The Wall of Death

The photo is taken from the North Face Facebook page.

Here is a treat. Toni Kurz and Andi Hinterstoisser, young soldiers in the German army in 1936, care more more mountains than for the military. We first meet them as they are scrubbing urinals for returning late to base after a climbing trip. The CO comes to see if they have learned their lesson. “Can’t you read your watches?” he bellows, to which Hinterstoisser, standing at attention and staring straight ahead, answers in full formal address, “Sir. We don’t have watches, sir!” Their work detail is subsequently tripled.

It is a classic scene that illustrates the conflict inherent in addicted alpinists: the uber-relevance of climbing and the comparative irrelevance of anything else – time, duty, even Hitler’s army. Later the two quit to try to be the first to climb the North Face of the Eiger, and what follows is a gripping retelling of true events on what was known as the Wall of Death.

Interwoven are important and well developed sub-stories of honor, integrity, and what matters most. In one amazing scene that you will have to see to fully understand, a young journalist, just starting out and eager to make her name as a photographer, looks at her editor who is handing her a camera, and cans the whole deal by saying, “I didn’t come here to take pictures.”  In one short sentence, she nukes her editor and her journalism career, asserts herself, and redefines her reasons for being in Switzerland at all.  It quickens the pulse.

Another aspect of the film of no mean significance is its historical portrayal 30’s era mountaineering.  Belaying, rappelling, and ascending looked a lot different in the days before ascenders, ATCs, and figure-eights.  Rope in those days was a three-strand twist of what looked like hempen twine, and there is one scene in the film in which Andi and Toni are hammering out their own pitons in preparation for the climb – leading this reviewer to conclude that chief among the factors responsible for the explosive popularity of climbing over the last 40 years is that by the 1970’s if you wanted to climb, you didn’t also have to be a blacksmith with a full-furnace hot forge in your garage.

It is great storytelling.  Subtitled, so be ready to read.  Interestingly, all of my kids watched it all the way through and enjoyed it even though their collective tolerance for subtitles is probably three lines long.

Here is more info.  Have Netflix send it to you.  There is enduring truth to be found on the Wall of Death.

3 thoughts on “The Wall of Death

  1. stephen randall

    There was a report on the news this morning dealing with an issue on voter intimidation in NY city during the last presidential campaign. Listening to the report I found myself responding with angry emotions and a desire to some how get involved. Then I started to think is this a mountain I want or should climb???.Who am I, and is this the purpose for which I was created because even in attempting to pursue the summit of a particular mountain we could be siphoning limited time and energy away from the ONE THING, the one mountain we were designed to climb. Even if we find the right mountain maybe the important thing isn’t that we make it to the top, but that we forged a path as far as we could and someone later comes behind us because we blazed the trail that far.Just a little bubble that burst the surface.

  2. putyatin Post author

    Really cool thought.

    Here is something I know – maybe worth something to you in your life and experience, maybe not, but for what it is worth, I believe that emotions are impulses to act. Plain and simple, that’s what they do. They give us direction, like sign posts on our path, our journey – and they are not to be dismissed. We don’t have to follow them – just like sign posts that we intentionally disregard – but we must acknowledge them as real and make a conscious decision to take a different path.

    The three kinds of “negative” emotions (although in reality no emotions are negative, only behaviors can be negative) are mad, sad, and afraid. I like to think of these not as negative but as darker than the others: joy, acceptance, and desire. We feel mad when we sense a crime has been committed. A crime is when a boundary has been crossed – remember Frost’s notion from his poem Mending Wall that good fences make good neighbors.

    Here is the link to the poem:

    We feel sad when we perceive that something has been taken away from us. And we feel afraid when we sense an impending transgression or theft.

    So, the emotion you felt when you heard that news spot was a sign post on your path. And a strong calling from your inner self – saying, “I react with this.” Good for you. Any self knowledge is positive, even if it is not immediately useful.

  3. stephen randall

    Tina and I were watching a movie titled Dark Matter recently. Chinese collage students came to the united states to participate in a doctorate program in cosmology. When they arrived the professor who was head of the cosmology department gave a speech welcoming the students and also telling them that it wouldn’t offend him personally if any of them challenged or surpassed him in their abilities or in their theories. One student in particular excels and the professor takes him under his wing and they work together on a theory the professor has been personally involved with for years. When the student gets involved he surpasses the professors work on the subject and he starts a theory of his own for a doctorate thesis that he needs to graduate. The student goes in front of a board to present his thesis for approval and the prof is on the board and he influences the board not to accept the students work .The student is devastated by the experience and ends up having an emotional breakdown where he ends up murdering the professor, some students he thought had loyalty to the prof and then commits suicide himself.My observation to the relationship that had expressed itself between these two persons was that it wasn’t the preeminence of human respect for each other that was the goal of education but the worship of knowledge. I find it ironic the experiences I had in the public school system and at the same time that my mother had a successful career in the system and retired and we both have very differing views on the worthiness of that institution. I feel between our cultural devolution and the public indoctrination system of not thinking critically we have a society ripe for chaos and then a totalitarian state. In many sectors of our society we’re already there with public service unions and a welfare state and the common citizen doesn’t even realize the implications. Today’s consciousness is relativity and pragmatism through a pride filled mind that believes that this is a new frontier for humanity and that we sophisticated humans today can’t even be compared to our predecessors . This type of thinking is not new , it has been around as long as human history has been documented.


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