(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

From its very first sentence (“In Munich are many men who look like weasels”), “The Schreuderspitze” is pervaded by a sense of strangeness and mystery. As the story opens, one of these weasel-like men, a commercial photographer named Franzen, is rejoicing at the disappearance of Wallich, a rival photographer. Franzen regards Wallich with a mixture of respect and scorn: Although Wallich is capable of taking beautiful pictures, he lacks the drive that would make him successful. He probably fled to South America or jumped off a bridge, Franzen suggests, because he was too weak to face himself and understand “what sacrifices are required to survive and prosper. It is only in fairy tales that [the weak] rise to triumph.” If that is so, “The Schreuderspitze” is itself a fairy tale. Franzen disappears from the story; Wallich, the protagonist, emerges triumphant, though not in a way that his earthbound rival would be able to understand.

Wallich has disappeared to try to adjust to the death of his wife and son in an automobile accident. Only once before has he left Bavaria, on a weeklong honeymoon in Paris, and even then he was homesick. Now he seeks a place where he can be alone, yet where he will “have to undergo no savage adjustments.” He finds it in the Alpine village of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, close to the German border, which he is afraid to cross. By the end of the story, a fable of mystical transformation, he will cross a border more profound than any national boundary.

Wallich goes in October, and, in response to the railroad agent’s warning about snow, claims on the spur of the moment that he is a mountain climber. In fact, he has always been poor at sports and “would close his eyes in fear when looking through Swiss calendars.” However, one may ask “why was he going to Garmisch-Partenkirchen anyway, if not for an ordeal through which to right himself?” That ordeal, mad as it seems for one with neither talent nor experience, will be to attempt a five-day ascent of the nearly vertical west face of the Schreuderspitze, the most imposing peak in the area.

In the village he feels too awkward to eat in...

(The entire section is 888 words.)