Of Walking in Ice: Munich-Paris, 23 November-14 December 1974
by Werner Herzog
University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN, 2015
96 pp. Paper, $19.95
Reviewed by Edith Doove
Transtechnology Research, University of Plymouth
For the author of such larger than life projects as Fitzcarraldo, Grizzly Man, or Cave of Forgotten Dreams this seems an unassumingly little book. The subject however is still larger than life. Upon hearing that his mentor and close friend, the iconic film historian and critic Lotte Eisner was seriously ill and possibly dying in Paris, Herzog decided in November 1974 in an almost shamanistic way to walk this fate away. Leaving from his then hometown Munich his epic walk took him through desolate villages, landscapes, and most of the time awful winter weather - hence the title Of Walking in Ice. Herzog seemed to survive mainly on milk and tangerines and broke most of the time into holiday homes, stables, and on one point a demonstration caravan to spend the night or find shelter.
Although not very voluminous Herzog's account is nevertheless detailed and paints quite a vivid picture of the landscape he negotiates. Whoever has travelled in this German-French region will immediately be able to envision his surroundings and its desolateness. Herzog's use of language is poetic and at points touching on the delirious when fatigue seems to let his mind drift of to personal memories that border on filmic ideas. Although he hardly speaks of Eisner in these notes, it is possibly in this filmic approach that her mentorship is most clearly present, accounting for Herzog's despair that leads him to undertake such an endeavour in the first place. Of Walking in Ice thus almost reads like a film script, and it is almost impossible not to hear Herzog's recognizable voice with the thick German accent providing the voice-over. It is quite fascinating how his account builds an unexpected notion of wildness in the heart of Europe due to this persistence to walk (apart from the occasional short lift when weather or painful limbs become too bad). This clearly connects to his overall approach in his oeuvre. Despite the underlying seriousness, there is also a lightness of tone and a sense of humour, especially in the account of the demonstration caravan that almost topples over when he enters it.
It is not entirely clear why there is this new re-publication after so many years. Eisner survived her illness at the time, thanks to Herzog's endeavour or not. This edition of his book includes for the first time Herzog's 1982 tribute to her upon the receipt of the Helmut Kaeutner Prize. Eisner would eventually die on November 25, 1983; almost nine years to the day when Herzog started his walk to prevent her from dying. All in all a must-read for all avid walkers and lovers of Herzog's personality and work.