It’s a cloudless summer day in Eppan. In the shade of the Montiggl Forest, I follow the trail made up of steep ascents and descents. Following the No. 1 route, the soft woodland path winds around the Montiggl lakes, taking me the destination of today’s bike ride: the Wilder-Mann-Bühel (lit. “hill of the wild man”). This place of power is a real insider’s tip for anyone wishing to go hiking or cycling in the Montiggl Lakes | Forest Nature Reserve.
At an elevation of approx. 650 meters above sea level, this spot not only offers some unforgettable views – it is also linked to a fascinating piece of history.
The Wilder-Mann-Bühel owes its name to the extraordinary story of Peter Wöth, who spent his last days here – living in the wild, far away from civilization – after traveling in America. But let’s start from the beginning, in the year 1852. For five months now a fully crewed ship has been on its way from Bremerhaven, around Cape Horn, to San Francisco. Also on board are Joseph Steinberger, Hansjörg Baumgartner, Anton Hauser and Peter Wöth: four adventurers who are off to America to try their luck at gold mining. By the time Peter Wöth joined the group of gold seekers, he already had a somewhat turbulent past.
Born in 1824, Wöth grows up the exact spot where the Josef Niedermayr Winery stands today: in the Jesuheimstrasse street in Girlan | Eppan. As a young man, he has a reputation for being ruffian and joins a group of political activists, dreaming of communal property and a classless society, just like in the communist settlements in America. The local priest sees in this sharp and critical mind a dangerous revolutionary spark, which leads to Wöth being watched and interrogated by the police. The priest tries to lead him onto a righteous path, but Wöth is not to be dissuaded from his plan. He sells everything his parents had left him to his uncle and sets off for America.
After more than six months of traveling, he finally arrives in San Francisco. After that there is no trace of him until he suddenly reappears in Girlan in 1868 having returned from America. That same year he buys himself a plot of land in a part of Girlan called Lamm. Here he builds himself a little wooden trapper’s hut, just like those commonly found in America, and lives the life of a recluse, in the middle of nature and in total seclusion.
For the village locals he was something of an oddity. Those years in America, of which we know so little, remain a topic of conversation in Girlan to this very day. Some say he lived with the Native Americans and returned with a stash of gold which he buried somewhere in the Montiggl Forest. Others claim he was still searching for gold up on the Wilder-Mann-Bühel up until the day he died, to no avail.
From high up on the “hill of the wild man” overlooking the Montiggl lakes, the view stretches across the green vineyards beneath the Mendelkamm mountain and all the way to Bozen. Standing here, you can truly understand why Wöth sought refuge here at this very spot after those wild years in America. The cairns soak up the sun’s rays during the day and radiate the heat in the evening. The silence is broken only by the chirping of the birds. Wöth died at the age of 71. He carved his initials and year of birth into a rock (“P.W. 1824”) as an epitaph, because he wanted this to be his final resting place. His wish was not fulfilled. He lies buriedin the cemetery of St. Pauls | Eppan.