these phrases all you like and you achieve what you want to achieve. Nothing!
HMA e.V.: Mr Fankhauser, are you all right?
Fankhauser: Thank you.