C Lisa-Viktoria Niederberger © Alex Kaiser
The spruces up there at 1,200 metres huddle closely together in dense groups. They’re interspersed with lush green slopes that are rich in mountain herbs and on which the cattle grazes peacefully. Rays from the summer sun keep bursting through the patchy layers of cotton wool in the sky. It’s almost as if nature in this part of the world had wanted to present itself in a particularly good light to atone for the last few days of rain.
But Lisa-Viktoria has already fallen for Schetteregg’s landscape. “I think it’s incredibly beautiful there,” the temporary alpine writer said, remembering how her gaze had often wandered over the pasture down the valley toward Vorderwald. To the place where on a clear day you can see as far as Lake Constance. “And I had the luxury of being able to enjoy the view while writing. “Which is something that Anna and Leonhard Sutterlüty have little time for when they’re up here with their children Chiara and Tobias as well as three ‘Pfisters’ (farm workers who help in the dairy and fields) to manage the alp in the summer. The alpine residents start work at five o’clock in the morning and often continue into the late evening. But Lisa-Viktoria was able to take it a bit easier. Her time to rise was between seven and half past when the first thing she did was to open the windows to the aromatic alpine air and the sound of the tinkling of the cowbells before putting her thoughts from the night down on paper. Breakfast together, preferably accompanied by Anna’s Riebel (Vorarlberg speciality made from corn) or home-made cream cheese, was followed by more writing. That’s what Lisa-Viktoria was after all there to do.
Three weeks. Three texts.
Landscape, work and silence are the themes that the alpine writer focused on writing about. While the changeable weather this summer only made the mountain landscape more appealing to her, the soundscape was completely different to what she had expected. “It’s louder here than at home,” the 33-year-old said, laughing. Back home in Linz, she shares an apartment with her partner. But, on the alp, she was suddenly living with eight people, 34 cows, 10 calves and two cats under a single roof. “There was always something making a noise there. Especially the jangling of the cowbells represented an irritating presence during the first few days. But I didn’t even notice it any more after a while.”
Lisa-Viktoria’s favourite place to write was on the wooden bench outside the house that looked on to the Winterstaude. Little Chiara found it initially difficult to understand why, instead of making cheese, tending to the livestock or repairing fences like the others, the visitor often “just sat there staring out into the distance with a laptop or notebook on her knees”. But that’s also part of writing: looking and pondering. “It was a rewarding experience for me to explain to a child exactly what it was I did,” the writer said. “It opened up another perspective on my work for me.” The conversations on the wooden bench also had the unintended effect of expanding the Upper Austrian’s grasp of the vocabulary used in the Bregenzerwald. “I learned that I’m a ‘Wib’ (‘woman’) and not a ‘Schmelg’ (‘girl’) any more, and that you can ‘taste Bschütte’ here too*,” she said, laughing.
*A ‘Wib’ is a woman in the Bregenzerwald and a ‘Schmelg’ is a girl, ‘Bschütte’ is liquid manure and ‘schmecken’ (‘to taste’) is also used across Vorarlberg as a synonym for ‘riechen’ (‘to smell’) – which can be confusing at first, not only on the alp.
“I realised there that looking at nature and watching animals as well as people at work can be part of a delightful creative process. And that I can write about those observations without slipping into cheesiness.”
The hosts: Family Sutterlüty with Lisa-Viktoria
An encounter with Alma’s alpine writer Lisa-Viktoria Niederberger
Served up: Alma cheese
Lisa-Viktoria explored the surroundings in the afternoon after spending the mornings writing. But there was lunch together before that. “It was lovely to be looked after like that,” she said happily, “and Anna is a really good cook.” Refreshed after lunch, her afternoon forays took her into the fields, along the freight trail past the Gülkevorsäß settlement down to Schetteregg or up towards the Lindachalpe. Lisa-Viktoria also conquered the two nearest summits, the Tristenkopf and the Winterstaude. “I’d never have thought I’d ever hike up a mountain on my own,” the self-confessed flatlander said, not without pride. Would she do it again? “Absolutely! But first I’d have to get some new blister plasters.”
Encounters with the self
Hiking on her own was one of those occasions when Lisa-Viktoria didn’t only come across cows, sheep and the occasional fellow-hiker – it was a time when she first and foremost encountered herself. Her time as an alpine writer has altered her view of life and writing in general. “I used to be amused by the cliché of writers wandering out into nature and then composing poems about trees or writing novels about their roots,” the artist admitted, whose work otherwise focuses more on feminist issues, sustainability and climate protection than on alpine life. “I realised there that looking at nature and watching animals as well as people at work can be part of a delightful creative process. And that I can write about those observations without slipping into cheesiness.” Nobody has to know that there was the purring cat that occasionally jumped on to her lap or a little blond girl who sometimes watched her back in fascination.
Alpine writer Lisa-Viktoria Niederberger
Alpine dairy family on the trampoline
Writing and pondering
A look back
Three weeks on the alp. A long time that simply flew by. Even after she had returned home to Linz, Lisa-Viktoria was kept busy for a while working through her many experiences and new impressions. She returned to Vorarlberg for the presentation of her texts to celebrate 100 years of Alma on 21 October. “I knew I was going to miss the landscape and the people,” she said looking back and then added with a smile: “I actually did miss the ringing of the cowbells when I opened the windows that first morning after gett