Robert Pimm

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When hush, crowds descend


By Robert Pimm, Globe Correspondent

Boston Globe, September 3 2006

VIENNA — Beethoven is buried here. So are Brahms and Schubert, the Strausses and Schönberg. Key scenes from “The Third Man” were shot here. But composers and movie classics aren’t the only reasons to visit the Zentralfriedhof (Central Cemetery) in Vienna.


The grave of Johann Strauss in the Zentralfriedhof – Photo Robert Pimm

To experience the full glory of Vienna’s great necropolis, come at dusk on 1 November. On All Hallows, so many Viennese come to pay their respects that the city schedules extra public transportation. But don’t worry, the place won’t be crowded. The 3 million people buried in 495 acres here since the cemetery opened its gates in 1874 outnumber the present population of Vienna 2 to 1 .

As night falls on All Hallows, the Zentralfriedhof is transformed into an ethereal wonderland. It seems every visitor throughout the day has lit a candle at a headstone. Kneeling black-clad women rake frozen earth around graves. Candlelight shimmers on stone angels’ wings. Visitors move toward the cemetery gates, their breath forming clouds .

It’s the combination of mass happening and individual emotion that makes All Hallows at the Zentralfriedhof so moving. In the night, a sea of lifetimes laps around you. Stop for a moment. See the glimmer of a lantern reflected in a black marble gravestone. Listen. Beyond a hedge, the sound of feet shuffling on gravel tells the story of one more visitor heading home through the darkness.

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Rattle and roll to the Alps

Night trains are great for kids, says Robert Pimm.  Adults may find them a little less glamorous

Financial Times, August 20 2005

It’s awkward, leaving your children unattended in a night train compartment after lights-out. But sometimes you have no choice. I’m gone only a few moments. When I return, a man is there, taking off his coat. The light is blazing.


Lech, Austria – Photo Robert Pimm

“Sorry,” I say, “we’ve booked this whole compartment.”

“No.” The man and his suitcases seem to fill the space between the bunks. “I am here too. Look. Here is my ticket.”



By Robert Pimm

Financial Times Magazine, March 19 2005

Going up is as good as going down on the slopes this year, as skiers warm to the pleasures of the world’s first heated chair-lifts

It’s -20 deg C and the wind is howling when I first feel the heat. So do my fellow passengers.

“Mmm,” says Maya from Leipzig. “That’s pure pleasure.”

“Comfort,” says her friend, Erika.

“All we need now is coffee and cakes,” says Ilse from the Black Forest.

Silence falls on the chair-lift as dry heat warms our nether regions, rising through our ski suits from the padded seats beneath us.

You don’t have to be too strident a critic of consumerism to view some innovations with scepticism. Nowhere is this truer than on the pistes, where new skis, gadgets and must-have accessories appear more regularly than (more…)

From tears to triumph

Choosing the right children’s ski school is vital for family holidays, says Robert Pimm

Financial Times, February 19 2005

It’s Day One at the Lech ski school and I’ve never seen so many children crying. In the hubbub, mobile phones ring, helmets are tightened and farewells are made as parents prepare to off-load their offspring and start their own pilgrimage to the pistes.


Getting ready for the day’s ski-ing – Photo Robert Pimm

The head of the children’s ski school, wearing a white cowboy hat, is besieged by adults demanding to know which class their children should ski in. Amid the tumult, a well-groomed Englishman is kneeling in the snow, holding his tiny son by both shoulders. “I don’t want to go to ski school,” the boy says. “I’m cold.” “You’ll enjoy it.” “No I won’t.” The man climbs to his feet and looks down. “I’m afraid, darling, you simply must.”


Sole mates

 They may be pricey, but Robert Pimm finds some boots were just made for skiing.

Financial Times, October 23 2004

In the basement of Sporthaus Strolz, a man and a woman stand at a bar in a state of immobility, their feet are clamped into ski-boots filled with slow-setting liquid foam.

“How much longer will this take?” the man growls at a waiter.

“About ten minutes longer.”

“Bring me another schnapps.”

The family-owned firm of Strolz, based in the Austrian resort of Lech, is famed for its custom-made ski boots.  But are they’re also known for a hefty price-tag and a foaming process for which you have to stand still for 30-60 minutes.


Where even experts fear to tread

By Robert Pimm

Financial Times, October 22 2004

The Valluga II cable car above St. Anton is one of those boxy, old-fashioned affairs that sways from one mountain peak to another across a gulf of nothingness. At the entrance is a sign showing a pair of skis, crossed out. Next to it, to avoid any confusion, the words: NO SKIS.

“What’s that?” I ask Willi, a fellow skier with whom I am about to enter the six-person cabin.


The descent from the Valluga II looks nothing like this – Photo Robert Pimm

“It’s OK,” he says. “It means no skis unless you have a guide.”

For skiers who have mastered the basics, the benefits of skiing with a guide are not always clear-cut. (more…)

Austrian idyll far from the well-worn pistes

Robert Pimm on the unspoilt charm of Lech

Financial Times, March 26 2004

There is something about a charabanc that yells “holiday!” And the views from the big yellow bus are breathtaking: as we climb through the cosy resort of Stuben, the hairpins and avalanche tunnels of the road to Lech come into view, burrowing up through ice-capped cliffs.


Lech is staggeringly picturesque – picture Robert Pimm

The gradient of the road and the number of skiers clambering aboard fuel the familiar mix of dread and anticipation that for me marks the start of every ski adventure. “Soon we’ll be skiing,” says Owen, aged 11. “I can’t wait.” It’s his fifth visit to Lech. “I’m glad we took the bus, not a taxi,” says Anna, nine, also on her fifth visit. “It’s a tradition.”

Tradition and return visits are what Lech is all about. An astonishing (more…)

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