Reinhold and Hubert Messner, the incredible adventures of two exceptional brothers

Of nine children, seven remained. Reinhold and Hubert tell what it means to share extreme feats with those you love most and feel responsible for them. And how they healed two big wounds

  reinhold-hubert-messner-oggi-43 Two Messner brothers, Reinhold and Hubert, talk about their climbs

Reinhold Messner, the second of Josef and Maria's nine children, begins: 'Having so many brothers and being older means immediately understanding that you have to take responsibility for the little ones'. Hubert, who is nine years younger and has accompanied him on many undertakings, adds with a smile when his work as a doctor leaves him: 'It also means that he quickly learns to look after himself.' After him came two others; before there were six. We use the past tense because two, Günther and Siegfried, are dead.

Bianca Atzei brings her 'tummy' to the beach (and Stefano Corti is there too) Bianca Atzei brings her 'tummy' to the beach (and Stefano Corti is there too)

TWO OF NINE – One, Günther, on Nanga Parbat, in 1970. The other in 1985, in his home mountains, the Dolomites. Two tragedies. Two stories with completely different effects. We talk about it with Reinhold and Hubert because the latter, after having been head of the neonatology and intensive care unit of San Maurizio in Bolzano for ten years and having treated, in 40 years, about 15 thousand premature babies and sick newborns, retired and, among other things, wrote a book together with the journalist Lenz Koppelstätter. Is titled On the edge of the ridge (Raetia) and recounts her medical experiences, the human ones (the firstborn, Alex, who is now studying medicine in Innsbruck, was born premature: she saved him from death) and the incredible ones made with Reinhold, such as the Northern (failed) and Greenland.

By climbing (mountains) one learns – laws

TWO BROTHERS - There is a special chemistry between the two brothers. But it is amusing to observe how every now and then, faced with Reinhold's peremptory statements, Hubert raises his finger and disputes: is the college of priests a necessary experience? But no, it was a prison. Were the children like slaves on the farm? Well, come on, let's not exaggerate. There were no real fights. Not even when the family, crushed by doubts about how Günther had really died, froze relations with Reinhold. In that case silence prevailed. They both say it in German: Sprachlosigkeit, which also has “astonishment” in its meaning.

IN GREENLAND – «However, when we were in Greenland every now and then Reinhold shouted at me 'Are you crazy?!' if I did something risky. Always for that principle that he, as an older brother, he felt responsible ». «Hubert skied and sailed better than me ( in Greenland they used the driving force of the wind , ed.). But I knew the crevasses,” explains Reinhold. Which he admits: 'I've always been more afraid for them than for me.' And he means brothers. Hubert tells it like this: «At the North Pole an ice floe capsized and I fell into the water. Reinhold started yelling for me. But he didn't call my name. He said: Günther! Gunther! He called our dead brother in the Himalayas. It wasn't the first time: he had done it when, in Greenland, I had ventured alone in a storm. Then I understood that I had to save myself at all costs. For him too. Because he hadn't gotten over the trauma ». Not even Hubert, however, surpassed that of Siegfried: he rescued him, when he fell. But he could not save him.
Why then get into such dangerous challenges? «Perhaps because, even if we had all the space we wanted to play outdoors as children, when we returned home it was all so cramped; four of us also slept in bunk beds. It was a need for freedom. And we both freed ourselves,” says Reinhold. It seems a bit meager as an explanation for a man who made the history of mountaineering, was the first to conquer all 14 eight-thousanders (some climbed several times), crossed Antarctica without engines or animals and crossed the Gobi desert on foot . «I had promised my mother that, once I had conquered all the eight-thousanders, I would no longer go on high-altitude expeditions. But I went with some caution to announce that I was going to cross Greenland with Hubert. She exclaimed: “Finally!”. She thought that if there were no peaks, one could not fall. She wasn't happy with my climbs. She didn't even want me to take Günther with me, who was my climbing partner right from the start. My father, on the other hand, agreed. But then, when he died, he understood that he tacitly reproached me more than my mother.'

TWICE A YEAR – Here we understand who was in charge in the family. The brothers agree: «On her deathbed, the mother gave the youngest, Werner, a task: twice a year she had to gather us all. We did it. Sometimes we are even 40». And it was she, Maria, who decided that the future of her children would not stop at the farm. «If it had been for my father», Reinhold clarifies, «we would all have had a micro-apartment there in Funes, under his wing. It was she who said: go, study'. They've both gone far. Hubert, as well as a pioneer of neonatology, was a top level sportsman. It was precisely his athletic qualities that prompted Reinhold to involve him in his expeditions. The first time in the Himalayas was in 1986: «Until you're there, at the foot of the giants, you don't understand the difference with the Alps». 'That's why Hubert saw earlier than the others that I had told the truth about Günther: he had died in an avalanche during the descent and I hadn't abandoned him,' adds Reinhold. They were together when his first bone was found. Now, they say, they are enjoying their retirement. Hubert occasionally gives in to his wife's insistence and goes to the sea ('But I take the kite, the surf with a parachute'). Reinhold admits happiness for the new marriage with Diane, 42: «At my age, love is an unexpected joy. And in the walks we now have the same rhythm. Perfect'.