True Locals: Monika and Hansi Bantl
The Leutasch valley has a total of 2,380 inhabitants. Two of them are Hansi and Monika “Bantl” Neuner. They represent the Leutasch area like hardly anyone else: they have their roots in this area and put in a lot of effort to ensure others also get to know this beautiful place. It is they who are responsible for events like the Leutasch Chapel Advent. Hansi told us about their life and work in Leutasch.
Hansi „Bantl“ Neuner
Most of the time Hansi introduces himself as “Bantl Hansi” – even though his real name is Hans Neuner. Confusing? On the contrary: he has been called “Bantl” since his childhood. If you search the phone book in Leutasch for “Hans Neuner”, you will find more than 10 entries. In order to avoid confusion, Hansi was given the name of the farm where he grew up: the Bantl farm. Hansi was born there 70 years ago, grew up there and spent the longest time of his life in the “Luitasch”, as the locals say. His roots are here – anchored in the earth of the Leutasch valley. That’s what made Hansi the person he is today: somebody who is faithful, honest, charismatic – and full of ideas.
Never stop moving
Hansi’s professional career was anything but a “straight path”. At first, he studied at the agricultural school. “In those days it was understood that we would go into agriculture,”he says. “The school in Imst was also quite good!” Then followed an apprenticeship as a professional hunter.This profession took him halfway around the world: he spent a year on an estancia in Patagonia, Argentina. But at a certain point he was finished with hunting. However, Hansi is a person who always has new ideas. So, he started work as a hiking guide in summer and in winter he worked as a cross-country ski instructor.A typical Tyrolean, you could say. Hansi found his true calling in his professions as a hiking guide and cross-country ski instructor. Not only does he have a good instinct for people, he also knows (almost) everything about nature and its inhabitants.
Nature, a holy place on earth
Those who have been with him in the mountains know that no one knows more than Hansi! He can recognise every leaf, every animal sound, every stone in the Leutasch valley. “I learned all that from my parents,” he reveals. “My father knew a lot about the plants, what you can eat and what not – that saved his life in Russia.” His father was in captivity during the war. “His knowledge was welcomed by the Russians,” Hansi smiles. “It saved them all from starvation, and so the Russians liked him a lot!” The father also passed this knowledge on to his children. Of course, Hansi did not know everything when he started as a walking guide. But if Hansi doesn’t have an answer ready, he always says: “I don’t know today. But go with me again tomorrow and then I will know!”
Where nature, culture and history come together
The beautiful Leutasch Valley stretches for 16 kilometres. It is made up of 25 hamlets and borders Germany directly. Over the border the nearest place is Mittenwald.
Hansi and Monika say about “Luitasch”, their homeland: “there is probably not a more beautiful spot on earth”. They also want to show others this beauty and so they organise three very special events during the year. The first one is in spring, which always begins a little later in the mountains than in the rest of the world. Monika and Hansi Bantl hold the Mountain Spring Days in June, when the first Alpine flowers are in bloom. A week is spent hiking, enjoying nature, learning and eating delicious food. It is the perfect start to a mountain summer. As summer slips into autumn Hansi passes on his hunting knowledge at the Hubertus Weeks in Leutasch. But one event perhaps surpasses both by a bit: the Leutasch Chapel Advent.
A traditional Advent unlike any other: the Leutasch Chapel Advent
It is now 16 years since Hansi and Monika started the Leutasch Chapel Advent. “At first there were more musicians than guests,” Hansi laughs. But they were encouraged to continue with this very special tradition. And today every Friday and Saturday in Advent up to 200 people visit Leutasch to experience the chapel Advent.
It is a tradition that harks back to the peace and the reflection of the true Advent season. Only the torches and lanterns of the participants illuminate the way, as they go from chapel to chapel through the Leutasch valley.
Those who trudge through the snow, watch the soft flickering of the torches, pause at the chapels and hear the soft sounds of the music will feel it: an arrival. The arrival of inner calm, reflection and peace with oneself.
During the stops at the chapels the history of each is explained. The oldest chapel in the valley, the Zenz chapel in Unterleutasch, dates to around 1660.
The hike is followed by a “Hoangart”, a stop at an inn. “The retreat is also part of the Advent season,” says Hansi. He is happy that the guesthouses in the Leutasch often open specially on these days for the guests of the chapel Advent and always cook something special that is not normally on the menu. Often these are almost forgotten, traditional and delicious recipes.
“And I’m always really happy about the music, too,” Hansi says. Musical groups and singers from all over the Alps ask Hansi if they can accompany the chapel Advent. The happiness and gratitude about this can be seen in Hansi’s face, as he has been a musician himself since his early years. His smile reaches both ears, as he confidently joins in with every song of the choirs.
A faithful soul
Hansi has his heart in the right place. And you can’t help falling a little bit in love with him and with Monika, the organising talent of the two. Their guests have also grown very fond of them over the years. Most of them are much more than “just” guests. “So, over the years you get to experience a lot together! And sometimes I also must act as a little bit of a confessor,” Hansi smiles. He enjoys nothing more than to welcome his guests again and again to the beautiful Leutasch valley. The guests have been visiting for more than 20 years and many of them come to the region up to three times a year just because of Hansi and Monika. “I still have a group of regulars from my time as a cross-country ski instructor,” Hansi says. “I promised them after my retirement that as long as we are all still drawing breath, I will go cross-country skiing with them.” The group has been coming to the Tyrol from “Waaterkant”, from the far north of Germany, for 32 years. For a long time, the “Northerners” and Hansi were notorious in the guesthouses. “Last winter there were just four of the group. But I don’t care,” says Hansi. “The date is fixed, and until the last one stops coming then I will be there!”.
Live and let live
“I don’t really have a philosophy for life,” says Hansi. But a saying accompanies him through life: “Live and let live.”He says: “If I am happy, then others should be too.” Hansi and Monika contribute a great deal to this. They enrich the whole region with their events. They not only attract people from afar, but also ensure that the Leutasch inhabitants themselves experience and enjoy their valley and its culture. And how should it continue? “Well, things never stay the same,”says Hansi. “But I do hope that development will concentrate more on sustainability and that we appreciate what our beautiful nature has to offer.”
The chapel hikes as part of the Chapel Advent Leutasch take place every Friday and Saturday at 5 p.m. on the four Advent weekends. A registration for the hike is not necessary. However, if you wish to take part in the retreat afterwards, you are requested to make a reservation at the restaurants.
Hansi and Monika are also always happy about old and new faces at the Mountain Spring Days where the participants hike, learn, laugh and eat delicious regional food. During the Ganghofer Hubertus Weeks you can learn more about hunting and culture in the Leutasch and Gaistal valley.
Fotos: Fabrice Dall’Anese, Stefan Elsler, Österreich Werbung