Book Of A Lifetime: Of Walking On Ice, By Werner Herzog

Reviewed,Duncan Minshull
Friday 26 March 2010 01:00
Comments

Simple acts of walking are threaded through the fiction of many writers, such as Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Franz Kafka, who put their characters on the road for compelling reasons. So it seemed an idea to round them all up, and steer them into an anthology called The Burning Leg. Twenty authors gathered. Except my favourite was missing, because his words are non-fiction, though they flow fantastically. Quest, myth and even farce colour the pages of his rich and remarkable diary - the sort of diary that invites you to stop reading before pulling on your Timberlands.

The film director Werner Herzog has a certain reputation. He makes ethereal and outlandish works. He once dragged a ship up a mountain and aimed a gun at an actor. But these are small fare compared to a journey he took in 1974, from Munich to the bedside of an ailing friend near Paris. It was deep winter and Herzog believed that tramping through adversity would help the friend. The sheer effort of the walk would "bring her back" to health. This is announced at the start of Of Walking In Ice, published a few years after his self-styled pilgrimage.

Yes, Munich to Paris - in three months. That's a map, compass and little else in a small duffel bag. He sticks to the back routes and skirts the Rhine, the Black Forest and the Seine, then parts of urban France and on to the capital. Early days are shrouded in fog, which heightens his task. Steam rises from his trousers as he worries about arriving quickly enough. After three weeks, he has "walked walked walked" himself into reverie, meaning white doves and white peacocks cross the paths ahead of him.

So far, so Herzog, if you know the man: a fully paid-up German romantic. Breaking into an empty house for the night, he's also a vagabond of the road, as wayward as any star of his films: a rambling Klaus Kinski, perhaps. But seeking shelter, like tending to monster blisters and accepting lifts, marks a tempering of high-blown ideals and he becomes more grounded.

For on foot we see things properly, and with a humbler eye Herzog picks out vivid details – a tree "sweats" and a cigarette packets bloats "corpse-like". On foot some basic truths emerge, like: "you pass a lot of rubbish when you walk". And at a spot near Gedaechtnishaus he comes up with a theory I've recanted many times. Get lost once: very annoying. Get lost twice, and you'll find the right road again.

But does the man with the duffel bag, who himself might have stumbled out of Dickens or Kafka, reach his friend? I won't spoil it for future readers. Suffice to say: here's a book of a lifetime that makes you walk for a lifetime. Herzog speaks to the stroller in all of us.

Duncan Minshull is editor of 'The Burning Leg' (Hesperus)

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in