In some mountain huts in Austria and Germany you can finally spend the night again. But the requirements confuse hosts and guests.
So it can be in the mountains of the Bavarian-Tyrolean border area; it had hardly been thought possible. At the Köglboden car park in Tyrol, not far from Lake Achensee, there are just two cars, both with Austrian registration plates. On the forest path up to the Gufferthütte, the holiday trippers can be counted on one hand, the bike stand in front of the hut is only a quarter full. The Gufferthütte is only 200 meters away from the German-Austrian border, and the way up here is considered a perfect spring tour, especially among Upper Bavarian mountain pedalists. It is morning, half past ten, the sky is bright blue; the mountains have never been more beautiful.
Anita Hartmann, who has been the owner of the Gufferthütte this season, is sitting at a table on the hut terrace. In the background an employee with a plastic visor scurries to one of the two tables with a total of three guests. The Pentecost business was “very manageable”, says Hartmann. And when she looks into the account, the trained bookseller, who ended up in Tyrol, via stations in Berlin, Würzburg and Munich, “it is of course very depressing”.
She signed the lease in October, in the old normality, as the pre-corona era is so often called today, as social distancing was only for notorious mountain grippers. At the beginning of the year, the 57 beds were fully booked on several weekends, for example in July, but also around Pentecost; it looked like a promising start to her life as a hut manager. Hartmann had thought about how she wanted to run the hut, small menu, regional suppliers, coaching seminars, this direction. Then Corona came, and with the pandemic, the cancellations came. From the full occupancy of the Pentecost weekend, there were between ten and 15 guests per night.
In Austria and Germany, it was the first weekend ever to sleep in the mountain huts after the big shutdown – provided that they had already started the season. And if you ask the hosts a little about how they rate this reopening, you will find that, in addition to Kaiserschmarrn and Hauswurst, you are more than ever ready to experiment, be patient and enjoy communicating with guests. In addition, in Corona times apparently those huts that are more reminiscent of a hotel and have small rooms, not large camps, are doing relatively well. Each hut has to deal with its own problem.
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At least until a few days ago, the problems also had to do with the situation at the borders. Hut owners in Austria, for example, suffered greatly from the absence of Germans who were keen on hiking and now hope that the situation will improve with the full opening of the border, which took place on June 4. Robert Fankhauser, host of the Solsteinhaus in western Karwendel, estimates, for example, that around 80 to 85 percent of overnight guests came from Germany in the pre-Corona era. The declines are now correspondingly high. For June he expects 200 instead of the usual 700 to 800 overnight stays. However, due to the corona requirements, he could only offer around 65 to 70 beds in the hut, which usually accommodates 95 overnight guests. According to Fankhauser, more would not make sense alone because the tables in the guest rooms cannot be fully occupied. “We don’t want people to have to eat in shifts,” says Fankhauser. At least from the day-to-day business, due to the good weather, he is “positively surprised” like many other hosts.
In Germany, the huts are hardly dependent on open borders and guests from neighboring countries, but the requirements are stricter. In addition to the obligation to wear a mask, there are also marked walking paths beyond the dining tables; the minimum distance is one and a half meters. Regina Hang from the Blaueishütte in Berchtesgadener Land saw at Pentecost a “rush like in very strong days in autumn”. She also observed a certain herd instinct among some of the guests. “When the crowd pushes in, some people no longer abide by the rules.” However, it will only be really exciting next weekend when the Blaueishütte also opens for overnight guests.
Because the corona requirements not only mean lower yields due to larger distances, but also more effort – and a very special corona hut arithmetic, which neither the Alpine clubs nor the hut owners are to be envied for. Because the minimum distance must also be observed in the rooms and dormitories according to the currently applicable requirements. Excluded from this are all those people who belong to their own or another household and with whom one should lie in every hut camp like a sardine. At least that’s the case in German huts – but where only two houses per room are allowed anyway.
In Austria, on the other hand, for those people to whom direct contact is permitted, the term “risk community” appears to be a mountain sport. This is defined as follows: a maximum of four adults plus their minor children or people in the same household. According to Peter Kapelari, the hut manager at the Austrian Alpine Club, this rule only applies at the tables, not in the mattress warehouse. There is still no clear statement from the authorities for this. He himself understood that a risk community includes all those who practice mountain sports together, i.e. take a climbing course – and should therefore also be able to take a joint sleep camp. Only: He is not quite sure about that either.
For the hut owners on both sides of the border, the constellations of the guest groups are suddenly very important in addition to the room sizes. It depends on them how often the public washrooms are to be cleaned and how many beds can be occupied. In six rooms it is possible to accommodate six families as well as six pairs of two, loners can no longer simply be used as filling material for remaining spaces. Andy Kiechle from Reintalangerhütte says that on Saturday his hut was full with only 32 guests.
“I usually have room for 120 people.” Because of the often contradictory information and the resulting uncertainty of many visitors, the organizational effort is also higher, says Kiechle. “200 emails a day and the phone rings in a tour.” According to the German Alpine Association, some of the huts would not open at all, as this is not worthwhile because of the room structure.
Anita Hartmann was relatively successful with the Gufferthütte, whose terrace fills up at noon. With the four employees, she was able to agree that they would reduce the hours for the time being. In the mattress camps, she moved in partitions at regular intervals, creating smaller bunks for two people each. This not only increases the load in corona times. The camps also seem more homely, which could well be a model for the time after Corona. The rule that you have to bring your own sleeping bags with you, since blankets are no longer laid out, may be considered some progress. Unlike in Germany, the sheets are still provided on the Gufferthütte. “We wash them every day now,” says Hartmann.
She has by no means given up the idea of a great hut summer. Of course, she doesn’t know how many people will come when the border that is only a few hundred meters behind the house is finally open again. “But my hope is that people will go to the Alps more if long-distance travel is not possible.” The only question is whether you might then start hiking in Austria as a risk community and end up as a household patchwork at various tables in a German hut.
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