Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - May 27, 2011

From our house to their Haus

The morning light was just starting to come through the window when husband Art and I awoke. "Time to get ready for work," I thought.

But instead of being serenaded by cardinals and robins, I heard the trilling of wrens and the crowing of a rooster.

"Wait a minute! We're on vacation in Austria," I thought. "We don't have to do anything we don't want to."

Before falling back to sleep, we talked about how much we enjoy this particular place in the Tirolean Alps where we've stayed so many times before.

Our first trip was in 1989. We hadn't made prior arrangements before leaving the States, hoping we'd find suitable places to stay before dark each night. We had already seen Salzburg, a bit of Vienna and much of the Alpine lands to its south and west. We had spent the night before near Grossglockner, the highest peak in Austria, and we were on our way west. As night approached, we were tired and were on the lookout for a "Zimmer frei" - room free - sign.

In Obsteig, we saw the Tyrol Hotel, but decided to pass it by. We preferred to stay at bed and breakfast establishments where we could get to know the people better.

Then we spotted "Haus Kirchmair" in large letters on a house near the hotel. We stopped and inquired whether they had a room. They did.

We liked the owners Josef and Albina right away, even though our conversations were limited by the few phrases of German we knew and the few words of English they understood. They were just that type of people - open, friendly and welcoming.

We ended up staying several nights. Each morning, we'd "converse" in our own way while enjoying breakfast of hard rolls, luncheon meats, hard-boiled eggs, cheese, jam and coffee. By the time we had to leave, we had fallen in love with both the place and the Kirchmairs.

Although that was 22 years ago, things have changed little. From the balcony of our little "Ferienwohnung" - holiday apartment - on the top floor, we can see mountains in three directions. Those to the north and east seem close and rugged and are often frosted with snow. The southern peaks are covered with pines and larches. And when we step outside the house, we can see mountains to the west, too. Each peak seems to take on its own personality, depending on the time of day and whether it's rainy or sunny, foggy or clear.

Nearby, sheep blat and the bells around their necks jingle. Old and young alike with backpacks and walking sticks are sprinkled along the the many "Wanderwegs" - wandering paths - that wind through nearby meadows and woods. The village church's bell marks the passing of the hours.

In 1990, we were traveling with Art's mother Donna in northern Germany when I suffered a miscarriage. Some may have wanted nothing more than to go home after such an experience. But once I got out of the hospital, we headed straight to Haus Kirchmair to help me get back on my feet.

Donna also enjoyed Josef and Albina, despite her German being limited to "Tasse Kaffee" - cup of coffee.

The following year, we three returned again. In 1993, Art came back with his Aunt Ione.

But some change is inevitable. When we first came, the area around the house was fairly open. I took a picture of what I called "hay people" - hay drying on cross-shaped stakes in a freshly-mown field west of the house. Now that area is dotted with homes. And we've noticed more traffic in certain areas and a few more large hotels to accommodate skiers and other tourists.

And several years ago, Josef and Albina decided it was time to retire and moved into a smaller home. Their son Günter and his wife Lisi then took over the stewardship of Haus Kirchmair. But they greeted us as warmly as Josef and Albina had when we brought our girls Mariya and Katie in 2001 and again in 2007.

This year, there are five of us as Mariya's partner Lacey came too. And several times, as in the past, the Kirchmairs came to our rescue. In one instance, they alerted us to a predicted afternoon storm. So we hurried and were able to get to the Zugspitze - Germany's highest peak - before the weather changed.

Another problem involved finding Internet service. Just like at home, it's harder to find a connection in a rural area. Art asked Lisi where he could upload my column and immediately she began calling people. Café Maurer in a a small town a few kilometers to the east satisfied that need and our desire for sweets as well.

So even with the changes that time brings, for anyone desiring to visit some of the best attractions western Austria and southern Germany have to offer, this is still a fantastic place to stay. Lovely Alpine villages, Neuschwanstein and Linderhof castles, the church at Wies, and the passion-play city of Oberammergau are all just a short drive away along beautiful curving mountain roads.

And what better way to start and end such days than in a small village where lace curtains border every window, pansies, petunias and geraniums fill window boxes, neatly-stacked fire wood stands next to each home, and the rolling sunny meadows are carpeted with yellow, pink, purple and white wild flowers.

"Gemütlichkeit" - a word with no proper translation, but is some combination of hospitality and coziness - describes the people we have met here in this lovely little corner of the world, a place where at least once each day I ask myself, "Can I really be here?"

The view to the northeast from our balcony.

Left to right, Albina, Lacey, Mariya, Gloria, Lisi behind Katie, Günter
and Josef shared coffee and small talk behind Haus Kirchmair on Tuesday.

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