Image: A per­son hiking in a sno­wy landscape.

Table of Con­tents
Ger­ma­ny in the Hima­la­yas  | Hima­la­yan por­ters in the Ger­man archi­ve  | Abbre­via­ti­ons |   End­no­tes  | Biblio­gra­phy

The end of the nine­te­enth cen­tu­ry wit­nessed the start of clim­bing expe­di­ti­ons in the Hima­la­yas that were distinct from the ear­lier expe­di­ti­ons that focu­sed on sur­vey­ing and explo­ring the regi­on. Euro-Ame­ri­can clim­bers beca­me fasci­na­ted with the idea of clim­bing the world’s hig­hest peaks and in the ear­ly twen­tieth cen­tu­ry laun­ched attempts to break the alti­tu­di­nal record. While the Eng­lish began their attempts at clim­bing Mount Ever­est from 1922 onwards, Ger­man clim­bers laun­ched their Hima­la­yan expe­di­ti­ons with their first attempt to climb Kang­chen­junga in 1929. Bet­ween 1929 and 1939, Ger­mans under­took ele­ven moun­tai­nee­ring expe­di­ti­ons to the Hima­la­yan peaks. They were com­pa­ra­ble only to the attempts by the Bri­tish clim­bing expe­di­ti­ons in the same period.

The Deut­sche Alpen­ver­ein (DAV – Ger­man Alpi­ne Club) and the Deut­sche Hima­la­ja-Stif­tung (DHS – Ger­man Hima­la­ya Foun­da­ti­on) were the two insti­tu­ti­ons that pro­vi­ded most of the sup­port for the­se expe­di­ti­ons. The DAV was estab­lished in 1869 in Munich for the pro­mo­ti­on and sup­port of Alpi­ne tou­rism. It mer­ged with the Öster­rei­chi­scher Alpen­ver­ein (ÖAV – Aus­tri­an Alpi­ne Club) in 1873 to form the Deut­scher und Öster­rei­chi­scher Alpen­ver­ein (DuÖAV – Ger­man and Aus­tri­an Alpi­ne Club). In 1911, the DAV Muse­um was set up on Pra­ter Island in Munich and still holds the archi­ve at the same address.[1] 

Unli­ke sta­te or eco­no­mic archi­ves, the archi­ve of the DAV is a smal­ler and more spe­ci­fic insti­tu­ti­on. It is orga­ni­zed in seven hol­dings (Bestän­de):

  1. Archi­va­li­en des DAV, des DuÖAV und der Sek­tio­nen (Records of the DAV, the DuÖAV and the Sections)
  2. His­to­ri­sche Doku­men­te zur Alpin­ge­schich­te (His­to­ri­cal docu­ments on alpi­ne history)
  3. Archi­va­li­en der Expe­di­ti­ons­ge­sell­schaf­ten (Archi­ves of the Expe­di­ti­on Societies)
  4. Foto­gra­fien und Post­kar­ten (Pho­to­graphs and postcards)
  5. Per­so­nen­nach­läs­se (Pri­va­te papers)
  6. Wer­be­mit­tel (Adver­ti­sing material)
  7. Doku­men­ta­tio­nen (Docu­men­ta­ti­ons)

Within the frame­work of Indo-Ger­man ent­an­gle­ments, the hol­ding titled Archi­va­li­en der Expe­di­ti­ons­ge­sell­schaf­ten is of spe­ci­fic inte­rest, as it holds the files, pho­to archi­ve, film and audio mate­ri­al of the Ger­man Hima­la­yan Foun­da­ti­on (Akten, Foto­ar­chiv, Film- und Ton­ma­te­ri­al der Deut­schen Hima­la­ja-Stif­tung). The indi­vi­du­al files of this hol­ding ori­gi­na­te from the many Hima­la­yan expe­di­ti­ons under­ta­ken during the twen­tieth century.

This post aims to pro­vi­de a gui­de to this spe­ci­fic hol­ding of the DAV archi­ve that docu­ments the begin­ning of Ger­man moun­tai­nee­ring efforts in the Hima­la­yas and, in doing so, high­lights a uni­que facet of Indo-Ger­man histo­ry as it attempts to unco­ver traces of the non-eli­te or nati­ve expe­di­ti­on labou­rers. The first sec­tion pro­vi­des the con­text and tra­jec­to­ry of the expe­di­ti­ons, high­light­ing the con­di­ti­ons under which such mate­ri­als were pro­du­ced. The second sec­tion focu­ses on the hol­ding in the archi­ve and the various mate­ri­als that refer to the expe­di­ti­ons’ labourers.

Germany in the Himalayas

The Wei­mar years (1918–1933) mark­ed a shift in the atti­tu­de towards moun­ta­ins and moun­tai­nee­ring in Ger­ma­ny from recup­er­a­ti­ve recrea­ti­on to an asser­ti­on of the ideo­lo­gy of the nati­on. Accor­ding to Lee Holt, the First World War chan­ged the envi­sio­ning of the Alps, as they beca­me “a micro­c­osm of the nati­on, a geo­gra­phic site whe­re moun­tai­neers would train the next gene­ra­ti­on of sol­diers” (Holt 2008: 4). The 1920s saw the emer­gence of the alpi­ne jour­nals of Ger­ma­ny and Aus­tria encou­ra­ging peo­p­le to look to the moun­ta­ins for strength and inspi­ra­ti­on, as the moun­ta­ins would be the reme­dy for the sick and weak nati­on (ibid.). The jour­nals also cal­led for the re-estab­lish­ment of Germany’s geo­po­li­ti­cal pre­sence, so Ger­man alpi­ne orga­niza­ti­ons laun­ched various expe­di­ti­ons bey­ond their tra­di­tio­nal area of acti­vi­ty into the Pamirs and the Hima­la­yas. The new moun­tai­neer embo­di­ed a new mas­cu­li­ni­ty that drew upon seve­ral dif­fe­rent dis­cour­ses of the Wei­mar Repu­blic: body, beha­viour, mora­li­ty and spi­ri­tua­li­ty beca­me the quint­essen­ti­al qua­li­ties of a moun­tai­neer who fre­quent­ly repre­sen­ted both the Ger­man nati­on and the pro­mi­se of an impe­ri­al future (Ibid: 81).

It was within this con­text that Ger­man moun­tai­neers star­ted loo­king towards the Hima­la­yas and mark­ed the begin­ning of a pro­lon­ged effort to con­quer Hima­la­yan peaks, in par­ti­cu­lar two peaks: Kang­chen­junga (8598 m) in the eas­tern Hima­la­yas and Nan­ga Par­bat (8126 m) in the wes­tern Hima­la­yas. The first such expe­di­ti­on, led by Paul Bau­er, was to Kang­chen­junga in 1929. With a team of eight Ger­mans and two Eng­lish­men depu­ti­sed to the expe­di­ti­on by the Bri­tish colo­ni­al govern­ment, it mana­ged to climb to a height of 7,400 meters, but fai­led to reach the sum­mit. Ano­ther expe­di­ti­on in 1930 led by the Aus­tri­an Gün­ter Oskar Dyh­ren­fürth (Die Inter­na­tio­na­le Hima­la­ya-Expe­di­ti­on (IHE)) attempt­ed the same peak, but, having fai­led, attempt­ed and suc­cee­ded in clim­bing the neigh­bou­ring Jongsong, Ramtang and Nepal peaks. Bau­er laun­ched ano­ther expe­di­ti­on to Kan­chen­junga in 1931, but mana­ged to ascend only to a height of 7,775 m, the hig­hest alti­tu­de ever rea­ched by any per­son at that time. But, just as in 1929 during his first expe­di­ti­on, he again could not reach the peak.

Having fai­led to sca­le the third hig­hest peak of the world, the­re was a shift in focus towards Nan­ga Par­bat in the wes­tern Hima­la­yas, to which the Ger­mans felt they had a con­nec­tion. The dis­co­very of Nan­ga Par­bat is ascri­bed to Adolf Schlag­int­weit,[2] who in 1856 tra­vel­led this regi­on and noted this par­ti­cu­lar sum­mit for its towe­ring height, overs­ha­dowing all other sno­wy peaks (Mason 1955: 82). The first clim­bing attempt is attri­bu­ted to the Bri­tish clim­ber A.F Mum­me­ry, who tried to sca­le it in 1895. Howe­ver, this attempt ended in tra­ge­dy with the dis­ap­pearance of Mum­me­ry and the Gurk­ha sol­diers who accom­pa­nied him.

In 1932, per­mis­si­on was given to a Ger­man-Ame­ri­can Hima­la­yan Expe­di­ti­on led by Wil­ly Merkl to climb Nan­ga Par­bat, but it fai­led to reach the sum­mit, owing to wea­ther con­di­ti­ons and labour trou­bles. Pre­pa­ra­ti­on for ano­ther attempt began almost imme­dia­te­ly with rene­wed sup­port from the Ger­man govern­ment. In 1933, the Ger­man Alpi­ne Club was brought under the Deut­scher Reichs­bund für Lei­bes­übun­gen, (DRfL – Ger­man Natio­nal Fede­ra­ti­on for Phy­si­cal Exer­cise) (Holt 2008: 265). This move brought the nar­ra­ti­ve of Ger­man moun­tai­nee­ring under the con­trol of the Natio­nal Socia­list par­ty, which had come to power in Ger­ma­ny. The Reich Sports Lea­der Hans von Tscham­mer und Osten pro­vi­ded govern­ment sup­port to the expe­di­ti­on by app­ly­ing for and get­ting appr­oval for the neces­sa­ry tra­vel visas through Bri­tish India. Having recei­ved grea­ter fun­ding through the Bund der deut­schen Reichs­bahn-Turn- und Sport­ver­ei­ne (Sports Club of the Ger­man Sta­te Rail­ways), Not­ge­mein­schaft der Deut­schen Wis­sen­schaft (Socie­ty for Ger­man Sci­en­tists) and the DuÖAV, this expe­di­ti­on was the gran­dest so far in terms of its abili­ty to equip and pro­vi­de for not only the Ger­man clim­bers but also the Sher­pa por­ters, who were recrui­ted from Dar­jee­ling (Bech­told 1936: xviii). This expe­di­ti­on ended in dis­as­ter with the deaths of four Ger­man clim­bers – Alfred Dre­xel, Uli Wei­land, Wil­lo Wel­zen­bach and Wil­ly Merkl – and six Sher­pa por­ters from Dar­jee­ling – Nima Nor­bu, Nimu Dor­je, Dak­shi, Gaylay, Pin­zo Nor­bu and Nima Tashi. At that time, reports of what was con­side­red the grea­test-ever clim­bing dis­as­ter spread across the world and espe­ci­al­ly to the Ger­man public.

In the Ger­man ima­gi­na­ti­on, Nan­ga Par­bat beca­me renow­ned as the Schick­sals­berg – the moun­tain of desti­ny (Höbusch 2002). Rene­wed efforts to climb the peak mate­ria­li­zed in the form of the estab­lish­ment of the Ger­man Hima­la­yan Foun­da­ti­on (Deut­sche Hima­la­ya Stif­tung) under the Minis­try of Cul­tu­re in Bava­ria in 1936 (Mier­au 1999). The foun­da­ti­on was crea­ted to sup­port clim­bing and sci­en­ti­fic expe­di­ti­ons to the Hima­la­yas and mark­ed a new chap­ter in Ger­man efforts to con­quer the Hima­la­yan peak, as it pro­vi­ded even grea­ter sup­port for plan­ning such expe­di­ti­ons. In the same year, per­mis­si­on was denied for any expe­di­ti­ons to this regi­on due to the Kash­mir Durbar’s appre­hen­si­ons about such enter­pri­ses’ demands on the resour­ces of the land. An expe­di­ti­on to Sini­olchu peak in Sik­kim was ins­tead orga­nis­ed with Paul Bau­er as lea­der. It suc­cee­ded in the first-ever ascent of Sini­olchu (6891 m) and other sur­roun­ding peaks – Sim­vu (6550) and Nepal peak (7150 m). A mem­ber of this expe­di­ti­on, Karl Wien, beca­me the lea­der of the next Nan­ga Par­bat expe­di­ti­on in 1937. This attempt tur­ned out to be a big­ger dis­as­ter than the pre­vious one, with six­teen fata­li­ties (seven Ger­man clim­bers and nine por­ters). An ice ava­lan­che com­ple­te­ly wiped out Camp IV, whe­re the six­teen mem­bers had camped.

The dis­as­ters of 1934 and 1937 were glo­ri­fied to the Ger­man public in fic­tion and news­pa­per publi­ca­ti­ons as the sacri­fice of ele­ven Ger­man patri­ots. Harold Höbusch shows how Ad. W. Krüger’s novel Der Kampf um den Nan­ga Par­bat (The Strugg­le for Nan­ga Par­bat, 1941) dra­ma­ti­zes the 1934 expe­di­ti­on and puts gre­at empha­sis on loyal­ty and cama­ra­de­rie (Höbusch 2003: 27). The deaths of the moun­tai­neers were ele­va­ted to mar­tyr­dom and used for pro­pa­gan­di­stic pur­po­ses after the Natio­nal Socia­list ascent to power in 1933 (Höbusch 2003: 32). Fritz Bechtold’s Deut­sche am Nan­ga Par­bat (1935 – Ger­mans on Nan­ga Par­bat), the most famous work of Ger­man alpi­ne lite­ra­tu­re in the first half of the twen­tieth cen­tu­ry, went through twel­ve edi­ti­ons until 1944 (Holt 2008: 275). Bechtold’s nar­ra­ti­ve of the 1934 expe­di­ti­on con­s­truc­ted the expe­di­ti­on in line with the fascist ideo­lo­gy of sport. The key com­pon­ents of his book stres­sed the mar­shalling of cha­os into order, adhe­red to the Füh­rer prin­ci­ple, depic­ted “only Ger­man” mem­bers and used mili­ta­ry rhe­to­ric to prai­se the sacri­fice of the indi­vi­du­al in ser­ving the nati­on and disci­pli­ning the body (Höbusch 2002). The docu­men­ta­ry Nan­ga Par­bat: Ein Kampf­be­richt der deut­schen Hima­la­ja-Expe­di­ti­on 1934 (Nan­ga Par­bat: A Front­li­ne Report on the Ger­man Hima­la­ya Expe­di­ti­on of 1934, 1935) was used as pro­pa­gan­da in the Third Reich for over two years and was also shown at the end of the Win­ter Olym­pics of 1936 (Holt 2008: 275). The­re was ano­ther expe­di­ti­on in 1938 led by Paul Bau­er by ano­ther rou­te with the base camp at eit­her Man­seh­ra or Abbo­ta­bad.[3] This attempt fai­led, and so did the sub­se­quent expe­di­ti­on in 1939 led by Peter Auf­schnai­ter, which was cut short due to the decla­ra­ti­on of war bet­ween Ger­ma­ny and England.

European mountaineers and Himalayan porters at the Base Camp. The German Expeditions in Siniolchum and Nanga Parbat
Fig. 1 “Sahibs and por­ters at the Base Camp”. Paul Bau­er (1938). Hima­la­yan Quest: The Ger­man Expe­di­ti­ons in Sini­olch­um and Nan­ga Par­bat. Pla­te 74.

Himalayan porters in the German archive

Pre­pa­ra­ti­on for such expe­di­ti­ons requi­red exten­si­ve com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on and co-ordi­na­ti­on bet­ween Ger­ma­ny and the Bri­tish govern­ment in India, which, apart from pro­vi­ding logi­sti­cal sup­port in the form of loa­ning trans­port offi­cers and gran­ting cus­toms exemp­ti­ons, also acted as inter­me­dia­ries to the pro­vin­cial powers in Kash­mir and Sik­kim. The­se cor­re­spon­den­ces form the trans­na­tio­nal ent­an­gle­ment at the level of inter­na­tio­nal diplo­ma­cy and col­la­bo­ra­ti­on bet­ween the two count­ries. Such mate­ri­als are often loca­ted in sta­te archi­ves and make litt­le men­ti­on of the por­ters who were recrui­ted for the­se expe­di­ti­ons. In the absence of any Indi­an “clim­bers”, the por­ters who car­ri­ed the loads up the moun­ta­ins and ser­ved the Ger­man clim­bers were the nati­ve coun­ter­part in this Indo-Ger­man expe­ri­ence. The per­cei­ved pro­blem in doing rese­arch on this par­ti­cu­lar group is the pau­ci­ty of archi­val mate­ri­al. Very litt­le is known about them. The objec­ti­ve here is to trace evi­dence of a group of peo­p­le who were so vital to the­se expe­di­ti­ons but are hid­den from the domi­nant nar­ra­ti­ves of moun­tai­nee­ring and labour history.

A clear illus­tra­ti­on of the pre­sence of the Hima­la­yan por­ters is the 1934 expe­di­ti­on to Nan­ga Par­bat led by Wil­ly Merkl, which con­sis­ted of thir­ty-five por­ters recrui­ted from Dar­jee­ling, five-hundred Kash­mi­ri por­ters and for­ty Bal­ti (from Bal­ti­stan) por­ters. The ratio of Ger­man clim­bers to nati­ve por­ters cle­ar­ly points to the signi­fi­can­ce of the por­ters. The chall­enge is to loca­te them in the enorm­ous paper trail the­se expe­di­ti­ons left behind. The hol­ding Archi­va­li­en der Expe­di­ti­ons­ge­sell­schaf­ten within the DAV Archi­ve ori­ents the rese­ar­cher towards a spe­ci­fic inter­ven­ti­on in Ger­man moun­tai­nee­ring histo­ry, as it con­ta­ins docu­ments of the Deut­sche Hima­la­ja Stif­tung (DHS). The DHS orga­ni­zed nine expe­di­ti­ons to the Hima­la­yas until 1957. Fol­lo­wing this, the DHS was accept­ed into the DAV and was sub­se­quent­ly ren­a­med Hima­la­ja-Stif­tung im DAV (the Hima­la­ya Foun­da­ti­on in the DAV) (Mier­au 1999). The­re­af­ter, the Hima­la­ja-Stif­tung con­tin­ued to sup­port various expe­di­ti­ons until its dis­so­lu­ti­on in 1998. In 1994, the Stiftung’s archi­ve was trans­fer­red to the cen­tral archi­ve of the DAV in Munich, whe­re it has been com­pi­led under the hol­ding men­tio­ned abo­ve; this post looks at the ear­ly years of the Stiftung’s operation.

The list of records of the DHS from its con­cep­ti­on in 1936 to its dis­so­lu­ti­on in 1998 is available in the online fin­ding aid (as are records from other hol­dings of the DAV). On input­ting key­words such as “indi­en” or “hima­la­ja”, the online fin­ding aid pro­vi­des a com­pre­hen­si­ve list of archi­val mate­ri­al ran­ging from writ­ten records (Schrift­gut) to pho­to­graphs and maps from the various expe­di­ti­ons. The fin­ding aid pro­vi­des search results down to spe­ci­fic writ­ten or visu­al records. The­se docu­ments appear with the signa­tu­re EXP, which signi­fies the docu­ments within the hol­ding of the expe­di­ti­on orga­ni­sa­ti­on or socie­ties (Expe­di­ti­ons­ge­sell­schaf­ten). More spe­ci­fic key­words like “Merkl” or “Dyh­ren­fürth” pro­vi­de fur­ther infor­ma­ti­on; their use pre­sup­po­ses a more tho­rough pri­or know­ledge of spe­ci­fic indi­vi­du­als invol­ved in the expe­di­ti­ons. Howe­ver, the search results are not an exhaus­ti­ve list, as some docu­ments in con­nec­tion with the expe­di­ti­ons are found across other hol­dings of the archi­ve. An exam­p­le to illus­tra­te this is the 1936 expe­di­ti­on to Sini­olchu led by Paul Bau­er. Most of the infor­ma­ti­on per­tai­ning to this is loca­ted in the socie­ty hol­ding and appears with the signa­tu­re EXP. Howe­ver, a report by a mem­ber of the same expe­di­ti­on, Fritz Schmitt, is found in the pri­va­te paper hol­ding (Per­so­nen­nach­läs­se) under the signa­tu­re NAS. Fur­ther, mis­cel­la­neous cor­re­spon­den­ces can also be found in the hol­dings of various sec­tions of the archi­ve, which is reco­g­nis­ed by the SEK signa­tu­re.[4]

The hol­ding of the expe­di­ti­on socie­ties is extre­me­ly rich in data on various aspects of the expe­di­ti­ons, but to find infor­ma­ti­on on the por­ters requi­res a more careful ana­ly­sis of the mate­ri­al. The records pro­du­ced by the­se expe­di­ti­ons can be divi­ded into two broad cate­go­ries. The first cate­go­ry com­pri­ses expe­di­ti­on reports and the offi­ci­al publi­ca­ti­on of such reports in the form of artic­les in jour­nals, news­pa­pers and ulti­m­ate­ly the published expe­di­ti­on mono­graph. Such mate­ri­als are iden­ti­fied by rea­ding files titled “Pres­se” or “Bericht” (Press mate­ri­al or Reports). The tro­pes such nar­ra­ti­ves fall into are com­pa­ra­ble to tho­se of tra­vel wri­tin­gs that begin with the traveller’s pre­pa­ra­ti­on and descrip­ti­on of the jour­ney. As was com­mon in tra­vel lite­ra­tu­re of the late nine­te­enth and ear­ly twen­tieth cen­tu­ry, the figu­re of the nati­ve appears in anec­do­tal encoun­ters, and the wri­ters’ descrip­ti­on of such encoun­ters beca­me a part of the pro­cess of know­ledge pro­duc­tion. In their inves­ti­ga­ti­on of por­ter rela­ti­ons in the Kara­ko­rams, Mac­Do­nald and Butz (1998) explain that tra­vel in the Hima­la­yas was regu­la­ted by a set of com­plex and lar­ge­ly tacit rules pre­scri­bed by the colo­ni­al sta­te, and this lar­ge­ly influen­ced the rela­ti­ons bet­ween the tra­vel­ler as the sahib and his nati­ve com­pa­n­ions as the por­ters or coo­lies (Mac­Do­nald & Butz 1998). This in turn soli­di­fied the role that such actors play­ed and limi­t­ed their abili­ty to tran­s­cend this par­ti­cu­lar posi­ti­on. The­se aut­hors high­light the cru­cial point that labour is not a sta­tic cate­go­ry in the nar­ra­ti­ves pro­du­ced about the expe­ri­en­ces of tra­vel, moun­tai­nee­ring and explo­ra­ti­on. The chan­ging descrip­ti­ons of labour reflect the inter­nal agen­cy of the labou­rers (Mac­Do­nald & Butz 1998: 300–301). Such accounts crea­te nar­ra­ti­ves of the expe­ri­en­ces gene­ra­ting know­ledge in which the descrip­ti­ve beco­mes the nor­ma­ti­ve. The­se docu­ments are pep­pe­red with anec­do­tes men­tio­ning par­ti­cu­lar por­ters, often nar­ra­ting par­ti­cu­lar ins­tances, which in turn beco­me part of the cor­pus that beco­mes com­pli­cit in crea­ting and per­pe­tua­ting ste­reo­ty­pes. The files con­tai­ning press mate­ri­al also often men­ti­on the por­ter as part of the logi­sti­cal data. Howe­ver, on rare occa­si­ons, a lar­ger report on the por­ters can be found, most­ly in the after­math of a dis­as­ter in the mountain.

The second cate­go­ry of archi­val mate­ri­al is files con­tai­ning exten­si­ve lists of Aus­rüs­tung und Ver­pfle­gung (Equip­ment and Pro­vi­si­ons), Finan­zen (Finan­ces), Ver­schie­de­ne Erklä­run­gen (Various Expl­ana­ti­ons) etc. The­se records ran­ge from thick files con­tai­ning num­e­rous cor­re­spon­den­ces and draft lists of food items and equip­ment to be pro­cu­red and packed in various boxes for the expe­di­ti­on to pay­rolls and the dis­tri­bu­ti­on of loads during the advan­ce and load-fer­ry­ing up and down the moun­tain. Loo­se docu­ments detail exten­si­ve plan­ning of what kind of food and equip­ment to be car­ri­ed not only for the clim­bers, but for the por­ters as well. This detail­ed atten­ti­on to the pro­vi­si­ons pro­vi­des infor­ma­ti­on on minu­te aspects of the orga­ni­sa­ti­on, but also the desi­re to pre­vent any delays in the expe­di­ti­ons, as the most likely cau­se of labour trou­bles was insuf­fi­ci­ent pro­vi­si­ons or clot­hing and equip­ment. The por­ter is men­tio­ned often in two cate­go­ries – Trä­ger and Kuli. The first term direct­ly deno­tes por­ter and the second is the oft-used term for unskil­led coo­lie labour in the Indi­an sub­con­ti­nent. The docu­ments do not cle­ar­ly men­ti­on a dif­fe­rence bet­ween the two and sug­gest that the terms could have been used inter­ch­an­ge­ab­ly in the­se instances.

Account books of the Sikkim Expedition of 1936
Fig. 2 Account books of the Sik­kim Expe­di­ti­on of 1936 (Archiv des DAV, Munich)

The most reve­al­ing of all the­se are docu­ments on expe­di­ti­on finan­ces. Such mate­ri­al ran­ges from broad state­ments on inco­me and expen­dit­u­re to the dai­ly book­kee­ping of the expe­di­ti­on. This mate­ri­al con­ta­ins the fin­ger­prints of the por­ter, both figu­ra­tively and lite­ral­ly. A file titled Brochü­re con­ta­ins details of the por­ters recrui­ted in Dar­jee­ling with their per­so­nal infor­ma­ti­on, such as their addres­ses, next of kin and fin­ger­prints, the details of their pay­ment depen­ding on which camp the par­ti­cu­lar por­ter went up to and at the end a remark by the Euro­pean clim­ber, his sahib, com­men­ting on his per­for­mance on the moun­tain, which would deter­mi­ne his employ­ment on future expe­di­ti­ons.[5] The pages of this regis­ter account for only a handful of the por­ters, inclu­ding the cook and the sir­dar (Trä­ger­ob­mann – por­ters’ fore­man) and sug­gest that the­se indi­vi­du­als were per­so­nal­ly con­nec­ted to each clim­ber, as it was the prac­ti­ce to have a per­so­nal ser­vant or order­ly ser­ving each indi­vi­du­al clim­ber during the cour­se of the expe­di­ti­on. Such sources pro­vi­de the pos­si­bi­li­ty to trace pay­ments down to the indi­vi­du­al por­ters and even an oppor­tu­ni­ty to recon­s­truct per­so­nal his­to­ries. Within the various files are cor­re­spon­den­ces from indi­vi­du­al por­ters them­sel­ves. The­se are addres­sed to the Ger­man clim­bers like Bau­er, reques­t­ing refe­ren­ces that would help them gain employ­ment on future expe­di­ti­ons.[6] The­se rare cor­re­spon­den­ces rai­se the ques­ti­on of the liter­acy of the por­ters and the con­text in which they were able to wri­te or have some­bo­dy wri­te on their behalf.

 Payment and personal details of a Himalayan expedition member
Fig. 3 Pay­ment and per­so­nal details of under-sir­dar His­hey for the 1936 expe­di­ti­on (Archiv des DAV, München)

The docu­ments in the Archi­va­li­en der Expe­di­ti­ons­ge­sell­schaf­ten high­light the uni­que­ness of the expe­di­ti­on labour. They speak of an aty­pi­cal work­force with tan­gents that show lin­k­ages to the mili­ta­ry labour mar­ket, the remit­tance eco­no­my and house­hold stra­te­gies, as well as iden­ti­fia­ble indi­vi­du­als with some level of liter­acy. Reco­ve­ring “hid­den tran­scripts” – con­cea­led stra­te­gies of resis­tance or nego­tia­ti­on embedded in the public inter­ac­tions bet­ween groups in une­qual posi­ti­ons of power – was an acces­si­ble approach for­mu­la­ted by James Scott in order to trace the lives of sub­or­di­na­ted groups that do not lea­ve behind much evi­dence of their own expe­ri­en­ces (Scott 1990). A careful glea­ning of this hol­ding brings to light mate­ri­als that can help wri­te non-eli­te his­to­ries, to fol­low per­so­nal tra­jec­to­ries or the histo­ry of a group of peo­p­le wit­hout being limi­t­ed to sear­ching for “hid­den transcripts”.

This hol­ding of the DAV on the expe­di­ti­ons to the Hima­la­yas pro­vi­des the details con­nec­ted with labou­ring indi­vi­du­als that can be lin­ked to mate­ri­als from other archi­ves to per­haps wri­te a histo­ry of the lives of the Hima­la­yan expe­di­ti­on labour.


DAV – Deut­scher Alpen­ver­ein (Ger­man Alpi­ne Club)

DHS – Deut­sche Hima­la­ja-Stif­tung (Ger­man Hima­la­ya Foundation)

ÖAV – Öster­rei­chi­scher Alpen­ver­ein (Aus­tri­an Alpi­ne Club)

DuÖAV – Deut­scher und Öster­rei­chi­scher Alpen­ver­ein (Ger­man and Aus­tri­an Alpi­ne Club)

IHE – Die Inter­na­tio­na­le Hima­la­ya-Expe­di­ti­on (The Inter­na­tio­nal Hima­la­ya Expedition)

DRfL – Deut­scher Reichs­bund für Lei­bes­übun­gen (Ger­man Natio­nal Fede­ra­ti­on for Phy­si­cal Exercise)



[2]The archi­ve of the DAV also holds a lar­ge coll­ec­tion of pri­ma­ry mate­ri­al from the Schlag­int­weit brothers.

[3]“Ger­man Expe­di­ti­on to Nan­ga Par­bat”, Times [Lon­don, Eng­land] 2 Feb. 1938: pp. 10. The Times Digi­tal Archive.

[4]This post is based on the rese­arch con­duc­ted bet­ween August to Novem­ber 2019. A new online data­ba­se will be updated in March 2020.

[5]DAV EXP 2 SG/206/0

[6]DAV EXP 2 SG/197, 198, 199, 200/0


Bau­er, Paul (ed.), Hima­la­yan Quest: The Ger­man Expe­di­ti­ons to Sini­olch­um and Nan­ga Par­bat. Lon­don: Nichol­son and Wat­son Ltd., 1938.

Bech­told, Fritz, Nan­ga Par­bat Adven­ture: A Hima­la­yan Expe­di­ti­on. 1st ed. New York: E. P. Dut­ton and Com­pa­ny Inc., 1936.

Höbusch, Harald, “Nar­ra­ting Nan­ga Par­bat: Ger­man Hima­la­ya Expe­di­ti­ons and the Fic­tion­al (Re)Construction of Natio­nal Iden­ti­ty”. Sport­ing Tra­di­ti­ons 20, 1 (2003): pp. 17–42.

——–, “Germany’s ‘Moun­tain of Desti­ny’: Nan­ga Par­bat and Natio­nal Self-Repre­sen­ta­ti­on”. The Inter­na­tio­nal Jour­nal of the Histo­ry of Sport 19, 4 (2002): pp. 137–68.

Holt, Lee Wal­lace, “Moun­ta­ins, Moun­tai­nee­ring and Moder­ni­ty: A Cul­tu­ral Histo­ry of Ger­man and Aus­tri­an Moun­tai­nee­ring, 1900–1945”. Dis­ser­ta­ti­on, Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas at Aus­tin, Ger­ma­nic Stu­dies, 2008.

Mason, Ken­neth, Abo­de of Snow. A Histo­ry of Hima­la­yan Explo­ra­ti­on and Moun­tai­nee­ring [with pla­tes and maps]. Lon­don: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1955.

Mier­au, Peter, Die Deut­sche Hima­la­ja-Stif­tung Von 1936 Bis 1998: Ihre Geschich­te Und Ihre Expe­di­tio­nen. Doku­men­te des Alpi­nis­mus Bd. 2. Munich: Berg­ver­lag Rother, 1999.

Scott, James C., Domi­na­ti­on and the Arts of Resis­tance: Hid­den Tran­scripts. New Haven and Lon­don: Yale Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1990.

Nok­me­dem­la Lem­tur, CeMIS, Georg-August-Uni­ver­si­tät Göttingen

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