Apostles of the Alps

Apostles of the Alps

Mountaineering and Nation Building in Germany and Austria, 1860-1939

Tait Keller

University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 2016, 304 pages

Book Review published on: May 5, 2017

Apostles of the Alps: Mountaineering and Nation Building in Germany and Austria, 1860-1939, is a text for any individual interested in understanding how terrain can not only affect relations between two nations, but how it also affects the evolution of warfare. It is, indeed, one for any tactician’s bookshelf.

Starting out slowly in its informational development, the text sort of lingers on the history of mountaineering in the Alps leading up to World War I. The Germans, Austrians, and Italians shared a common interest in mountaineering dating well into the mid-1800s. A natural competition of sorts developed between the nations and led to the creation of a series of mountain lodges and shelters that heavily dotted the Alps. Early on it can be seen that the mountains, though of no value in terms of natural resources, quickly became a source of real estate contention. As the sport of mountaineering (or hobby, as it was considered in some cases) gained popularity, clubs sprung up throughout all three countries. With the rapid increase in membership came newer and larger lodges and shelters. Newer lodges and shelters meant even more Europeans in the Alpine region.

Along with these clubs rose a new sense of nationalism. Germans in the far north, where the terrain did not warrant mountain climbing, felt themselves attached to the Alps via a newfound sense of national pride. The Austrians, even though their membership numbers were not as noteworthy as the Germans, were nonetheless something the other nations could not ignore.

When war broke out, the Alps soon became a new and deadly battlefield. The death toll, though not as high as in the trenches, was nevertheless grievous. Keller does an excellent job of telling the story through the eyes of the soldiers who were there. As one of them points out in the text, the dark and nightmarish trenches were a stark contrast to the pristine blue skies and landscape of the mountains. Thus, the overall experience for mountain soldiers seemed surreal.

At the war’s conclusion, the struggle for the ownership was not at an end. The Germans, who as history notes, lost the war along with the Austrians were at the mercy of the Allies. The Italians fought Germany tooth and nail for every lodge and shelter they could lay hands on. As Keller accurately points out, this sowed the seeds of the next war. At the time, Germany was subject to the punitive proceedings at Versailles, but this was not to last. Italy systematically sued and confiscated previously held German lands, including the controversial Tyrolian region.

Keller leaves the reader with an interesting reflection at the book’s end. He hints at the idea without coming directly out about it that the Alps in all reality belong to no one.

Book Review written by: Capt. Eugene M. Harding, U.S. Army National Guard, Auburn, Indiana