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The People up there

An authentic hut -life on the Zirmait Alpine pasture

Bernhard Mulser is a herder at the Zirmait Alpine pasture, high above Bressanone/Brixen. With his wife and two children, he cares for the cattle and pigs, the four of them living in isolation on the mountain for months. Read on to find out how life in an Alpine hut affects a family.

No, the “Zirmait-Alm” is not an overcrowded Alpine hut with tawdry tablecloths and service staff in lederhosen and dirndl dresses. This Alpine hut is for real. Here, far from the hustle and bustle of the valley, life is still quaint and authentic. Calves are grazing on the steep slopes of the pasture; pigs are wallowing in the mud. Hungry hikers are treated to a home-cooked meal prepared on a wood-burning  stove. In this place, Bernhard Mulser has just spent his first summer as a herder, together with his family. “From early June to late  September, we’re up on Zirmait every day—and we’re up and about all day, from sunrise to sunset”, he says. Can this really work, or are  arguments the daily fare of family life? Does the constant proximity
of everyone result in cabin fever? How is life up there affecting  everyone? How does your own perception change? Your way of thinking? Of feeling? The Mulser family is from Fiè allo Sciliar/Völs am Schlern, 35 kilometres to the south of Bressanone. The father, Bernhard, is a self-employed joiner; the mother, Bernadette, is a sales clerk. Their son Klaus, seventeen, is looking for an apprenticeship as a gardener; Lisa, their twenty-one-year-old  daughter, went to art school in Val Gardena/Gröden and is now looking to study psychology and art. We’re visiting them during  their last summer days up on Zirmait. The four of them are satisfied when looking back on the past few weeks—although summer can be  taxing; the days at the Alpine hut and pasture are long and exhausting. The Mulser family was looking to do something different.  Other families would simply go away on a weekend trip; they took a radical step, leaving their everyday lives and jobs behind, and trying something entirely new. Bernhard Mulser and his son Klaus are in charge of the cattle. Fifteen calves between 18 months and two years old are spending the summer on the mountain pasture. The Tyrolean Grey cattle, a typical breed in the region, are full of curiosity. They yield both good milk and good meat, and their favourable feed conversion ratio and sure-footedness make them ideally suited for pastoral farming. Apart from the cattle, the Mulser family also keeps three Tyrolean Alpine pigs, an old breed. The pigs mature slowly, but their meat is of high quality and low in cholesterol. They are free to feed on hay, apples, and other delicacies. The population of the Zirmait  pasture further includes a donkey, a horse, and a pony—and the  family has brought their pets, Parson Russell terrier Kiwi and the cats Furbi and Kitti, to spend the summer. The cats hide out of sight, the
dog wants to play. 

This Alpine hut is for real. Here, far from the hustle and bustle of the valley, life is still quaint and authentic.

Guest

“I learned to handle animals as a child on my parents’ farm and later  as a herder”, says the father. He has acquired knowledge which he deepens on a daily basis. “You’ve got to be a jack-of-all-trades at an Alpine hut”, he continues. “A herder, a craftsman, a meteorologist, a veterinarian, and a tour guide.” His daughter Lisa has already worked two summers as a waitress at a mountain hut, but working at a small Alpine hut and pasture is even more extraordinary than that. She is not
only a waitress, but also a cook, a herder, a craftswoman, and a farmer. Taxing and pleasant: that is the Mulser family’s summer in a nutshell. Long and hard days, but also a break from everyday routine, and a new experience. “This is not austerity, this is real life”, says Bernhard. “I have everything I need up here”, adds his son, Klaus.
The Zirmait pasture is situated at 1,891 metres above sea level. It can be reached in approximately two and a half hours on foot from the village of Varna/ Vahrn north of Bressanone, or in 45 minutes from the car park at the end of the road. It offers a sweeping, open view of the Plose and Plan de Corones/Kronplatz mountains, the craggy peaks of the Gruppo delle Odle/Geisler, even the Zillertal Alps. The hut is off the beaten track, catering to locals rather than tourists. Hikers who stop here are usually on their way to the 2,517-metre-high Karspitze peak,
another one and a half hours’ hike. 

It’s very quiet at Zirmait. The family is even forced to go without mobile phones most of the time; reception is patchy and poor at best up here. All you hear are cowbells and the occasional crow. Of course, the family is not completely cut off from the rest of the world. It’s a half hour’s car ride to Bressanone, be it in the jeep or in the traditional car of South Tyrolean mountain people: the Fiat Panda. But they feel very, very far removed from city life. So far that they don’t even miss it. The Mulsers regularly argue about who has to drive down into the valley to do the shopping. Family life has benefited from the summer up in the mountains, at any rate. “This experience has brought us all closer together”, says Bernhard Mulser. And that is not necessarily guaranteed when you constantly hang around each other for four months. “You get to know your family better”, says daughter Lisa in agreement. They start their mornings by having breakfast together, talking about the day and scheduling the tasks: where are the calves, what are they going to cook today, is there enough power for the oven, who is fetching the firewood? None of these decisions are earth- shattering, but up here in the hut, they are essential for survival. Down in the valley, everyone goes their own way, but up here, many  tasks must be completed together. And in spite of all the challenges, there has never been a major falling-out. “We’re still getting along”,
says Klaus happily. 

Text: Matthias Mayr
Pictures: Michael Pezzei
Date of publication: 2019

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