Ambassador for the mountains

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Man of experience, man of action: Messner at one of his six museums Man of experience, man of action: Messner at one of his six museums Photo: Georg Trappeiner

She designed a museum for Reinhold Messner high up on a mountain. She designed an exhibition hall for NürnbergMesse on level ground at the exhibition centre. Both projects are fairly recent, before her sudden death this year. As Messner says, “It was her last project.” They make an unlikely pair, Reinhold Messner and Zaha Hadid: One a legendary mountaineer firmly rooted in his home region, the conqueror of no less than 14 peaks 8,000 metres high, and the other an acclaimed architect and visionary designer of futuristic spaces. The museum designed by Hadid now stands on the plateau of the Kronplatz in South Tyrol, a beacon of Messner’s homage to the mountains and the last of his mountain museum sextet.

The limits of endurance

Reinhold Messner und Geoffrey Glaser

Trade fairs bring people together: Our author and Reinhold Messner meeting each other for the second time at an exhibition in Nuremberg. Photo: NürnbergMesse/Frank Boxler.

Perhaps the Iraqi-born Londoner and the adventurer living in South Tyrol were more similar than one would think. During her lifetime, Hadid pushed the boundaries of what was feasible in the architectural realm in much the same way as Messner pushed the limits of what’s possible for a human being to endure and survive. But whereas the architect did not become famous or make history until later in her life, Messner has been a legend for a very long time. Naturally, because the feats he performed were spectacular – like being the first person to climb Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen, or because he was a more extreme and more daring rock climber than most others. But perhaps it’s also because he kept reinventing himself. After his rock climbing phase was over, he became a high-altitude mountaineer. “They may sound related, but the difference between rock climbing and high-altitude mountaineering is disproportionately greater than that between a hundred-metre sprint and a marathon.”

”How embarrassing is that!”

Once he had conquered all the 8,000-metre peaks and had crossed the great deserts, Messner reinvented himself again – by necessity. After being incapacitated for a long period following an accident at home (“I fell off a wall: How embarrassing is that!”), he turned to telling the story of the mountains. He incorporated and exhibited the results in six museums, each of which stands on a different peak and is dedicated to a different topic. Until the end of 2016, Messner will continue to manage his legacy before handing over the reins to his eldest daughter. “This is my legacy. I’ve been working on this museum structure for 20 years, bringing people and the mountains together – from a cultural and spiritual perspective as well.”

“I’d like to bring the great mountains closer to a wider public.”

From mountaineer to museum director

Messer is a mountaineer who became a museum director and exhibition specialist. He often attends trade fairs and congresses as a guest and has visited Nuremberg repeatedly – on this occasion, for the packaging exhibition FachPack. Messner takes a serious tone: “I’m an organiser like you and a service provider for the more than 200,000 visitors who come to my museums every year.” Now he’s starting something new again, and his next project is already under way. “There’s nothing more boring than repetition,” he says, and that’s why he’s now making films. This is a departure for the 72-year-old. Of course, they’re about his life’s passion. He remains the mountain ambassador in action. “The mountains simply won’t let me go,” says the native of South Tyrol, with a grin. Does it come from the motivation to teach, perhaps? Messner denies this vehemently. “I don’t want to instruct anyone. I’m a storyteller, nothing more.”

Storyteller

Messner knows how much effort is involved in telling stories using the medium of film, and how long it takes until you get a result. However, his motivation is the story itself, he says: “I’d like to bring the great mountains closer to a wider public.” Although Messner doesn’t want to be a teacher, he will continue to be the ambassador for the mountains. His films will also be shown in his museums, to which he continues to feel committed. Even if he’ll no longer manage the operational side of the business, he doesn’t want to let go completely. Currently he’s very concerned about the humidity in the Fort Monte Rite museum on the Monte Rite in Cadore. “We simply can’t get rid of it,” he says sadly. And he reveals mischievously that he’s already thinking ahead: “Perhaps I’ll build another museum.”

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