Last autumn I went to Todtnauberg in the Black Forest with a friend to see Heidegger’s hut. What to say about it? It seems an obvious thing to write about: one those trips you think about writing about while you’re doing it. Maybe that’s why I haven’t: it puts me off. So what to say about it, now that it’s popped into my head again?
It was an ordeal to get there in a rental car from Basel Airport. We drove across the border and around a roundabout three times before we got onto the right motorway. Then on to the mountains as it got dark. By the time we got to the hotel I’d booked – which, it turned out, was half an hour’s drive from where we were supposed to be – they’d stopped serving food and we’d fallen out. The receptionist was a little scared by our argument. We ate fruit and nuts and slept in the same room.
The next day we made it. There’s no information about Heidegger in the village, not even in the tourist office: a big building with old pictures of the region. This is a tourist destination now, a skiing resort in winter. No wonder they don’t advertise him, I say.
Most of the restaurants and BnBs are closed. We walk around until we find one of those pointed pathway signs that says Heidegger-Weg. The path appears to run along the hills and around the village, which lies in a valley and doesn’t seem to have changed too much since Heidegger’s time, judging from the pictures in the tourist centre. Beautiful, imposing landscape; you can start to see where he came from. It’s not my bag exactly – I prefer flatlands.
We pass a couple of signs. We end up near what looks like the hut from the cover of a book my friend is carrying. We’ve read it’s private land, but we go up anyway. This isn’t it, I say, the cover’s wrong, it’s not the same as on Google images. For once I’m right. It turns out the hut is round the hill, more hidden. A slightly shabby cabin in a faultless location, it makes sense. How did he get his books and things up here, I wonder, it’s steep. A carpenter has put a wooden star on the top of the well, a copy of the one on his grave in Messkirch.
On the way back we stop at a Gasthaus and ask an old-timer in overalls sitting on the porch if they have a room. He shouts for the landlady, who comes out and says it’s only available for a week at a time, mostly in the winter. She seems suspicious, as Germans often do. We get talking, and it turns out this man knew Heidegger and his family well, and that this house is where Heidegger wrote part of Being and Time. He goes in and a minute later brings outs a plastic folder with old newspaper clippings and letters written in Heidegger’s hand. We make our standard middle-class noises, but the man isn’t impressed. He was all right, Heidegger, he says, polite and part of the community, but as far as his Denken went, it was null. No one cared that he was a philosopher. The only odd thing about him was that he always wore a suit and got some foreign visitors. As my friend was taking pictures of the letters, the landlady popped her head out and told the man to be careful about showing people those documents. He didn’t seem to care. We went on our way and I found a place on Airbnb, a newbuild with a sauna, designed for people on skiing holidays.