On safe paths across the "Stone Sea"

For years, Georg Imlauer has led up to 2000 pilgrims across the Steinerne Meer

"I have very close ties with the region," says Georg Imlauer. "When I as a boy took the Natrunlift up the mountain, I already got homesick." Georg laughs. For 17 years now, he has been the forerunner of the famous Almer pilgrimage and leads up to 2,000 pilgrims annually across the Steinerne Meer. He is also responsible for the traditional events of the farmers' autumn and breeds Noriker. So Georg never gets boring. We were nevertheless allowed to talk to him about his life and the region.

He is very down-to-earth - literally connected to the soil, Georg tells us. We sat down at a table in front of his house in Maria Alm; behind us is the beautiful old farmhouse that Georg's grandfather bought. "I was a mountain farmer boy," says Georg. "We always worked with our hands, we didn't have a tractor before. And it wasn't until I was 17 years old that we got electricity. Until then, there were only kerosene lamps." Georg pauses briefly, looks past us to the farm in our back. He grew up there. "When we used to do our work at the kerosene lamp, our father often said: 'Harmful' for kerosene. Better don't do the job." Georg smiles. "That's just the way it was. My mother cared about school, my father cared that we worked. We farm boys were summer freed, so we were allowed to stay home from school from May 1st. His brother was a milker, he was a shepherd himself, says Georg. And during the winter vacations we worked with wood. "My father pulled wood from the forest down into the valley, and we continued with the horses. Our vacations were characterized by that. But it was a wonderful time." Until today Georg has a special connection to horses - he breeds Noriker.

"I can feel the snow in my knees"
Beside the Noriker breeding he has another task, which he enjoys very much: He has been the forerunner of the famous Almer pilgrimage for 17 years. He can probably walk the pilgrimage route across the Stone Sea to St. Bartholomä almost in his sleep. But at least in almost any weather. "As a forerunner, you have to know your way around the Stone Sea - even in fog, rain or snow," says Georg Imlauer. "You have to know the markings on the ground. The Vorgeher does not carry a cross either, but only a stick with flowers on it. So that people know where to go."

One or two times the pilgrims have already been hit by snow, up on the mountain. But mostly Georg feels it before. "I always wear short leather pants on my pilgrimage," he says. "Then I always feel the snow. Once, we were already on the road for a while, when I felt it in my knees. The sheep up there also behaved differently. And overnight, the snow was there."

The story of the plague and the bell at the Dürrnberg
When exactly the Pinzgauer pilgrimage took place for the first time is not documented. However, it is assumed that the plague, which caused 14 mischief in the Pinzgau region within 300 years, played a major role and the pilgrimage was a kind of plague vow. Especially the region around Saalfelden was hard hit at that time - whole villages became extinct. "Around 1630 it must have been particularly bad again with the plague," says Georg and strokes the tablecloth. "People say that back then, in their delusion, people heard a bell. They believed that it was the bell from the church at the Dürrnberg. George pauses briefly. "In those days, they say, not twenty people lived in Saalfelden." So it is said that the plague ended in Saalfelden. "But then in August 1688 a terrible disaster happened", says Georg. "There 70 pilgrims drowned on the Königssee, when they wanted to cross the lake with a raft. After that the pilgrims only went to St. Bartholomä. " In memory of the ship accident at Königssee, a wreath is laid down on the Falkensteinwand every year

After the war the pilgrimage was negotiated
During the Second World War, pilgrimages almost came to a standstill. "Nobody was allowed to go over there anymore," says Georg. When the war was over, the desire for the pilgrimage across the Stone Sea grew louder. "That was in 1951, when my grandfather finally crossed over to the border," says Georg. "There he arranged it with the Bavarians so that we could cross over again. Since then, the pilgrimage from Maria Alm is made every year." The Almer pilgrimage is considered the oldest high mountain pilgrimage. At the crack of dawn, when it's still dark, the group, some of which number up to 2,000 people, makes its way from Maria Alm to the Riemannhaus in the Steinernes Meer at 2,177 meters. There they first celebrate mass, then continue through the more than 30 bends of the Saugasse to Königssee. Since 2002, Georg has led the pilgrimage as its predecessor. In addition, he is responsible for the entire course of the popular farmers' autumn in Maria Alm - for the area of customs. "I like doing this very much," says Georg and smiles. "My mother already liked doing this, she was a poet." Georg was also an active musician for 43 years - with passion. "Unfortunately I had to stop that four years ago because my eyes don't work anymore," says Georg.

"We got a nice place here already"
But he does not know boredom - quite the opposite. In winter, for example, he harnesses his Noriker to his sleigh and drives guests from near and far across the fields of his homeland. "I ride the old sled on which we used to transport the wood," says Georg. "I have only slightly modified it, I am a trained carpenter. We usually take the foals with us on our trips. Then they get used to it from an early age, the clatter of the carriage and the people. When he rides through the snow with the guests, he takes the beauty of his home country particularly intensely, says Georg. Especially when the guests draw his attention to it. "I always drive over a hill from which you can look down on Maria Alm," says Georg. "A guest once said to me that this is already very beautiful. And then I thought to myself once again: Yes, we already have a particularly nice place here.

A region with two faces
Our visit is coming to an end. We would like to ask Georg one last question: What is special for him about the region he lives in. "That it has two faces," says Georg. "On the one hand - when I stand in the village - everything is already very well developed for tourism. And the other side is pure nature. Everyone can decide for themselves what they want. If I want to have peace and quiet, I go up the mountain over there and can march for hours - no one meets me there. But if I want to meet people and have action, then I go up the Hundstein, for example, and meet many hikers. We have both. That is beautiful."