Hartl Hörmannsdorfer, the Famous Poacher from Bayrischzell
Today, seized by a strange spirit, I made the brief pilgrimage to the grave of the poacher Hartl Hörmannsdorfer, as I am wont to do now and again. He is buried at the foot of the Mangfall Mountains, in whose shadow I have lived since founding the plague chronicle, in the churchyard of St Margareth in Bayrischzell.
His gravestone is the most prominent one, with the great stone cross:
Upon it we find this weathered picture of the man …
… and this suspiciously worn inscription:
“Here rests our dear Hartl Hörmannsdorfer, from Sollacher in Bayrischzell, ski teacher and war veteran 1939–45, who on 30 November 1948, at the age of 40 years, was shot by a gamekeeper while poaching.”
The whole inscription has clearly been rubbed out and then later restored in modified form, absent one word to the left of “Jäger” (“hunter,” or, in this case, “gamekeeper”) at the start of the penultimate line.
Hörmannsdorfer is a semi-forgotten local hero, who fought in World War II as a Heeresbergführer only to return to a broken Germany. In the fall of 1948, when food was scarce, he dared to breach American prohibitions on bearing arms and hunting, and betook himself to the high Wildalpjoch in search of game.
There, he was spotted by a gamekeeper from Brannenburg, who shot him – as legend has it, in the back. It was the harsh if customary penalty for poaching. The gamekeeper, who thought he’d missed, left Hörmannsdorfer dead in the mountains, and it took the townspeople six days to find him. They brought his body back to the valley and gave him the most festive funeral in living memory. As Die Zeit reported in 1954:
The band played the poacher’s song “Ich schieß den Hirsch im wilden Forst.” Marksmen from all around paid their last respects to their comrade. As was the custom when a royal prince was born, firecrackers echoed from the mountains. Tyrolean poachers slipped across the border, and those who could sported fresh Gamsbärte in their hats from poached chamois, to mock the Brannenburg gamekeepers. Many vowed to avenge Hartl.
On Hörmannsdorfer’s gravestone they etched this defiant inscription:
Here rests our dear Hartl Hörmannsdorfer, who on 30 [November] 1948, at the age of 40 years, was shot by a cowardly forest warden while poaching.
The years passed; Hörmannsdorfer became a local legend and even the subject of a forgotten play called the “Poacher from Bayrischzell.” Here’s a picture from a performance in Hainsbach in 1950:
After the founding of the Federal Republic in 1949, the Brannenburg gamekeepers sued to have the inscription removed, on the grounds that it insulted their profession. The local court agreed, and ruled in 1954 that the verse and especially the adjective “cowardly” had to go.
From Die Zeit again:
After six years, the anger has faded. It’s just as well that the stone has been removed, people say, and anyway there should be peace in the cemetery. But Hartl will remain a hero of the people, no court or authority can change that, because in the eyes of the commoners he practised the fundamental rights of a free man and paid the highest price for it.
Eventually the townspeople replaced the stone, with the modified inscription you can read today and an awkward space where the word “cowardly” used to stand.
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