Searching for family roots in South Tyrol and finding a cheese dinner and a sleeping place in an apple plantation

This day of travel serendipity happened in 2018 and is more text and fewer pictures. If you were expecting something else, you may instead want to read about flowers and chicken.


For sixty years my family lived in Franconia. Before that, my father’s family was half Czech (Brno) and half from Vienna. And the family’s folklore tells that the Vienna part originated from Kurtatsch in the Adige valley of South Tyrol.

Two centuries later, our genes are diluted, but I still claim their responsibility for the liking of Espresso and red wine.

In 2018 the Mensa Youth Camp took place in the central Italian region of Umbria in Trevi. I decided to hitchhike there and search for ancestral roots on the way.

My genealogical knowledge was that „In der Maur“ lived in Kurtatsch, and that we visited it when I was nine years old. So I asked in our family chat, but the most informative answer was „it is white with a white big wall and around the corner from something.“ 🙂

The internet knew a street called Indermauerstraße and an Indermauerhof. Three kilometers from the village center – walking distance, I thought. Funny me, not being in the Alps often enough to not translate a zigzag road into an uphill hassle.

I walked towards the village for a few kilometers through nature. Nature in the Agide valley means apple trees, apple trees, pear trees, and more apple trees. Contrary, on the valley walls, there are wine yards and apple trees.

During the ascent towards the village center, a car stopped beside me: „Hey, do you wanna hop in?“ „I think it’s only another kilometer, but as it’s uphill … yes, I will, thanks!“

My original unsophisticated plan was to say hi at the local police office, because they might know stuff – and in the worst case they wouldn’t.

In the next few minutes, I explained my ancestral search. My driver Rosi, around 65 years old, said: „That sounds interesting. We’ll see what we’ll find out.“

She stopped in the middle of the village, asking two ladies, which building is the Indermauerhof or which other building it could be. They referred her to some elderly lady in the post office. Rosi left the car in the middle of the main crossing of the town. Luckily, not much traffic there anyway.

It turned out it’s a building up on the hill and she will give me a lift up there. Oh, is she heading in this direction anyway? Lucky me then!

The route was up the hill. A lot up. Maybe three or four hundred height meters. That would have been a long walk.
During that trip, Rosi tells me, that she is the retired midwife of the village and she knows every woman and family in town. And she does whatever she likes. Even more so, now that she is retired. And Rosi liked my story. So she wanted to drive with me up to that village and check things out. 🙂

Nice holiday location, half-height up this alpine valley. Still, the tenant of the Indermauerhof knows no ancient history of the place, he only runs the guest rooms and restaurant. But his wife (my driver helped her giving birth to two children) says, that her mother-in-law always claimed this house to be only the summer house of the In der Maur but their regular residence was down in the village.

Rosi was like: „so we’ll visit your mother-in-law then“ and goes to the neighbor house, into the living room of a 80 year old lady.

Unfortunately, the lady has forgotten a lot. No reason for Rosi to give up, mobile phone out of her pocket, and called a town council member. After a quick intro, she hands the phone over to me to explain. But it is 5pm and he has no access to the village chronicles.

Back in the restaurant, we get some cappuccino and ice cream. Then the council man calls again, he got some chronicles and Rosi of course knows the place and the people living there.

I get invited to the coffee and ice cream and outside the restaurant we find a plaque mentioning that the Indermauer had this and four more houses. The family is extinct in the area for 200 years, but descendants still live in Switzerland and in Vienna. (My Vienna ancestors – as my family tale goes.)

On the way down Rosi suggests I should really see the neighbor valley because it is so nice. So she detours and we enjoy a nice view and on the way back stop at her favorite mountain well to taste the fresh water. 🙂

She’ll be heading for a three-day seaside holiday tomorrow and if I would like to join her. But I actually really want to climb the Zugspitze at that time, so I decline. But it’s a nice thing to get such an offer from a person you did not even know two hours before, just because she is in good mood today and you get along very well. 🙂

She had to walk up the village hill every school day until she was fourteen. So she decided, once she would have a car she would offer everyone a lift there – and she has done so for 40 years. And I serendipitously walked there at the right time that day.
You may try your luck in meeting her as well if you exhaustedly walk around Kurtatsch.

The house of my supposed heritage is the impressive village building of the most important noble family in town – basically the richest farmers and winemakers from 500 years to 200 years ago. Hence also the name means „those who live inside a wall“, which must have been a unique thing once.

The backhouse tenant is nice and friendly, but knows no history as well, same as the main house tenant, who speaks the only Italian I hear the entire day. What a pity that his wife is still at work because she might have enabled us a look inside the house.
At least I’ve seen the courtyard and know where the house is, for that moment. Asked in some years, I will probably describe it as: „it is white with a white big wall and around the corner from something“. 😉

In the village, Rosi wanted to buy an apron. What kinda apron? The locally traditional blue apron for some girl’s celebration. I might as well join her, if the aprons are nice I would take one.

The blue aprons are …. well, blue aprons. But I like that it is the traditional thing to wear for anybody in this area for work in the kitchen, on farms, in wine yards. So I decide to get one. Obviously Rosi knows everyone in the shop and even walks behind the bread counter to say hi to someone. Then she even invites me to my apron, because it will be a nice souvenir from my ancestor’s place. Oh, wow, thanks!

And would I like to join in on a cheese dinner? She once lent money to the local cheese maker and ever since gets some kilograms of cheese per week! Half is given to friends and the family eats a lot of cheese – nice interest.

Cheese dinner? Why not, sounds fun. I’m in.

As I have no sleeping place yet in sight, I’m also invited to stay in a guest room at the place she lives with her husband, two daughters, and her brother.

Again we stop in the middle of nowhere to chat with a woman, that we are now on the way to the cheese maker. The woman looks at me and asks who my driver picked up today. I’m somehow like „Hi, I’m Peter. I got a lift and I got invited for cheese dinner“. She’s like „I’m used to that. My mum brings home guests every second day. I’ll see you for dinner then.“ 😉

At the cheese maker in Kurtatsch we admire calves for a while before the owner explains his lack of employees today and inability to deal with cheese right now. Rosi will leave for her holiday tomorrow morning at 6am, so he wants to bring the cheese at 5 then.

With no cheese, we head back to Rosi’s house. 

When given the choice of overnight rooms, I decide for my own hammock in the middle of the apple tree plantation – because I had never done that before. Of all the guests Rosi brings home, I am the first one with that wish and pick two lovely apple trees in front of a huge bunch of huge sunflowers and malvas.

Shortly after a massive bag of cheese appeared in front of the house – the cheese maker meant 5pm, not 5am tomorrow. So for dinner, there are five massive pieces of cheese instead of two, and Rosi and her daughter of my age as a nice company.

Three days ago, I got a lift from a woman living in the neighboring village Neumarkt or Egna in Italian. I then went on to visit Lake Garda and we arranged for a drink this evening. When I mention it to Rosi, she offers her daughter’s bicycle, if the chain is not too rusty. 

So with an old lady’s bike, I cycle to Egna, drink Hugo with another lovely woman, and admire the unique Roman stone arches of the townhouses (see e.g. here). 

The way home leads through summery apple plantations and makes me realize what an awesome serendipitous day I had! Nearly every single moment of it was pure coincidence and life as it sometimes happens.

The next morning I wake up from the warm sun, and soon after a man walks into the apple plantation: „Hello I’m Wolfgang, I’m Rosi’s brother. She told me you’d sleep over here. It’s breakfast time. I’ll head off to work now, but my niece will keep you company.“

So I enjoyed breakfast with the handsome daughter, and we had a long chat about life, the universe and everything. I ate lots of cheese and received a cheese package for the next days and a handful of Malva seeds – ever since, I have Malvas on my balcony. Around lunchtime, she drove me to the train station of Neumarkt to get a train towards the Zugspitze, which I conquered on the next day successfully.

The Eibsee below the Zugspitze on the day after this story. One of my favorite lakes, for it’s marvelous blue-green water.
For a miracle timely coincidence, after I climbed 2000 meters to the top of the Zugspitze, it was the blood moon night! And, as all serious mountaineers went to bed really early to get up early, this here is the probably the best picture taken from the highest place in Germany of the lunar eclipse 2018. My zoom wouldn’t give a higher resolution than this, but still I quite like the picture and the emotions connected with it.

Do such awesomely random, super-nice, very welcoming, and absolutely bestowing days actually happen to all people? Or am I attracting these a bit?

Such unforeseeable days happen when you do unforeseeable things. I like holidays that include hitchhiking for that. It provides good energy for such happenings.

May the force be with you on your journeys!

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