The fisherman at Lake Koenigssee
Smoking like 400 years ago…
By Michael Dalder
After eighty-four successive days without catching a fish, the old man Santiago tells his young friend Manolin that he will go “far out” into the ocean. And there, a huge marlin takes his bait but Santiago is physically unable to reel him in. Nevertheless, Santiago refuses to let him go, so this leads to a three-day struggle between the fisherman and the fish.
This famous scene of Ernest Hemingway’s novella “The Old Man and the Sea” was in my mind when I first contacted the Bavarian fisherman Thomas Amort from Lake Koenigssee.
I heard about Amort – a third generation fisherman who lives in a fishing cottage on a remote peninsula, reachable only by boat, next to St. Bartholomae – from a tourist boat captain of the Lake Königsee fleet.
“Amort uses the same traditional techniques which were used some 400 years ago to produce the smoked fish which takes up to four hours of smoking on an open fire made from beech wood”, the boat man told me.
A great picture story I thought, as fishermen have caught and smoked fish from Lake Koenigssee since the 11th century, and even provided the delicacy for the Bavarian royal court. I was really curious as to what sort of person he would be, living on a peninsula with his boat and his nets in one of the nicest tourist areas in Germany.
After our first call we agreed that I should meet his employees at 0500 GMT at a pier in Schoenau at Lake Koenigssee. “Servus, I’m Vestl I hope you brought a cap!”, was the first thing I heard from a voice out of the thick fog before dawn. Vestl and Melli loaded equipment on the metal skiff before they started the outboard engine for our ride into the darkness.
During our ride, the breaking dawn made its way through the morning fog, thus we could barely see the famous St. Bartholomae pilgrimage on our arrival. Landing at St. Bartholomae, I at once saw the wooden fisherman’s house where Thomas Amort lives and works. After a welcome coffee we went straight to work. Amort and his staff put up the prepared fish for smoking. The whole smoking process takes about four hours.
After hanging the fish in the smoking oven the day before, leftovers were processed into fillets, vacuum packaged for sale and for fish sandwiches for daily visitors. In the meantime, the sun came out and won the fight against the fog – it was time for us to drive out on the lake to control the nets and bring home the catch of the day.
The Königsee fish – mainly whitefish, trout and char – are caught and smoked as they were 400 years ago. Only our metal boat and the sound of the outboard engine reminded me we were in the 20th century. After returning to the cottage with our daily catch, the first tourists arrived on the island. Most of them read about the “traditional fisherman” in travel books and ran straight to Thomas’ hut to buy a piece of the delicacy.
Annually the Koenigssee fisherman captures and processes three to five tons of fish. Traditionally, he uses towed nets, gill nets and fish traps.
Thomas Amort says that his fishing is sustainable: “We fish only the animals that have been propagated twice, so that the natural species revenue is secured.” A forward looking concept which hopefully provides for future generations the great experience of traditionally processed fresh fish.