True Locals

True Locals: Christine Ackermann and the Scharnitzer Alm

28. August 2018

A mountain hut where it seems that time has stood still: that’s the Scharnitzer Alm. Anyone who visits will feel like they are going back to the roots – as well as finding great snacks. Host Christine and shepherd Roland saved the rustic alm from decay and have restored it to its former state. Christine tells us about summers full of work, life with cattle and why you must always be flexible when it comes to the mountain pastures.

Life on the alm as it once was

You might think you have landed in another century if you visit the Scharnitzer Alm. It lies at the beginning of the Hinterau valley, rustic and original, and invites you to linger for a while. But the alm did not always reflect its former splendour as it does today. When Christine Ackermann and her partner Roland took it over in 2004, it was in a bad state. “It was a ramshackle barn,” Christine remembers. It took plenty of work to rebuild the mountain hut to what it once was. “These days so much that is original is lost. We wanted to rebuild this piece of history,”says the landlady. She believes it should be as true to the original as possible. This applies not only to the exterior of the alm, but also to its philosophy: the alm (the alpine pasture) is in the foreground, the bar is “just” an accompaniment – as it was in days gone by.

Less is more

“We want to give people an original feeling of life on a mountain pasture,” says Christine. This also applies to the food she offers. The menu is therefore quite restricted. “We don’t have a huge selection – but what we have is really good, homemade and regional.”And she is right about that: at hardly any other mountain hut do you eat as “guat” as with her. She produces the goat’s cheese herself and takes care that all products come from close at hand and are of the best quality. Less is more, they say – at Christine’s you rediscover the real meaning of the phrase.

The cattle are the most important thing

Cattle have always been the heart of every mountain pasture. There are plenty on the Scharnitzer Alm: shepherd Roland looks after 60 to 70 of them. Goats, pigs, chickens, cats, dog Amber and a bull who thinks he is humanalso live on the mountain pasture. “That’s our pet bull!”, laughs Christine. “He was reared from a bottle and since that time he doesn’t believe he’s a bull.” This was a problem out on the mountain pastures: he was constantly following the hikers and could not find his way back to the herd. That’s why he now lives with the “Goasen” (goats) on the field near the alm, where he is in better hands – and regularly receives cuddles from Christine.

The rest of the cattle, which all come from farmers from Scharnitz, live on the alpine pastures. The Scharnitzer Alm is quite special: “If you just take the building, the alm looks very small, but the area it covers is very large,” Christine explains. The cattle are distributed between three areas (the Hinterautal, the Gleirschtal and in the Hochwald).There are no classic pastures with green meadows. That means a lot of work for shepherd Roland. It can be a challenge to find the cattle in this large area. But he has had an unusual assistant for some years now: an e-bike! Using this he can reach the cattle quickly, quietly and in an environmentally-friendly way. So, life on the Scharnitzer Alm is not quite like it used to be… 😉

On the alm, you have to be flexible!”

Life on the alm is always good for a surprise or two – that’s one thing that Christine and Roland have learned in their years on the Scharnitzer Alm. “You have to be flexible,” she laughs and shrugs her shoulders. The schedule is tight and sometimes things happen that you can’t plan properly. “Just last week a calf was separated from the herd,” says Christine. Then she has to go up into the mountains to support Roland. “Then you end up running after the calf for two-and-a-half hours,” she smiles.But: “the cattle simply must come first!”. Over the years they have gathered plenty of experience anyway. “Every time you think there’s nothing happening, something new crops up.” But for Christine, this is the reason that the alm teaches you about life: “You should take things as they come.”Christine radiates a calm and contentment that is contagious. She does not worry about “would, should or could” – perhaps this is the key to her serenity.

A summer full of work

The working day on the alm starts early in the morning. They get up around at around six o’clock as the goats want to be milked. The landlady then takes care of the rest of the cattle and makes goat’s cheese or bakes fresh cakes until the first guests arrive. Her working day can last until half past ten in the evening and she only grabs a break if the opportunity pops up during the day. This is how it is all summer, seven days a week. Weekend or holiday? There’s no such thing in summer. But: “it’s a great job, I really like it,”says Christine. She and Roland are busy until into the autumn. The cattle must be driven back into the valley before the snow arrives in the mountains. The moment when all the cows have returned to the barn safe and sound is very emotional for Roland and Christine: “Tears are in your eyes! That’s where it all comes together. You’re relieved and sad, summer’s over. The moment when you close the gate is a rollercoaster of emotions!” But they know that summer will be coming around again!

In winter the active landlady can recharge her batteries. She relaxes from the busy summer with ski touring and enjoys the peace and quiet of the mountains.

Preserving what is threatened with extinction

Christine is concerned with something much bigger and more important as well as all this work: “I don’t just want to earn a living, but also to help preserve and communicate something that is increasingly threatened with extinction.That is my fundamental motivation.” Every little detail shows that she runs the Scharnitzer Alm with a lot of love. And that’s probably why you feel in good hands and so comfortable in this small hut at the beginning of the valley.

Every snack is a small work of art

The life of the alm host features some happy detours: she originally studied art and worked as a freelance artist. But she was drawn back to nature and so she first worked at the Pleisenhütte and the Oberbrunnalm before renovating the Scharnitzer Alm. The fact that she has a good eye for beauty is not only underlined by the alm, but also by every single meal she prepares. “I try to make a little piece of art out of every Brettljause (board of cold meats and cheese),” she says with a gleam in her eyes. Success – the snacks are not only a hit in terms of taste, but also almosttoo nice to eat! But in the end, of course, taste wins out.

Christine and Roland have created a very special place in the mountains with the Scharnitzer Alm: this small alm has the power to pause time for a moment, to preserve what is original and to return to the roots. Those who stop here can leave everyday life behind and discover pleasure and peace.

This is how you find the  Scharnitzer Alm:

Hike to the Scharnitzer Alm

Further links:

Scharnitzer Alm

Hike to the Gleirschklamm gorge

Behavior in the mountains: Rules for dealing with grazing livestock

Fotos: Fabrice Dall’Anese, Tirol Werbung (Bert Heinzlmeier), Tessa Mellinger

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