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Doktor Scheibl asked him about the background of skiing in Saalbach. Hans replied, "When I got born there was no skiing in Saalbach, yet I am only 63. There was no ski lift in the whole valley until 1946. My first ski binding—ha, ha!—it was an old shoe of my father's nailed to my ski and laced tight to my foot. Until 20 years ago everyone in Saalbach was farmers. Now we are in the tourist business. Everyone. People don't use the Alps for farms or cows, not anymore, only for tourists."
"Tell me, then," said Doktor Scheibl, "are the Kasermandls gone too, if the farming has stopped?"
Hans exclaimed, "Kasermandls! Nobody believes in Kasermandls now that we are in the tourist business. If Kasermandls were not good for milk cows, they are not good for tourists."
Doktor Scheibl explained, in his patient way, that Kasermandls were creatures no one ever saw. They were probably small and possibly green and had lived in the mountains for centuries, usually with the sole aim of doing dirty tricks to cows and cowherds. "You see," said Doktor Scheibl, "when a cowherd left his hut to go down the mountain, he left food for Kasermandls or they would cause the cows' milk to go sour, or to be spilled. Also, if a Kasermandl becomes angry at you, he will punish you by wiping his hands on a scorched frying pan, then wiping the dirt on your face, and you can never get it off. For life."
The sun shone brilliantly on the snow I and the slopes were comfortably alive I with skiers, some yodeling for the sheer ecstasy of the day. But Doktor Scheibl was in a deep brown study, frowning, stroking his beard. At last he said, "Hans is right, of course. Kasermandls would not be good for the tourist business. It was bad enough when the Austrian ski team was losing to the French a few years ago. Believe it or not, Austrian winter tourism suffered much because of that. And to think of Kasermandls tinkering with tourists besides—a disaster, more or less."
Someone suggested that possibly an Austrian ski team made up entirely of Kasermandls could solve all problems at once. Doktor Scheibl replied, "It is unnecessary. Tourism is up again now that the Austrian team is winning." He yodeled with delight, then said, "Believe it or not."
Though Saalbach lies in a relatively remote and beautiful valley, it is a village plainly in the tourist business. The steep and narrow streets are tied up in a perpetual traffic jam of creeping cars and jostling skiers, and there is an air of ski-bunny commercialism that becomes a mite heavy. At night, the swingers turn out in grand grinning armies to bob and throb on tiny dance floors in the velvet cellars of several hotels and caf�s. There is plenty of 20th-century action in Saalbach, but there is a certain lingering Old World beauty, too. An onion-steepled 17th-century church, its walls weathered to ocher by the mountain winds, is crammed inside from pulpit to balcony with the classic gilt gingerbread carvings and sculpture of the baroque style. And there are some gracious old restaurants, hotels and caf�s. None is so fine as the caf� in the Hotel Bauer, with its red-shaded lamps, superb pastries and sharp espresso, its backsound of murmured conversations. A lovely "introspective place," as Doktor Scheibl put it, something out of 19th-century Munich.
Serfaus is a sleeping beauty of a village tucked away high above The Valley of the Inn River, way up where rock-seamed Peak Furgler looms at night. The sense of tranquillity and antiquity is profound. There are no cars moving through the streets, for at the village entrance stands a man with a lantern. When a car arrives, this sentinel at the gates stops the motorist and politely asks, in guttural, Tyrolean-accented German, whether the driver has a hotel room reserved. If the answer is no, the visitor is directed off the road and told that he must walk into Serfaus, for motorized traffic is unwelcome. If the answer is yes, the motorist is permitted to drive to his hotel and park, though not to drive the narrow streets again during his stay.
Thus the medieval serenity is maintained. Barns full of cows or horses stand next door to hotels and pensions. The faint odor of manure is in the air, along with the sounds of the bells of horse-drawn sleighs and the lilt of zither music from skating and curling rinks in the center of town. There is a magnificent ninth-century church, with a Madonna and Child said to date from the year 427. Serfaus, it is claimed, was a shrine for pilgrims of the fifth century and later for travelers bound for the Holy Land, and the stone remains of a Roman road wind through the area.
In other ways, too, Serfaus still seems to live in another century. Nearly every doorway in town, from the weathered old wood frames on barns to the gleaming new oak moldings of the hotels, bears the cryptic chalked notation 19 C?M?B? 74. What does it mean?