Race for the Magic Mountain: Mountaineering and the National Socialist Agenda in Europe

By Cynthia Chalupa.

Published by The Sport Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The indelible link between mountain climbing and national politics in Europe dates back to the middle of the nineteenth century, when mountaineering, like other sports, became an established activity to counteract the hectic pace of life in industrialized cities. The mountains, long considered a locus of metaphysical energy in German consciousness, gained new meaning in the era of imperial expansion because they represented uncharted territories that national powers such as Britain, the United States, France, and Germany could metaphorically dominate. By the 1930s, the Alps and the heroism of the mountaineer were irrevocably linked to nationalistic ideology in Nazi propaganda and to the popular genre of the Weimar Bergfilm, which featured the German hero’s physical strength and willing self-sacrifice. The problematic relationship between mountaineering, film, and their political uses in Nazi Germany forms the centerpiece of Philip Stölzl’s film Nordwand (2008). Revisiting the failed first ascent of the Eiger Nordwand in 1936, the Austrian filmmaker criticizes the Nazis’ use of mountaineering as a symbol for racist ideology and political domination in Europe. In doing so he raises questions about the motivations behind the summit attempt, calling into question the public, political demands made by the NS party and their relationship to the personal desires of the climbers. In doing so, he recasts the expedition as the story of a challenge between climber and nature and of the heroism linked to the fight for survival.

Keywords: Mountaineering, Political Ideology, National Socialism, Bergfilm

The International Journal of Sport and Society, Volume 1, Issue 3, pp.219-228. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 647.569KB).

Dr. Cynthia Chalupa

Associate Professor of German, Department of Foreign Languages, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV, USA

Cynthia Chalupa is Associate Professor and Director of the Basic German Language Program at West Virginia University. Her research interests span literature of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, assessment, foreign language pedagogy, and the role of technology in the foreign language classroom. She has written on the mirror image in the works of Rilke, Trakl, and Aichinger, ETA Hoffmann, and on the link between the mirror and self-portraiture. Her work in pedagogy includes publications on international TA training, on assessment development, and on the use of live television programming in the German classroom. She is currently working on a project concerning the link between mountaineering and national identity in Germany.