HANNIBAL RETURNS TO THE ALPS
12th April 2019 | James Cove, Soelden, Austria
Last modified on April 21st, 2022
It’s simply one of the strangest events in the Alps. Actually make that THE strangest. PlanetSKI reports from â€˜Hannibal’ in Soelden.
Strange. Unique. Weird. Surreal.
Imaginative. Unbelievable. Wonderful. Extraordinary.
Chose whichever description you want and then add some more.
I saw it back in 2011 and thought a second time might make it somewhat predictable.
Perhaps even disappointing.
Not a bit of it.
It was just as surreal and extraordinary the second time around.
Picture the scene:
You are standing at the base of the Rettenbach glacier above Soelden at 3,000m as dusk falls at 8pm with 8,000 other people.
We have been bussed up in a fleet of nearly 100 coaches.
Many look like they are wearing every item of clothing they possess.
It is that cold.
There then follows precisely 67-minutes of choreographed alpine mayhem as man meets mountain with machines.
Piste bashers pretend to be elephants while skiers hurltle down the slopes or fly out of the sky on paragliders.
There are parachutists and base-jumpers.
Actors and acrobats.
Motorbikes and skidoos charge around the slopes at seemingly absurdly dangerous speeds.
Explosions assault the eardrums, fireworks light up the night sky and avalanches are set off.
And all to the sound of solemn music and an even more solemn German commentary.
None of which I understand except for multiple uses of the word ‘Hannibal’ and ‘Elephant’.
500 people participate in the spectacle.
It is the biggest contemporary open-air performance in the world.
Welcome to the Hannibal event.
It starts with a helicopter coming up the valley with something dangling beneath it.
Something turns out to be someone, as a giant video screen confirms.
Though quite how they manage it is beyond me.
What with all the action going on.
No mean achievement
Unique is an over-used word.
Not so when applied to Hannibal – it is completely and utterly unique.
In theory it depicts the crossing of the Alps in 218BC by the Carthaginian general as he sought a surprise attack on Rome.
In 10 days he crossed the Alps with 60,000 African, Celtic and Spanish soldiers.
Thousands of horses and 37 elephants.
Ultimately he was not victorious and that meant Rome, not Carthage, shaped the destiny of the European world.
And here it all is in 67-minutes on the Rettenbach glacier in Soelden.
Not that Hannibal even crossed anywhere near here.
It was likely much further south-west near the current Swiss/French border with Italy.
No matter – mere detail.
“This modern parable is all about striving for power, leadership, intrigues and international politics,” said the director, Hubert Lepka, to me.
Exact location it seems is not important.
Earlier in the day we had lunch together as I sought to find out more about the event and why it is still so popular.
“A few piste bashers were parked idly by and the idea simply popped into our heads to tell the Hannibal story,'” he told me.
“It is relevant even today with the story of power between Rome and Carthage plus the Catholic church.”
“I am still so excited putting it on after all these years. We have made a few changes from that first performance, but it has evolved rather than changed.”
“It is pretty much the same now as from the first performance.”
“We thought it would last maybe three or four performances and are astonished by its durability and how it continues to capture the imagination.”
“It remains a completely unusual piece of contemporary theatre and there is nothing like it anywhere else in the world. Unique”
I could only nod in agreement with Hubert.
Check out the PlanetSKI video of the event from back in 2011.
It is, without doubt, the strangest and most unique event in the Alps I have ever seen.
And I have seen a few.
I will definitely be back and I highly suggest you find time to see it too.
Though given its durability and continuing popularity it might well be around for another 18-years.
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