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Of Walking in Ice

Of Walking in Ice: Munich-Paris, 23 November–14 December 1974

Martje Herzog
Alan Greenberg
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 96
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  • Book Info
    Of Walking in Ice
    Book Description:

    In late November 1974, filmmaker Werner Herzog received a phone call from Paris delivering some terrible news. German film historian, mentor, and close friend Lotte Eisner was seriously ill and dying. Herzog was determined to prevent this and believed that an act of walking would keep Eisner from death. He took a jacket, a compass, and a duffel bag of the barest essentials, and wearing a pair of new boots, set off on a three-week pilgrimage from Munich to Paris through the deep chill and snowstorms of winter.

    Of Walking in Iceis Herzog's beautifully written, much-admired, yet often-overlooked diary account of that journey. Herzog documents everything he saw and felt on his quest to his friend's bedside, from poetic descriptions of the frozen landscape and harsh weather conditions to the necessity of finding shelter in vacant or abandoned houses and the intense loneliness of his solo excursion.Includes, for the first time, Werner Herzog's 1982 "Tribute to Lotte Eisner" upon her receipt of the Helmut Käutner Prize

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-4510-1
    Subjects: Art & Art History, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[ix])
  2. Saturday 23 November 1974
    (pp. 1-10)

    Right after five hundred meters or so I made my first stop, near the Pasinger Hospital, from where I wanted to turn west. With my compass I gauged the direction of Paris; now I know it. Achternbusch had jumped from the moving VW van without getting hurt, then right away he tried again and broke his leg; now he’s lying in Ward 5.

    The River Lech, I said to him, that will be the problem, with so few bridges crossing it. Would the villagers row me across in a skiff? Herbert will tell my fortune, from cards as tiny as...

  3. Sunday 24 November
    (pp. 11-14)

    Fog outside, so icy cold that I can’t describe it. On the pond swims a membrane of ice. The birds wake up, noises. On the landing my steps sound so hollow. I dried my face in the cottage with a towel that was hanging there; it reeked so bitterly of sweat that I’ll carry the stench around with me all day long. Preliminary problems with my boots, still so new that they pinch. I tried using some foam, and, with every movement wary like an animal, I think I possess the thoughts of animals as well. Inside, beside the door,...

  4. Monday 25 November
    (pp. 15-21)

    Night near Beuerbach in a barn, downstairs serving as a shelter for the cows, the earth like clay and deeply trampled down. Up above it’s passable, only light is missing. The night seemed long, but it was warm enough. Deep clouds outside sweep by, it is stormy, everything seems grey. The tractors have their headlights on, although there is light enough. After precisely one hundred meters a roadside shrine with little pews. What a sunrise behind me. The clouds had split open a crack; yes, a sun like that rises bloodied on the day of Battle. Meager, leafless poplars, a...

  5. Tuesday 26 November
    (pp. 22-24)

    Things are somewhat clearer now having bought a Shell Oil map in Kirchheim. During the night there was a bad storm; in the morning, snow was melting everywhere in tatters. Rain, snow, and hail, those are the Lower Orders. Upon closer inspection, the hut contained a flail and pitchfork on the walls to give it a rustic touch, walking sticks covered with emblems, pitchforks forming a cross, and another calendar with the Playmate of the Month for September. Above the window were photo-booth portraits of the inhabitants, which reminded me a lot of people like Zef and the Limp. The...

  6. Wednesday 27 November
    (pp. 25-27)

    Vöhringen: spent the night in an inn. In the morning bought Band-Aids and pale brandy for my feet right away. Outside there is a wild snowfall. Staring forever into the flakes. I saw a procession of nuns together with high school students, sauntering with arms around each other’s shoulders and hips, thus demonstrating ostentatiously that this meant nothing, that the nuns were modern in their thinking nowadays. The whole arrangement smacked of bogus gaiety and insouciance, while reeking of hypocrisy. One of the nuns displayed a tattooed eagle on her low-cut neckline, extending from one shoulder blade to the other....

  7. Thursday 28 November
    (pp. 28-33)

    Beyond Volkertsheim spent the night in a barn; all around there was nothing else, and so I stayed, although it was only 4:30. What a night. The storm raged so that the whole shack, which was solidly built, began to shake. Rain and snow came sprinkling in from the rooftop and I buried myself in the straw. Once I awoke with an animal sleeping on my legs. When I stirred it was even more frightened than I was. I think it was a cat. The storm grew so fierce that I can’t recall having experienced anything like it. A black...

  8. Friday 29 November
    (pp. 34-35)

    Not a good night, therefore somewhat plaintive in the morning. Telephoned from the post office. An ugly, much-frequented road to Neufra over a range of hills. A direct route cross-country is hardly possible. A terrible storm up in Bitz, everything’s covered with snow. Beyond Bitz, up a forested slope, a furious flurry of snow breaks out in the forest, the flakes circling down from above like a whirlwind. I don’t dare venture into the open fields any more since the snow there blows horizontally. For many years they haven’t had anything remotely like this, and it’s not even December yet....

  9. Saturday 30 November
    (pp. 36-42)

    Still in Tailfingen. It all started with a tunnel where the parked cars were being ticketed by the police. We drove past hollering, doing something that isn’t done. Once, at home, I wanted to tidy up the messy car a bit, and along the way I threw out everything, mostly old scraps of paper. Suddenly I found two police magazines amid a pile of junk, and inside them were two pictures of such beauty that I’d never seen anything like them before. They were pictures of a land that took my breath away. But how did something like this get...

  10. Sunday 1 December
    (pp. 43-44)

    An almost toothless cat howls at the window, outside it’s overcast and rainy. This is the First Sunday in Advent, and in less than three days I can reach the Rhine.

    For the first time some sunshine, and I thought to myself this will do you good, but now my shadow was lurking beside me and, because I was heading west, it was often in front of me as well. At noon, my shadow, It cowered there, creepingly, down around my legs, causing me in truth such anxiety. The snow has smothered a car, it was flat as a book,...

  11. Monday 2 December
    (pp. 45-52)


    In Schramberg, things seemed to be still in order: fried goose at the tavern, card players playing skat. One of them would get up when he lost, pacing back and forth among the tables with extreme agitation. A climb up to the fortress instead of down, then along the chain of hills to the Lauterbach Valley. Black Forest farms come into view without warning, and a completely different dialect, also without warning. I’ve probably made several wrong decisions in a row concerning my route and, in hindsight, this has led me to...

  12. Tuesday 3 December
    (pp. 53-59)

    Difficulties in finding a place to spend the night. When I tried to break into a house in the dark, without noticing it I lost the compass that was on my belt; I’ve been attached to it ever since the Sahara and it’s a painful loss. Up on the summit, toward evening, I met a group of men at the edge of the forest who were waiting, strangely frozen, with their backs to me; chainsaws were still working in the woods though it had long been quitting time. As I approached them I could see they were convicts consigned to...

  13. Wednesday 4 December
    (pp. 60-68)

    An immaculately clear, cool morning. Everything is hazy on the plain, but one can hear life down there. The mountains, full and distinct in front of me, some elevated fog, and, in between, a cool daytime moon, only half-visible, opposite the sun. I walk straight between sun and moon. How exhilarating. Vineyards, sparrows, everything’s so fresh. The night was pretty bad, no sleep from three o’clock on; in the morning, making up for it, the boots have lost their painful places and the legs are in order. The cool smoke of a factory rises calmly and vertically. Do I hear...

  14. Thursday 5 December
    (pp. 69-72)

    Set out very early in the morning. The alarm clock I’d found ticked so treacherously loud in the house I left behind that I climbed back inside, retrieved it, and threw it a bit further away into some undergrowth. Right after Fouday the most awful downpour began, rain mixed with hail, the black clouds threatening evil. I took shelter under a tree in the lingering morning gloom. Below me the road, and beyond the brook some railway tracks. It’s so dismal. A little further it really gets serious. I crouched above the road beneath the fir trees, my poncho drawn...

  15. Friday 6 December
    (pp. 73-79)

    The chairs in the restaurant were still standing on the tables, but I was served breakfast graciously nonetheless. Beside me in the restaurant, which was otherwise empty but for two cleaning women, the waitress was taking breakfast, and together we looked in the same direction, the direction of the street. I wanted to look over at her, but neither of us dared direct our gaze at one another, for due to a secret, compelling reason this wasn’t allowed. I’m sure she was under the same compelling urge. She stared rigidly ahead, the urge urged us both. I stood in line...

  16. Saturday 7 December
    (pp. 80-84)

    I immediately pulled the covers of my display bed over my ears when I saw how hard it was raining outside. Please, not this again! Can the sun be losing every consecutive battle? It wasn’t until eight in the morning that I finally set out again, already completely demoralized at that early hour. A merciless rain and humidity, and the profoundest desolation pressed down upon the land. Hills, fields, morass, December sadness.

    Mirecourt, from there onward in the direction of Neufchâteau. There was a lot of traffic and then it really began to rain, Total Rain, a lasting-forever winter rain...

  17. Sunday 8 December
    (pp. 85-89)

    The land here is being carelessly killed. Children are playing around the church. During the night I was very cold. An old man crosses the bridge, unaware that he’s being watched. He walks so slowly, and ponderously, pausing again and again after short, hesitant steps; that is Death walking with him. All is shrouded still in semi-darkness. Low clouds, it won’t be a good day. Till’s wedding took place on the mountain, which was covered with snow, and I pushed Grandma up the mountain. Erika cried down from above that we should remain seated where we were. I said, “First...

  18. Monday 9 December
    (pp. 90-93)

    Yesterday was the Second Sunday in Advent. The latter half of yesterday’s route: Cirfontaines—Harmeville—Soulaincourt—Sailly—Noncourt—Poissons—Joinville. In Joinville a conspiracy hovers over everyone’s head. As yet uncertain about the route today, probably straight toward Troyes, possibly via Wassy. The cloud situation has hardly changed since yesterday, the very same thing: rain, gloom. Noon in Dommartin-le-Franc; I ate a little. The countryside is boring, hilly, bare, plowed wet fields. In the furrows cold water has gathered, at a distance all dissolves in cloudy drizzle. It’s really not rain, just sheer drizzle. The towns are still spread far...

  19. Tuesday 10 December
    (pp. 94-97)

    Crystal clear weather for a while, a joyful feeling upon seeing the sun, everywhere steam: steam from the Aube as if it were boiling, steam from the fields. When I look up to the sky while walking, without realizing I walk on a curve toward the north. Right after the Aube, the steam from a field was so thick and so low above the ground that I waded through it shoulder-high. Viewed far and wide, the land is almost flat. A mangy woman chases a mangy dog out of the house. Oh, my God, how I am cold, God, please...

  20. Wednesday 11 December
    (pp. 98-103)

    All I see in front of me is route. Suddenly, near the crest of a hill, I thought, there is a horseman, but when I moved in closer it was a tree; then I saw a sheep, and was uncertain as to whether or not it would turn out to be a bush, but it was a sheep, on the verge of dying. It died still and pathetically; I’ve never seen a sheep die before. I marched very swiftly on.

    In Troyes there had been myriad clouds chasing through the morning dimness, as it started to rain. In the obscurity...

  21. Thursday 12 December
    (pp. 104-105)

    Called Pierre-Henri Deleau. I’ve pulled him out of bed; he’s the only one who currently knows that I’m coming on foot. Nangis: perfectly straight stretch, pleasant to walk since I can trot along the roadside. Cold, light snow begins to drift, then rain. It is very cold; at the edge of the snow I encountered a police roadblock, which became most uncomfortable. Harvested fields, trees on the sides of the road, heaps of leftover sugar beets. In Provins I wandered about in the morning for a long time, at least six miles in all. The will to end all of...

  22. Friday 13 December
    (pp. 106-111)

    Walked all night long, Paris perimeter. It was the day when my grandfather refused to get up from the chair in front of the door. A farmhouse was in the background, also a clothesline between a couple of rotting posts, and fixed to it were clothespins. Ducks splashed about in a small muddy hole in which water had gathered. At a distance, a barn and a cottage, the kind they provide for retired railway clerks. On the railway tracks just one train a day passes through. My grandfather was sitting in his leather armchair, wrapped in a rug up to...

  23. Saturday 14 December
    (pp. 112-114)

    As afterthought just this: I went to Madame Eisner, she was still tired and marked by her illness. Someone must have told her on the phone that I had come on foot, I didn’t want to mention it. I was embarrassed and placed my smarting legs up on a second armchair, which she pushed over to me. In the embarrassment a thought passed through my head, and, since the situation was strange anyway, I told it to her. Together, I said, we shall boil fire and stop fish. Then she looked at me and smiled very delicately, and since she...

  24. Tribute to Lotte Eisner
    (pp. 115-125)

    On the evening of March 12, 1982, seven years after Herzog’s journey to Paris, he gave the following speech in honor of Lotte Eisner on the occasion of her receiving the Helmut Käutner Prize for her contribution to German film culture. She was the first person to be given this award.

    Ladies and Gentlemen,

    Today we are honoring Lotte Eisner, our Iron Lady.¹

    Bertolt Brecht, who with his impertinence usually said the right thing, was the first to call her that, and it has since taken root.

    Our Eisner—who is that? I will say it right from the start:...

  25. Back Matter
    (pp. 126-131)