Pulling at a thread can unravel a whole sweater. The mind can do that with a word, a thought, like endless hyperlinks leading to multilayered galaxies of stories. Didn’t you as a kid dream of finding a secret door, a magic entrance that would open a whole new world? I did every time I was playing in the forest or when we went in summer time in my mother’s 500 year old family house in Bad Aussee, a small town the mountains of Upper Austria.
Last June when visiting her I went to hang the laundry in the attic. There, behind the clothing line, next to an antique wardrobe, a painting was hung. It stared at me from the side and smiled.” I remember this guy” I thought, i saw this painting as a child but I can’t remember where it was hung back then. Who is he anyway?
He is the Archduke Jean. He is often be seen in the small town of Bad Aussee. He stands proud in the local park has a bronze statue with a Tetra he had just hunted, erected in 1856, 3 years before his death. He figures also on many of the city’s murals. He was born on January 20th 1782 in Florence, son of Duke Leopold of Toscane, and futur Emperor Leopold II and Maria Ludovica de Bourbon-Parme. One of his brother will become Empereur Francis I. In 1819 he met the young daughter of Bad Aussee’s postman at the Toplitzsee ( there is even a memorial stone to commemorate the story by the lake) . 10 years later he married her with the approval of the Imperial court. Anna was ennobled in 1855 and has received the title of Countess of Meran. Their story touched the hearts her contemporary, was the subject of countless plays, novels, poems, songs and movies.
This is for the romantic part, for every story has to have one, and now let’’ move the action Bond like side of the story that took place at the Toplitzsee. Toplitzsee has a legend that links Austria, to my other homeland Morocco, and England where I lived for the last 16 years.
Toplitzsee lays in a dense mountain forest high up in the Austrian Alps, 98 km (61 mi) from Salzburg. It is surrounded by cliffs and forests in the Salzkammergut lake district, within the Totes Gebirge (the dead mountains). The area is considered the most beautiful and picturesque in Austria. Interestingly Toplitzsee’’s water contains no oxygen below 20 m and is very salty. Fish can survive only in the top 18 m, although bacteria and worms have been found below that depth. There may be more laying in the deep dark waters of the lake.
In 1943 and 1944 the shore of Toplitzsee served as a Nazi naval testing station where scientists experimented with different explosives and fired torpedoes from a launching pad in the lake into the Tote Mountains, making vast holes in the canyon walls. Operation Bernhard was the codename of a secret Nazi plan devised during the Second World War to destabilise the British economy by flooding the global economy and the British Empire with forged £5, £10, £20, and £50 notes.The Bank of England learned of a plot from a spy in 1939 and detected forged notes in 1943 from a British bank in Tangiers, Morocco. It is believed that most of the notes produced, over £100 million ended up at the bottom of Toplitzsee . There is however a layer of sunken logs floating half way to the bottom of the lake, which renders diving beyond it a hazardous and quasi impossible endeavour. In 1959 a team financed by the German magazine Stern retrieved £72m in forged sterling currency hidden in boxes, and a printing press and in 2000 a team in an underwater capsule came away with nothing more than a box full of beer lids, apparently dumped in the lake as a practical joke.
The area is only accessible on foot. I had to go and have a look. The walk is very easy and by no means boring. The forest is dense, the air is balmy and full of essences, fresh. You can choose to walk along the river or through the forest, you can have a coffee,lunch or dinner at the Fisherman Hutte, take a boat to the end of the lake and continue to yet another lake on foot, or if you like a challenge do the various trails that links the 3 beautiful lakes in the area – Toplitz – grundlesee and Altausee. I have done them all, they are more challenging for they go over the mountains, but the views are breathtaking.
You never know where hanging the laundry can take you. Next time I went up in the attic I am pretty sure I saw him wink at me.