Finding relaxation can come in many forms. Sometimes to get away, you *really* have to get away, be it remote monastery, rugged farm or luxury health resort.
DAY 1 – The people I’m supposed to find peace and quiet with are under stress themselves. I booked four nights at the Kronburg “Klösterle”, a monastery run by the Congregation of Sisters of Mercy of St. Vincent de Paul near Zams. It’s an all-inclusive stay that hopefully comes in form of much-needed R&R. Usually, Mother Superior Sister Barbara picks up guests from the railroad station. Today, however, it is sheer pandemonium up there as they tell me on the phone. This doesn’t exactly fit to my expected sanctuary of peacefulness. Is this said to augur bad luck? Don’t tempt fate! I take a taxi. Three days prior to this calming retreat where I’m supposed to rest, recharge, and renew, I returned from a vacation with my sister. Extremely tired and totally exhausted. From a nine-day vacation that required a ton of energy because we did so many cultural and recreational activities. Plus, I didn’t get much sIeep. I dearly love my sister. But she snores like a buzz saw. And I ask myself: When did that start? Why do I need another vacation upon returning home? Why don’t people admire my sun tan but ask if I feel sick instead? Moreover, my work-life-balance is out of balance, there are just not enough hours in the day: The evenings and weekends are a time when I just know I’m going to have extra time to catch up on all of those things that have been piling up in front of me. And when I watch TV at Sunday night, I don’t check in with it as I’m already thinking about Monday’s chores. The word relaxation doesn’t seem to fit into my life anymore!
As someone who struggles to disconnect and slow down, the concept of just being somewhere solo never really crossed my mind. Thus I need some kind of coaching: “Spend five days in a monastery, five days on a farm and five days in a health resort to find out which one of those retreats forces you to really, truly unplug. State your relax factor in percent and be prepared for the best!”
Say goodbye to sleeplessness for good! Go to hell, inner compulsion, guilt and fear! And stop it, stress! Stop it! Damn it! Let it go!
Kronburg Monastery with pilgrimage church and Kronburg Inn sits on foot of a precipitous crag, at an elevation of 1,000 meters above sea level. The Kronburg “Klösterle” stands apart as a contemplative destination to soothe the soul. I hope no one will snore here. I’m welcomed by the smiling Sister Irmgard who is at least two heads shorter than me. I can’t imagine this tiny person could make any kind of noise at night. Sister Irmgard invites me to have dinner with them and lets me choose my room. One door has “Friendship” written on it, while the room next door is named “Peace and Quiet”. As I am dreaming about a vacation where I can truly unwind, I opt for the latter. My room is what estate agents would call snug, and the furnishings are plain and there is no crucifix nailed to the wall above my bed. My private bathroom has white tiles and there is Internet access. Two minutes later I’m online. “You’re here to disconnect and to unplug,” says my shoulder angel. “When was the last time you attended religious service?” asks my shoulder devil.
I join the monastery’s seven nuns for a dinner of sausage salad and apple juice. Novice Helen has cornflakes with cocoa. Mother Superior Sister Barbara arrives and serves chicken nuggets and cake, leftovers from today’s wedding reception at the Kronburg Inn. Since 2005, the Sisters of Mercy have been running the estate with pilgrimage church, monastery and inn on their own. There is plenty of work to be done up here – and sometimes the work is just too much. Just like today—that’s why they weren’t able to send someone to fetch me from the train station. However, there is always enough time for enjoying dinner together, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. “They were drinking Captain Morgan at the reception, such ugly booze,” tells Sister Barbara. The nuns take the nicotine-addict country doctor to pieces and feast on the leftover cake. I enjoy my dinner in silence. At home, I would be working on my laptop right now. It’s been a long time since I have been sitting around the kitchen table with my siblings, eating bread with liver sausage. I miss that time.
DAY 2 – The sun is shining outdoors. I’m inside, glued to my smartphone screen’s glow, browsing through apps and news. Someone posted a picture of his feet on Facebook. It doesn’t make me feel good. Am I addicted to using my smartphone? I’m checking my inbox. British psychologist Fiona Jones says that stress has become a part of our everyday life: “In our “always-on” culture, being in a perpetual state of stress is en vogue.” Work and recreation blend naturally and easily with one another. Around 45% of German travellers work while on vacation. I do check and respond to emails on vacation and I’m not alone – 12% of employees do that while they are on vacation. I go adrift with a fashion trend. And I am a fashion victim.
DAY 3 – I’m having trouble sleeping. It’s not noisy enough for me! No blaring stereos, no shouting people, no cats, no loud traffic. No, really. While it may seem a little hard to believe, perfect silence seems to keep me from dropping off and enjoying a good night’s sleep. Sometimes a little background noise might be just what the doctor ordered. I would love to have some soothing noise to lull me to sleep and keep me there.
DAY 4 – The mountains are steaming with the vapor from the rain that is falling. I’m having breakfast with four cyclists in lycra who talk about the weather. It will be fine, they say. It will be awful, I know. I envy their optimism. At the monastery, part of the ministry is welcoming guests in, from cyclists over pilgrims to hikers. And people like me who come there if they’re looking for a spiritual place or a place to be at home with themselves. We’re invited to come to the services and participate in daily meditation, bowing and chanting services. Today I attend a Taizé prayer service. I put my phone on silent mode and join the nuns sitting harmoniously in a circle on stairs with candles burning in the center. It’s a unique style of worship that takes an hour with simple phrases from the Psalms or other pieces of scripture, repeated or sung in canon. The repetition is designed to help meditation and prayer. As the words are sung over many times, this reality gradually penetrates the whole being. The quieting Disney melodies make me feel euphoric. Later, as I’m taking the steep path that winds from the monastery up to the precipitous crag that is crowned by the ruins of Kronburg Castle, I’m humming Christmas songs. It’s a long way till Christmas, but it seems as if this retreat starts to lift my spirits.
DAY 5 – For me, there is definitely a lack of “labora” to my “ora” (after the Latin phrase “ora et labora” which means pray and work). The vegetables are raised by Sister Hildegard, the sausage salad is prepared by Sister Pia Anna, and everything else is organized by Mother Superior Sister Barbara who is faster than light. It’s time to leave. My hug is too strong for Sister Barbara, clearly indicating my energy surplus. “You have to come visit us again!” she tells me. It sounds like a strong recommendation. Jesus sees it all. Even that I wasn’t able to find peace and quiet here. There is no open WiFi on the bus. The encrypted network asks for an authentication key before a connection can be made. I try to find the right key. That’s when stupidity shows its true strength. The horizon is dominated by the Alps, completely open, unencrypted and free.
DAY 6 – I have three items on my bucket list: Caressing an elephant, catching a piglet, milking a cow. Farm, here I come! Klampererhof Farm in Virgen looks like the set of a fairytale film: A farmhouse with tiny windows and shutters and wooden balconies bedecked with flowers in red, pink and white, surrounded by lush green pastures, shrubs, bushes and trees, barn and stable. The movie ends as the farmer’s wife opens the door: Agnes Oppeneiger is not your typical country woman—instead, she’s a girlish rockers moll with a fringe, wearing an Ed Hardy shirt and crocs. Together with Alois, her husband, she has been running the farm for ten years, caring for cows, rabbits, guinea pigs, chicken and holidaymakers. When I’m trying to enter the WiFi password, work is calling. We spend three hours on the wooden bench in front of the farmhouse, picking mint leaves for Agnes’ 19 Herbs Tea, while Terrier crossbreed “Krümel” is digging for flowers. Afterwards, we are making cheese in the kitchen. Agnes shows me how to do it: 16 liters of thickened milk are cut with a tool that is called “cheese harp” and resembles a rake. When the curd is cut, it is put into a mold to form it into its specific shape. That night, there are 68 flies in my room. I sleep like a log.
DAY 7 – My alarm yells at me from beside my bed at 5:45am. I get up and help Agnes making breakfast for the guests. Almost everything is produced from scratch right here on the farm: Creamy quark spreads, eggs, teas, yogurts, jams and marmalades, mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, whey, bread and butter. What Agnes has prepared yesterday, is served to guests today. After breakfast, she asks me to collect eggs from chickens. Then, it’s time for my moment of glory: I am ready to milk a cow. Equipped with crocs and farmer overall, I begin milking by gently clamping each teat between my fingers. I gently bump against the udder to increase milk yield until the udder is emptied. I feel empty, too. Completely beat.
DAY 8 – Feeding the chickens. Done. Gathering eggs. Done. Feeding the rabbits. Done. Milking the cows, making butter, pulling up weed. Done, done, done. Filling herbal tea blends into bags and decorating them with labels, raffia ribbon and wooden discs. Well, somehow done. I want to tell Agnes that I’m not completely satisfied with my finished tea bags but she just gives me the cheese harp. In fact, I haven’t got worked up about anything for two days. “The farmer’s wife simply doesn’t have time to be in a bad mood”, says Agnes and puts on her rubber gloves to make mozzarella cheese. How right she is! We sometimes tend to think that our life is bad, but it’s just our thinking what makes it bad. I’m particularly good at that – especially when I try to relax or at night instead of getting a god nights’ sleep. Agnes just sings through her 18-hour working days. I start to hum along.
DAY 9 – During my farmstay, I’m too tired to rise in the morning, I drink liters and liters of coffee but I fall to sleep on my desk nevertheless. There is not much time to just sit and stare and watch the world go by on a working farm. However, I’m not tired from working but refreshed and relaxed from sleeping.
DAY 10 – Agnes tells me that she is planning to raise pigs in a few months: I imagine cute and playful piglets running over the Alpine pastures, OMG! Unfortunately, I cannot stay that long, I have to move on. I give Agnes a long, tight hug. “Just like a farmer,” she moans, laughing.
HEALTH RESORT STAY
DAY 11 – I grew up with three siblings and I can swallow pasta without chewing. Now, dying of hunger, I’m sitting in front of a plate with char fillet and I’m supposed to chew the food thoroughly, 1, 2, 3, 4, … I’m told to swallow each mouthful only after having chewed it 30 times, as I’m taking part in the famed Lanserhof “Regeneration Therapy”. The “Lanserhof Medical Spa” has been on the cutting edge of lifestyle science for many years, reversing, preventing and addressing many of modern society’s health concerns: Weight loss and detox retreats, programs to foster wellness, energy and calmness, along with medical services, exercise plans and courses in psychological well-being. It’s a tastefully futuristic health center, an austere, state of the art mountain resort, spa and F. X. Mayr-driven concept clinic. Strictly speaking, I’m not in Lans, as the name Lanserhof suggests—instead, my health resort stay is in Kitzbühel. The Lanserhof concept is offered via a pop-up at Schwarzer Adler Hotel in Kitzbühel, while the original spa resort in the village of Lans undergoes a large-scale expansion and renovation. The dining room tables at Schwarzer Adler Hotel in Kitzbühel are set with pink roses, there are white orchids on the windowsills and it smells of lilies and herbal tea. The spa industry achieved staggering growth over recent years. My friends regularly book girls’ spa weekend escape packages and my colleagues go to the health club once a week. Today, the market of the spa and wellness industry generates a value of 60 billions of Euro a year, considering only Germany, France and Austria. You get it all at this contemporary spa resort. Luxury hotel. Healthy dining. Private physician consults. Healthy living education. Healthy exercise in beautiful surroundings. A little downtime by beautiful pools. It’s the ultimate spa-health vacation. The experience, guests say, is “transformative.” And the health benefits? Priceless. Lanserhof has many returning guests who go to Lans regularly—but not to be pampered. It’s more like self-flagellation: You go to confess and come clean about all your vices, before a doctor sets a course to correct the damage. Aiding my effort to erase food from my hedonistic mind for a few days is the fact that the mini bar on my room is… empty.
DAY 12 –I’m on the “Energy Cuisine” program, so I get three meals a day. Things could, I appreciate, be worse: There are more rigorous fasting levels that give you nothing more than a cup of tea with an orange slice (no need to chew thoroughly), or a boiled potato with linseed oil and cress (which requires you to chew about 90 times). Instead, I feast on a breakfast of oatmeal with fruits and cracking spelt flatbread with avocado, which urges me to masticate about 500 times. Guest Assistant Magda kindly asks me: “Miss Krätzig, does it work with the chewing?” Truth to be told, no, it doesn’t work. I don’t manage to masticate everything the required number of times; instead, I make it only to 10, tops, despite my best efforts. Back on my room in the evening, I’m famished. I start hallucinating about chocolate. I put on my sunglasses and leave through the back door. I buy a bar of chocolate in the next supermarket. Doubt whispers in my ear: “Don’t do it.” My stomach answers: “Do it!” I hide the empty chocolate wrapping deep down in my suitcase.
DAY 13 – I venture out at 6:30am to have an “Active Awakening” in the forest. This consists of walking to a clearing and watching the sun rise above the rooftops of Kitzbühel. “Now isn’t that lovely?” asks my cheerful coach Stefanie. And yes, actually, it is. Beginning a new day with yoga is indeed a great way to start the day, I remember. I plan to include this into my daily regime when I’m back home. Afterwards, I head to my massage therapy, which is scheduled by the staff. I have tried many different massage therapies, which I for one, am not very much in favor of. The detoxifying wrap of birch, juniper, honey and olive oil from therapist Sarah, however, is unparalleled. The sticky massage really tires me and I end up sleeping it off in a warm waterbed. My loud snoring wakes me up.
DAY 14 –During a detox you really, really appreciate warmth and comfort, and the Lanserhof definitely cranks the luxury levels up. It’s a medical spa cleverly masquerading as a five-star hotel. If a moment of calm is just what the doctor ordered, there’s no better way to relax than by taking a break here: Complimentary room service is offered daily, my meals are prepared and they are healthy. I am asked to untether from office work and I’m happy to oblige. I know today what I will do tomorrow and what I will eat the day after tomorrow. All I have to do is just being here. “As modern life is speeding up, there is an increasing desire to slow down,” says German sociologist Hartmut Rosa, who is a critic of what he calls “social acceleration”. He talks of «islands of deceleration» and a spa resort seems to be just that. It’s about forgetting the constant pressure of having to do more in less time; it’s about forgetting to control everything; it’s about simply doing nothing at all.
DAY 15 – My charming, alarmingly knowledgeable doctor, Patricia Eller, physician at the Lanserhof, tells me that digestive health is the foundation of overall health—and my colon and liver aren’t healthy at all. I feel blood rushing to my cheeks. There goes my guilty conscience: “I know what you did last night!” says the chocolate. Without saying a word I confess about all my vices, nodding my head. A friend of mine once abided by the rules of a two-week fasting regimen. She suffered like a dog during the first six days. But then it left her several kilos lighter, fresh-faced, well-rested and miraculously rid of any rashes or bodily aches—and above all loaded with energy and good mood. Nerve-rackingly. I guess I’m not as willing to the famed Lanserhof “Regeneration Therapy” as I’m supposed to. Setting a course to correct the damage, Dr. Eller prescribes me supplements to offset the fasting and as part of the detox process. As I say goodbye to her, I wish she had prescribed me something to develop more self-discipline.
DAY 29 –I have been back to the daily grind for two weeks. Daily stress again begins to take its toll on my mind and body. However, each of my three stays has helped me to get away from it all somehow. I was able to find out what clears my mind so I was totally refreshed when it was finally time to get back to the real world. Like the nuns at the monastery I want to spend more quality time with loved ones. I take a more favorable view of my work—after all, I love my job just as farmer’s wife Agnes likes hers and her busy life gives her energy instead of depleting it. Simply doing nothing at all at the health resort was a completely new experience for me. Even when I’m not working, I feel obliged to do something productive. And if I’m not busy running around, getting stuff done, I feel saddled with guilt. But in fact, it is important to forget feeling guilty and to just take the time to zone out. In my world filled with guilt, fear of failure and working on my laptop in the evenings I need to find time to just do, well, absolutely nothing. I will try doing that! Today, I spend more time with friends and we take others to pieces. I invite my siblings for a dinner of bread with liver sausage. I cannot milk a cow in the city but I go dancing regularly which makes me happy and tired, too. No snoring in the world could wake me up. I eat spaghetti slowly and chew properly. And I know where to go to next time I need a vacation. Finding relaxation can come in many forms, from spa escapes and detox retreats to stays in remote monasteries and convents. I have found my happy place that’s dedicated to my personal tranquility. I want to catch a piglet!