For centuries, life in the Alps was extremely harsh and difficult. Yet the mountains with their impressive, rugged silhouettes have become a place of longing for many people. What happened? Why do we find so beautiful today what we dreaded so much yesterday?
If you think of the Alps, you think perhaps of an idyllic peak, of snow-covered slopes, of the blue hour in the early morning or evening and the surreal mood its particular light creates. If you think of the Alps, you think of luscious green meadows, of cold water tasting of minerals, of contented cows and perhaps even of a happy Heidi, gambolling around a wooden hut with her friend Peter.
This image that we have of the Alps is relatively new, however. The Alpine researcher Werner Bätzig puts the date when it began to appear at 1760, the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Beforehand, visible from far away, the Alps were a projection screen for the city dwellers. The Romans called them “montes horribiles”, “terrible mountains” in which no one could live. Nature was too unpredictable and frightening.
With industrialization, however, the mountains became a place of longing, an untainted world with good air, high recreational value and a large measure of personal freedom. Their grandeur was glorified in poetry and extolled in songs. The beautiful-terrible moods which they exude at different times of the day are still impressive in pictures today. The natural sciences, which increasingly create the impression that mankind has nature under control, dispelled the fears of the first city dwellers at that time, according to Bätzing – Alpine tourism could begin.
In the meantime, the image that we have of the Alps has become much more varied, however. For many, the idyll is still important. But depending on your interests, there are also many other things which draw us to the mountains: mountain bike trails, via ferrata, rafting routes or, of course, ski slopes. One single image of the Alps which holds true for everyone no longer exists. There are instead many reasons which bring people to visit them time and time again.