Living atop the Zugspitze – the highest mountain of Germany – at the luxury hotel Schneefernerhaus (1980-81) would have been an experience even without the avalanche duties or harmonica-playing days. My room, set behind the cable car station, has a view of five countries. I would stop by the employee lounge to warm up a beer before skiing out the door on my way to work. By “work” I mostly mean playing blues harmonica on a ski lift tower while watching the ski lifts in operation.
Schneefernerhaus was voted one of the top 20 “Loneliest Outposts At the End of the World” by Gizmodo, right up there with Siberian science stations, “Ice Cube Laboratory” at the South Pole and the Mir Space Station.
Traversing a series of secret tunnels running through the mountain takes us to dynamite caverns and inaccessible cabins where we set 5 a.m. charges to control avalanches. The eerie feeling while walking through the closed-down west wing left me thinking of the 90 people who were swept off the side of this hotel by an avalanche in 1965.
Time has forgotten these rooms for the last fifteen years since an avalanche swept part of the hotel – and 90 guests – off the face of this 45° cliff, into the glacier below. The dim light of pre-sunrise through snow-frosted glass shards scarcely illuminates broken tables and chairs from the 1930’s, haphazardly stacked and perfectly preserved in this once lavish dining room – now a walk-in freezer. This is where old equipment was left to die. Catastrophic disaster equipment stored for situations like recovering a runaway train or severed gondola cables a reminder of how fragile life in this climate can be. Two wooden caskets, dusted with blowing snow and frost, lean against the dark, frozen rock wall away from the crushed roof and rusting observation deck. If the temperature was not chilling enough, the creepy aura in this room sent a chill up my spine that could freeze a bonfire’s flames. Cold, still death filled the room, and I knew the very last people to sit here dining in luxury on May 15, 1965, died badly.