Nanga Parbat, located in today’s Pakistan, occupies a special place in German history. After a German–American expedition failed to claim the mountain’s first ascent 1932, Nanga Parbat turned into a prestige object of the Nazi regime. Declared as the ‘German mountain of destiny,’ twelve German and Austrian alpinists and even more local porters perished on the world’s ninth-highest peak during the course of five German expeditions. After the war, in 1953, Austrian alpinist Hermann Buhl succeeded to climb the peak solo, as part of a German–Austrian expedition. This book seeks to explain how the perpetual defeats and the eventual success on Nanga Parbat were appropriated into German political and cultural discourse during the Nazi period and the early Federal Republic. Synthetizing his earlier work on the German ‘mountain of the mind’, Höbusch aims ‘to reveal the various means and mechanisms employed by German mountaineers, mountaineering officials, politicians, writers, and filmmakers to pave the path of Nanga Parbat into the German imagination’ (p. 14) by analysing representations of Nanga Parbat expeditions in print and film. The book is organized into three parts. Each part is comprised by one chapter on the interwar period and another that roughly covers the end of the Second World War until 1953. Part one provides the theoretical and cultural context for the two following parts, which deal with Nanga Parbat in print and film respectively. Chapter one introduces the main protagonist in German mountaineering history, the German and Austrian Alpine Club, and its participation in nationalist discourse, as well as well the key persona in the Nanga Parbat saga: Karl Bauer. As the leading official responsible for alpinism in the Nazi administration, Bauer founded the German Himalaya Foundation that from 1936 onwards organized all German Himalaya expeditions until the beginning of the war. This background is followed by an extensive literature review on the Weimar genre of Bergfilm (mountain film) and Bergliteratur (mountain literature). Höbusch suggests that the Bergfilm constituted a ‘cinematic continuation and expansion’ of the German discourse of national renewal (p. 58). The short second chapter discusses the fate of the German Alpenverein from 1945 until 1953, a time when the Alpenverein had to find a compromise between the old völkisch ideas and the cosmopolitanism of a younger generation. It was through the Heimatfilm that mountains continued to play a role in the defining German post-war identity. Höbusch does not offer a new interpretation of this film genre but refers in his extensive literature review to cultural historians like Johannes von Moltke, who contends that the Heimatfilm was a response to the specific historical moment of post-war Germany and reflected the ‘decade’s double imperative of restoration and modernization’ (von Moltke cited, p. 79). Höbusch’s original work begins in the second part, which provides close readings of print sources related to Nanga Parbat. The author argues that through extensive press coverage as well as widely published expedition reports and personal diaries, Nanga Parbat turned into a public German affair. The repeated defeats of German alpinists in 1934, 1937, and 1939 were depicted as acts of heroism. Exemplifying virtues like comradeship, loyalty, and the willingness to sacrifice, Himalayan mountaineering promised to be a source of national renewal in times of crisis. Especially in youth literature, Nanga Parbat expeditions offered a particularly engaging way to promote the image of the German hero. To the reader familiar with mountaineering history, this will come as no surprise. Already during the First World War, alpinists profited from the semantic overlap of alpine discourse and nationalist speech. In part three, the author turns to filmic representations of Nanga Parbat. The cinematic depiction of German alpinists on Nanga Parbat fitted well into the propaganda efforts of the National Socialist to cast a ‘new, “heroic” Germany’ (p. 176). Even Der Dämon des Himalayas (The demon of the Himalayas), directed by the Jewish director Andrew Marton, received permission to be screened. Shot during the 1934 International Himalaya expedition led by Günter Oskar Dyhrenfurth, a German émigré to Switzerland, the movie brought heroic images into German cinemas just briefly after the 1934 Nanga Parbat expedition had claimed four German alpinists. As chapter six shows, narratives of heroism and national renewal persisted into the post-war period. Although post-war documentaries chose pre-war footages selectively in order to clean German mountaineering history from the Nazi past, they retained tropes of heroism and related concepts. This, as Höbusch shows, is also visible in Hans Ertl’s film of the successful 1953 ascent by Hermann Buhl. Despite the fact that this expedition was organized in opposition to the German Himalayan Foundation, the film was not able to resolve the tensions between the need of redefining Germany identity and the interwar legacy. To climb Nanga Parbat is no easy feat, neither is reading Mountain of Destiny. Due to the tripartite structure of the book, the reader climbs the mountain three times and feels, in the end, exhausted. Given the excellent scholarly works recently published on mountaineering, it is unfortunate that Höbusch does not go beyond stating the obvious, which is the connection between mountaineering and nationalism. The scholarly contribution of the book remains elusive; neither the descriptive introduction nor the awkward conclusion advance a concrete argument. Little is said about the context in which texts, films, and actors are embedded; the readings of sources are not connected to a larger ‘German imagination’. In addition, the book is poorly written. The chapters lack introduction and conclusion; a narrative thread is absent. Instead, the reader slogs through pages of tedious literature reviews (e.g. p. 39–57), page-long listings of publication titles (e.g. p. 89), and excessive direct quotations from primary and secondary sources, the first more often than not being cited from secondary works (e.g. p. 30–31). Despite these shortcomings, Höbusch is to laud for bringing attention to a fascinating episode of German cultural history. Readers with interest in German mountaineering or film history will find value in the impressing amount of details the author presents. © The Author(s) 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the German History Society. All rights reserved.
German History – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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