Of Walking in Ice
An excerpt from Werner Herzog’s classic diary account of his three-week pilgrimage from Munich to Paris to visit a dying friend in 1974.
Our series Whole Lotta Herzog plays at Metrograph from October 14.
Friday 6 December
The chairs in the restaurant were still standing on the tables, but I was served breakfast graciously nonetheless. Beside me in the restaurant, which was otherwise empty but for two cleaning women, the waitress was taking breakfast, and together we looked in the same direction, the direction of the street. I wanted to look over at her, but neither of us dared direct our gaze at one another, for due to a secret, compelling reason this wasn’t allowed. I’m sure she was under the same compelling urge. She stared rigidly ahead, the urge urged us both. I stood in line outside some sort of kiosk at the street corner, I can see the kiosk in front of me. I stood in line to buy enough ﬁlm for a whole feature ﬁlm; it was Saturday, just before closing time at ﬁve o’clock in the afternoon, and I wanted to shoot the entire ﬁlm on Sunday. The kiosk had all sorts of things, licorice, too. All of a sudden, the fat guy inside with the turtleneck sweater puts up the shutters, precisely at ﬁve o’clock, closing down right before my very eyes, though I’ve been waiting in line, and he could see that I’ve been standing there for at least half an hour. And I do need all those Kodak boxes he has stored in his stall. So at once I went to the side door of the kiosk, which is so tiny that one per- son can barely stand upright in it. I don’t want a piece of licorice, I said, I want all the ﬁlm you have inside with you. Then the guy stepped out, leaned against the wall of the house next door, and said, “It’s ﬁve o’clock now, I’m closed.” With each word he made such an overdone, unheard-of, unreal gesture overhead that immediately it became clear to me that I’d have time enough to buy the ﬁlm on Monday. “Good,” I said, gesticulating with the same ghastly gestures myself, “then I’ll come on Monday.” Both of us made the ghastliest gestures to show what we thought of each other, and parted company.
Rambervillers. As I walk the word millet, which I’ve always liked so much, just won’t leave my mind, the word lusty as well. Finding a connection between the two words becomes torture. To walk lustily works, and to reap millet with a sickle also works. But millet and lusty together doesn’t work.
"I’ve never seen such expressions of trust as I found on the faces of those sheep in the snow."
A dense woodland unfailingly comes to pass. Atop the peak of a mountain pass two trucks converge, the cockpits coming so close that one driver can climb over to the other one without touching the ground. Together, never speaking a word to each other, they eat their lunch. They’ve been doing this for twelve years, always on the same route, always at the same place, the words are exhausted but the food can be bought. The forest slowly ends here, the ﬁerce hills, too. For many, many miles, uninhabited woods sprawl all around, woods that served as battlegrounds in the First and Second World Wars. The countryside becomes more open and spacious. An irresolute rain drizzles down, staying at a rate where it doesn’t matter much. My output of sweat is prodigious, as I march lustily thinking of millet. Everything’s grey on grey. Cows loom astonished. During the worst snowstorm on the Swabian Alb, I encountered a provisional enclosure for sheep, the sheep freezing and confused, looking at me and cuddling against me as if I could oﬀer a solution, The Solution. I’ve never seen such expressions of trust as I found on the faces of those sheep in the snow.
Rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, only rain, I can’t recall anything more. It’s become a steady, even drizzle, and the road becomes endless. No one’s in the ﬁelds, an endless stretch through a forest. From their cars people have freed themselves of every- thing superﬂuous: there lies a lady’s shoe, a suitcase over there—small but probably full, I didn’t stop to look—a whole stove. Three children in a village, respectfully keeping their distance, followed a boy carrying a water-ﬁlled plastic bag with live tropical ﬁsh inside. Even the cows here broke into a gallop before me.
Nomexy, Nivecourt, Charmes. A man took me in his car the last few miles, but after a short distance I switched over to a dilapidated van, in which empty glass bottles were rolling freely about in the back. I declined the oﬀer of a cigarette, my body slowly warming up and steaming from the dampness. The windows of the car fogged up instantly from my intense steaming, so much so that the man had to stop to ﬁnd a rag to wipe them, since he couldn’t see any more.
Werner Herzog’s Of Walking in Ice is available o purchase from the Metrograph Bookstore. Permission for this excerpt has granted by the publisher, University of Minnesota Press.
The book was originally published in German under the title Vom Gehem in Eis in 1978 by Carl Hanser Verlag. English translation copyright 1980 by Tanam Press. UK edition published by Vintage, 2014.