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August 5th 2019

… and also to the anti-tank barrier at the Plamont/Pian dei Morti

Yesterday morning I left Munich with the 7.34 hrs Eurocity-Express. In the beginning the landscape wasn’t very interesting, but near Innsbruck the mountains were already partly visible between the patches of clouds. From Innsbruck the journey continued to the Brenner Pass. From the train it became obvious that the Brenner Pass is a very important traffic artery: due to the Sunday’s driving ban for the international road traffic all parking lots were overflowing with lorries and trucks with trailer. The increasing transit traffic by road over the alpine passes causes huge problems, as to the CO 2 emissions and noise and other pollutions for the surrounding population. A quarter of all freight is already transported by rail (a. o. over the Brenner Railway), but there the maximum capacity has been reached. Therefore after years of preparations the construction of the Brenner Base Tunnel, has started in 2009, which will be opened for the railway traffic in 2028. This tunnel, beginning in Innsbruck, will emerge to the surface in the north of South Tyrol,, near the town of Franzenfeste – with a total of 60 kilometres (including the ring around Innsbruck) this tunnel will be the longest railway tunnel in the world. It was quite clear that there were construction activities: everywhere construction pits were visible and also large billboards with information as to financing from “Europe”. With considerable delay we arrived in Bolsano around noon, where the sun was abundantly shining and the temperature rising. The connecting train to Merano left (also with a delay) half an hour later. The journey went upstream of the river Adige to Mals. We passed by old castles, like the Schloss Sigmundskron Castle, nice houses, like the Jugendstil house “Hufschmiedsheim” (Farrier’s Home) from 1907 in Merano, and many orchards. We often drove just alongside the river.

Due to the delay from Bolzano we had to hurry in Merano to change trains to Mals with the Vinschgaubahn: clearly it is holiday season here as well and the train was overcrowded! The journey was nice and especially in the beginning impressive from a technical point of view: after leaving Merano the train has to climb a steep slope and runs therefore through a curved tunnel, so we saw the town, the surrounding fruit orchards and vineyards and the high mountains in the background twice from different altitudes. In a curve we also had a panoramic view into the valley of the Adige into the direction of Bolzano. On the way we passed by old places with imposing medieval boroughs, often high on the mountain slopes. Everything looked lovely.

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Kastelbell in Alto Adige: view on the medieval Castle

Due to the delay from Bolzano we had to hurry in Merano to change trains to Mals with the Vinschgaubahn: clearly it is holiday season here as well and the train was overcrowded! The journey was nice and especially in the beginning impressive from a technical point of view: after leaving Merano the train has to climb a steep slope and runs therefore through a curved tunnel, so we saw the town, the surrounding fruit orchards and vineyards and the high mountains in the background twice from different altitudes. In a curve we also had a panoramic view into the valley of the Adige into the direction of Bolzano. On the way we passed by old places with imposing medieval boroughs, often high on the mountain slopes. Everything looked lovely. The train between Merano and Mals is up to now a diesel train, but engineering works are going on to electrify the railway line. Because of these works the train ended in Schlanders and we had to change into a bus. There as well it very overcrowded. My hope that at the bus stops at the now closed railway stations people would get off the bus proved to be wrong – quite the opposite even! Arriving in Mals the railway station looked a bit dreary in comparison to the situation from the last years…

From the railway station I took a shortcut – I know some of them by now! – to go the hotel I stayed last year: Hotel Margun. After a warm welcome there I unpacked my rucksack in a wonderfully cool room with views on the Ortler. At dinner I had a delicious white wine, a Grüner Veltlinerfrom the valley of the river Eisack, that flows from the north to Bolzano and there into the Adige. Yesterday morning I passed by train through this valley between the Brenner Pass and Bolzano! The evening sun was shining through the bottle, but the sunshine was also in the wine! Later that evening the last sunlight fell on the Ortler – such a tranquillity!

Yesterday I followed the river Adige upstream from Bolzano to Mals and today I went from Mals further upstream to the source of the river Adige. This river, called in German the Etsch, is the second largest river in Italy: it springs above the village of Reschen, practically on the border between Italy, Südtirol and Austria, Tirol, flows through Bolzano to Verona and discharges in the Adriatic Sea near Chioggia, to the south of Venice. At the source of the Adige its catchment basin has been indicated on a map, displayed on an information panel.

At the start the weather wasn’t really nice – quite a difference with yesterday. I went by foot into the direction of Burgeis, where I had been last year, on July 29th 2018. This time I took a different route and passed many fields with cabbage, cabbage and even more cabbage. There also was a herb nursery: I saw (and smelled!) fields of balm mint (Melissa officialis) and (stinging) nettles (Urtica). They grow a lot of rye here. In a field of rye, ready for harvesting, very old-fashioned blue cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus) were flowering! The large white monastery Marienberg was quite visible against the green mountain slope. A nice small white building with a weathered roof, the Martinskapelle, was standing next to the road, also with view on the monastery.

Many wayside shrines can be found here in South Tyrol, also in Burgeis. The painting was very colourful: students of the Mittelschule (secondary school) from the town of Glurns have made it in 2006 after the painting by the Franco-Russian painter Marc Chagall (1887–1985), called “The Madonna of the Village” from 1938–1942. Many of the elements depicted in the original also return in this school project, like the burning candle, the cow playing the violin and the angels, but other items have been added as well, like the star-covered blue coat of Mary and the map of the Mediterranean area with a little doll made of wire in the water… Such an effort the students have made, but with a stunning result!

On my way to the bus stop in Burgeis, which is the closest to the main road to the Reschen Pass, I passed by a house which had a pond in its front garden: a miniature version of the Drowned Church of Graun. This church tower is an icon for the area and is often used in images and logos. A sad story comes with it, relating to the Reschen Reservoir, which apparently looks idyllic and which is a centre for aquatic sports in summer and in winer (ice sailing and ice kating). From the early 20th century plans have been made to build a water power plant in the Vinschgau. When the Fascists came into power they have reconsidered the plans and have worked them out from 1937 on. In 1939 the first expropriation procedures have been initiated and the construction of the pipe line network etc. started. The creation of the reservoir meant that the old village of Graun and a part of the village of Reschen would disappear under water: the water level of the then already existing (natural) Reschensee lake would rise by 22 metres and of the Mittelsee, located to the south, even by 27 metres. From the procedural point of view there have been “imperfections”: the population hasn’t been properly informed and the compensation for the expropriations has been extremely low. In 1943 work has been stopped because of the Second World War, because the area came under German supervision. Shortly after the war there was no money available to proceed with the plans, but in 1949 the project was completed by a Swiss consortium. A test was done with a partial filling of the reservoir: then it daunted to the population that there was no turning back. About 100 families from Graun and Reschen living in the “danger zone” had to leave: to move to a higher area up the mountain or just leave the valley. Approximately 35 families have stayed. A lot of good farming land has been lost (grazing grounds for especially Braunvieh cattle). In the summer of 1950 all buildings in the zone concerned have been demolished, except for the church tower of the already in 1357 inaugurated St. Katharina Church. In 2004 the tower, which is a listed monument, has been restored because of the damage caused by the long period it had been standing in the water. Now the Reschen Reservoir covers an area of 667 hectares…

The bus that goes from Mals via Nauders in Austria to Martina in Switzerland passes by Graun with the Church tower and also stops in Reschen. There I got off the bus for my hike to the source of the Adige. At the Seehotel I treated myself to a cup of coffee and a good “Erdbeerschnitten” (strawberry cake). From the terrace I took a nice picture of the Reschen Reservoir and was able to shake off a little bit the oppressing history of its making.

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Reschen: view from the terrace of the Seehotel over the Reschen Reservoir into the direction of the Ortler

Thereafter I set off to the source of the Adige. There are many bunkers and watch posts from the Second World War in this area too and the official source is lying underneath one of these bunkers, Etschquelle-Bunker Nr. 20, a bunker which is camouflaged in the rock, with openings for shooting and observation. A bit further on a fountainlike water feature had nicely been laid out with a stone plaque: “Etschquelle Reschen 1550 m – Sorg.te Adige Resia 1550 m”. It looked quite tidy. Nevertheless the Municipality of Graun, of which Reschen forms a part, have made plans to revitalise the site: with a platform and a sitting area, information panels on the trail i.e. This was mentioned on an information panel. On another sign near the source an “artist impression” showed how the surroundings of the source would look like. That had not appealed to everybody, because someone had scribbled “So ein Quatsch” (Such a nonsense) under it.

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Above Reschen: the bunker under which the actual source of the Adige is situated

Besides the panel about the catchment area of the Adige another panel was standing with information about the springing of the Adige: there has been discussion whether the real source lies above Reschen or somewhere in one of the side valleys of the Upper-Vinschgau. The word of one of the first independent South-Tyrolean historians, Marx Sittich von Wolkenstein (1563–1612) is considered to be decisive for Reschen as the source: “Die Etsch entspringt zu oberst auf Malser Hayd am Reschen neben den gemainen Landstraßen an ainer Wiesen, ist ein ziemlich groß und lichtes Brünnlein, rinnt allda durch drei große Seen.” Near Reschen also the watershed is situated: the water of the Adige flows to the Adriatic Sea and the water from the mountains to the west of the Reschen Pass flows via the Stillebach stream into the Inn, and thereafter via the Danube to the Black Sea: a difference in length of 415 kilometres to 3.000 kilometres!

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Reschen: map displaying the entire water catchment of the Adige from source to estuary

Hereafter I continued my walk to the much higher situated bog land Plamort (the “Plain of the Dead” or in Italian Pian dei Morti). The path was a wide semi-paved road with steep slopes, covered with many flowers in all colours. The Campanula family was largely represented: the Harebell (Campanula rondufolia) and the Bearded bellflower (Campanula barbata). A beautiful specimen of the Broad-leaved helleborine (Epipactis helleborine) also was present. The red variety of the Houseleek (Sempervivum)was abundantly growing on a rock – and on another spot a houseleek grew out of the rock high above the valley. The Gig-flowered foxglove (Digitalis grandiflora) looks beautiful with its yellow flowers which have pink spots inside the calyxes, but it is very poisonous! In shadowy and moist areas larges patches of Root ragwort(Senecio nemorensis) were growing: the yellow flowers with their lancet-like petals look like tiny stars and are attracting many insects and butterflies. It is as poisonous as the other members of the Ragwort family, like the Common ragwort: the alkaloid affects the liver of humans and animals…

Südtirol has an active Beekeepers’ Association, the Südtiroler Imkerbund. This association has a legal obligation to indicate the size of their bee colonies – therefore this converted trailer was positioned on a small sideroad of the trail to the Plamort, with the inscription “Bienendatenbank” (Bees databank). A loud buzzing came from inside and around the installation!

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Above Reschen: in this converted trailer is a “Bienendatenbank” (a bees database) of the South-Tyrolean Beekeepers’ Association

The only “wildlife” I encountered here were ants: a gigantic anthill, of which the outside seemed to be black of the crawling ants. It was funny to see how the industrious ants had discovered an easy “highway” inside the iron bars in the road, serving as water drains!

At a certain point hikers had started the construction of a special “Steinmännchen“, a cairn. Nearby a rusty-brown and yellow rock was crumbling, from which they had taken two larger chunks and put one on top of the other: it looked quite like the body and head of a bird! I supplied a wing… Further on over time a spruce had attached itself to and perhaps also into the wall of rocks. The small trees on the side of the road still have a long way to grow into adulthood!

Halfway the mountain slope the landscape changed: on a somewhat flatter part a marshland had developed, named “Auf ‘m Moos“, a protected biotope. In the soggy soil with innumerable small water streams a lot of Common cotttongrass (Eriophorum angustifolium) was growing, the flowers moving in the wind like white vanes. Nearby was a large water basin, in the Vinschgau called a “Tschött“, named Grüneben. This one was a dug-out reservoir with a rich vegetation around the banks. That made the basin look nicer and more natural – the Tschött St. Martin I passed by last year on my trip along the Bergwaal above Glurns was downright ugly: that basin was a concrete construction above earth with a metal fence around it… Apparently other people found this spot idyllic too, because many picknick parties were being held.

After another rather steep climb over narrow, rocky paths we arrived on another open area with a marvellous view over the mountain landscape in the “Dreiländereck” (Border triangle) of Austria (Tirol), Switzerland (Grisons) and Italy (Südtirol). Here a sign pointed towards the “Panzersperre Pian del Morti“.

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Above Reschen: view towards the northwest over the mountains in the Border triangle with a sign to Plamont

Not long afterwards I was standing at a peculiar barrier in the landscape: three rows of concrete obstacles of different heights and equipped with sharp metal pointed tops have been arranged and a deep ditch had been dug, with a wall on the north side, the Austrian side. This “wall” runs along the complete width of the plateau, called the Plamort. This defence line has been built from the end of the 1930s until deep into the Second World War (1942) to block an invasion from Nazi-Germany: by the annexation of Austria in 1938 Italy and Germany had suddenly become neighbouring countries. This “Panzersperre” (anti-tank barrier) was part of the so-called Vallo Alpino, Alpine Wall, the range of defensive lines built by the Fascists along the northern border of Italy from the Mediterranean Sea at Ventimiglia to the Adriatic Sea at Trieste. But when put to the test the German superiority in Reschen and surroundings was so strong, that this defence line was rendered without a fight…

After the Second World War the “Sperre” has been a guarded area until 1962 because of the Cold War. Later it has fallen into oblivion and into neglect. The “dragon’s teeth” have been prone to concrete cancer: therefore the way they are made becomes quite visible. They consists of poles of larch wood, cladded with concrete and fixed in a concrete foundation in the ground, topped with an iron point which has been attached to the wood by metal strips and barbed wire. It is impressive to see how these endless rows of concrete pointed blocks are extended over the large plain. Here and there some willow trees are growing amid them. Furthermore the “Panzersperre” is a silent witness of nasty times, fortunately long gone by…

At the east side two bunkers had been built into the steep mountain slope from where one has (and has had!) an excellent view over the plain. I went into the lower bunker: over concrete steps I came through a water-filled narrow corridor, where I had to step from stone to stone, into the actual watch post. In the times when the outlook was really necessary surely less trees would have been there, because now the view was blocked into the direction from which danger could arrive, the side of Nauders in the north!

The bog land in its entirety is a protected biotope. Here Nature has got its upper hand again: the vegetation had largely covered the bunkers. An arrow pointed to another spot with wonderful views – in peace time: on the Reschen Reservoir. Many narrow paths went into that direction and as I walked over the last hill a splendid panorama showed itself: the entire valley of the Ober-Vinschgau unfolded itself towards the south with in the hazy distance the contours of the Ortler Massive, and on the foreground grazing horses, of which some were wearing cow bells – I hadn’t see anything like that before! Now the extent of the Reschen Reservoir could clearly be seen, and the position of the dam on the south side The smaller, still natural Haidersee lake is in line with it. There were many people and everybody was enjoying the views. However I had to return to Reschen. I took the narrow path going down the steep slope. While descending I loved the views which were continuously beautiful.

Here traces of rockslides and landslides are visible too. On the way up this had happened a long time ago and Nature had recovered, but on the way down I passed by a fresh trace of destruction… The Klopaierspitze (2.918m) rose up high in the distance. When I arrived almost at the foot of the mountain, my legs started to protest a bit: it has been a steep descent, certainly for a first day! I was glad to spot a bench where I sat down for a while, had a cup of tea and some reflections on the nice tour I just made.

The weather had improved, especially in the afternoon, with plenty of sunshine and a cooling breeze, but around 19.00 hrs a tremendous thunderstorm started. From the balcony of my hotel room it was quite an impressive view, especially with the rainbow above Tartsch, the next village.

When dinner time came up, it was dry again and the sun was also shining again. Yesterday’s wine, the Grüner Veltliner, tasted wonderful, with both the starter, a “Käseknödel” on a bed of stewed cabbage with caraway seeds, sprinkled with Parmesan cheese, and the dessert, a tartelette with apricot filling!

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Mals: a “Käseknödel” (cheese dumpling) on a bed of stewed cabbage with caraway and Parmesan cheese as a starter