Toine Heijmans: »Mountains are like moving creatures«

(c) Foto: Timo Ruppel
(c) Foto: Timo Ruppel

Der Tag, an dem Walter Welzenbach seinen ersten Berg bestieg, sollte sein ganzes Leben bestimmen: Nie wieder würde er etwas anderes wollen. Jetzt steht er auf seinem letzten Gipfel, der 8188 Meter hoch ist, und blickt auf seine Einsamkeit.

»Der unendliche Gipfel« ist die atemberaubende Geschichte der Bergsteigerfreunde Lenny und Walter, die in den Alpen und im Himalaja ihre Träume verfolgen und dabei ihr Schicksal besiegeln. Sie tragen die Geschichten der großen Alpinisten mit sich und suchen gemeinsam einen Weg, Geschichte zu schreiben. Aber in der dünnen Luft gelten andere Gesetze. 


Im Interview berichtet Autor Toine Heijmans davon, was ihn an den Bergen fasziniert, wie poetische eine Sprache über die harsche Bergwelt sein kann und wie er dazu kam, über sie zu schreiben. 

Der unendliche Gipfel – Im Gespräch mit Toine Heijmans

(c) Foto: Merlijn Doomernik
(c) Foto: Merlijn Doomernik

Dear Toine, how did you come to write »Der unendliche Gipfel« (Zuurstofschuld) and how did you go about it? 


Toine: A story on mountaineers was in my mind for over 20 years, because up there in the high mountains I think it is possible to have a look at humans in a different way. The higher you go, the more basal life becomes, so the mountains are the perfect place to bring your characters and see how they behave. Besides, I know them a little, and I like to write on things that I know, maybe to know them better. On the other hand: this book is not so much on mountains and the people that go there, it is in my opinion on the way we handle life at a certain point. That’s why it starts with Walter on a nameless mountain-top, asking himself what he is doing there, and what he has been doing all these years: is this what he wanted, was it a choice to spend a life in the mountains, or did this just happen to him? I think this is a question many people ask themselves.


How poetic can a language about the harsh mountain world be?


Toine: I hope poetic enough … it is, to be honest, not very easy to write on mountains and describe them. They are in fact no more than stone and ice, they don’t move or talk, so the only thing you can do is write about the way other people see them. Once you think about that, mountains are like moving creatures, as everything around them changes constantly. The light, the weather, the temperature, the climbers. When I try to describe this world, and other worlds, it seems that feeling the environment is the same as writing. It has a lot to do with being there, in a way, and try to find the words for what the characters feel.  


What is it about the mountains that fascinates you?


Toine: I think the same as everybody: the vastness, the stillness, the power, the idea that they belong to a deep time without people and will stay there longer than any human being will. The same with the oceans and the seas. These are places without real past or future, they are there. When I was younger, I climbed a bit, mostly in the Alps, and I still remember everything from that time, even the small steps that I took, or the smile on the face of my climbing partner when we rappelled from some dangerous rock. It’s were you feel alive.


In your book we learn a lot about the history of mountaineering. Was it your ambition to make this history accessible in literary form?


Toine: Not at all! For a long time, I’m fascinated by books and stories on mountaineering, but I wanted to make this novel just a story on Walter and Lenny. And then suddenly … all the other stories came drifting by, knocking at my door and I tried to ignore them until I noticed that all those stories are similar, in a way. Walter and Lenny climbed in the footsteps of them, so why keeping them outside. Walter was not the only one who stood upon a mountain top asking himself why. At first this was a bit awkward, because as a journalist I tend to keep fiction and non-fiction apart, but then I thought: why not. It is a brilliant opportunity also to shed some light upon mountaineers and adventures that are already a bit forgotten, and some very well written books. For instance, the autobiography of Tenzing is so wonderful, or the books by Bonatti, I hope that people who read my novel will read these ones too.

(c) Foto: Toine Heijmans
(c) Foto: Toine Heijmans

You climb as well - what is your favourite climbing route/ your favourite mountain?


Toine: Well, I used to climb, although the book inspired me and my climbing mate to go out again now and then. I have very good memories of the Zinal Rothorn and the Nadelgrat, in Switzerland, I think not because they are the highest or the most difficult, but because I was very happy climbing them, and very myself. My first journey into the Himalaya in Nepal also, I walked the original route to Mount Everest and every day was blissful.


What was the highest mountain you ever climbed?


Toine: Not too high … a nameless nearly 6000 meter peak in Nepal. Believe it or not: I’m not a huge fan of big heights, and easily prone to altitude sickness.


Who inspires you and who do you want to inspire?


Toine: In this case all the writers of the beautiful books on mountains and mountaineers. In these modern, easy times, it is hard to imagine how it was to climb. The nicest thing of being a novelist, is that you get questions from young people, as they read my books in schools. They are so open minded and smart, I learn a lot from them.


What are you currently working on?


Toine: A new novel! Again a message from the wilderness, this time I chose the floodplains of a big river as decor, and a man who lives there on his own. The Netherlands are not really a country, they are more a bit of land in between the big and moving rivers, and one of them is my main character.


Is there anything else you would like to share with your German readers?


Toine: Well - it’s all about imagination. That’s the biggest power on earth. So big that even a writer from the low countries, with no mountains at all, dares to write on mountains. 

Fotos: Timo Ruppel

Toine Heijmans - Der unendliche Gipfel

Aus dem Niederländischen von Ruth Löbner


352 Seiten, Hardcover mit farbigem Vorsatzpapier und Lesebändchen

ISBN 978-3-948722-25-8 24,00 €


--> Weitere Informationen zum Buch gibt es hier. 

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