Gendarmerie Inspektor Felix Kimmel

Felix is an
Inspektor with the rural Austrian police force, the Gendarmerie. He lives and works in Austria’s southern province of Styria - Steiermark - ‘the green heart of Austria.’
It has been a long winter here in the hills of southern Austria.  Felix Kimmel is staring at two bodies on a path in the woods. This is a big deal - too big a deal for the village Gendarmerie detachment.

The Kripo from Graz soon take over.  Experts though they may be, they want his help: he is a local, right? But Felix's mentor, the old hand Gebhart, warns him to beware of these slick detectives as they have their own agenda.

The dead men seem to be ausländers, Eastern Europeans. An autopsy reveals a diamond in one’s digestive tract, and on the other, a tattoo. Then, the family whose call to the Gendarmerie led to the discovery of the bodies, perishes in a fire.

Felix senses that the Kripo detectives’ attitude to him has altered.  Maybe he knows more than he lets on…? And, they hint, whoever set fire to that farmhouse may come after Felix next...

When he finds old maps that his father had hidden, he begins to wonder if his own tangled family history is not part of this.  He must discover what his loathed grandfather Kimmel knew, or did, before the Kripo does. 

He sets out on that narrow, winding mountain road that climbs to the remote Kimmel farm.  This is where history and politics collide, where the global crime wave that is sweeping across Europe crashes into a small town cop.
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(Peter Rossegger, unpublished journal entries; Geschichten aus der Steiermark 1871)

St. Kristoff is approached by minor roads. It was on one of those roads little wider than a cow-path, one of the many byroads known locally as a Wildererweg or poacher’s path, that I came down off the mountains one evening many years ago.

It being late, I beheld the last remnants of the dying sunset over the crags and forests above the village as the darkness descended, but not before I perceived the splendid views of an innumerable multitude of hills to the southeast.

It is a farming village and its people retire early. But as I plodded up one of the narrow lanes that leads to its church, I heard voices within, and soon the tones of an organ. The sound of that instrument has from childhood filled me with a strange mixture of mirth and foreboding, and that night this sensation descended upon me again as though the decades of living in our cities had vanished, and I was a child again listening.

It was expertly played, and the old hymns that had sounded here for centuries floated out on the night air to me. Soon they were joined by voices, both men’s and women’s, and I passed a strange and not unhappy half-hour.

Around me was the sweet scent of woodsmoke from houses unseen, and the smell of the earth with its autumnal exhalations. I fell into a reverie, where the events of the long day arranged themselves alongside tender thoughts of my wife and little ones awaiting me back in Vienna.

Such were the exertions of the day in these mountains as wild and remote as any on the continent, that in a matter of minutes I passed from reverie to sleep there on the grassy bank below the church.

It was with a violent fright that I awoke not long after, and in the manner of a primitive ancestor awakening in terror at the cave-mouth where he stood guard over his clan, I was on my feet before being quite awake. I was not alone…

For several of the longest moments of my life I remained in that world of the Grimms where the woods are ever deep, and they harbour fantastic beings. In front of me was a monster, I thought, with huge shoulders and horns askew. Is this even the great Wotan, I wondered, that ravening god that has been with us Germanic folk since we became a people.

The monster spoke.

“Good night,” it said, in an accent that would be studied amongst my colleagues at the University as though its owner had descended from another planet.

“Good night,” I believe I replied, in what could only be described at a croak.

The dark shape of the monster began to yield some form. Soon I saw that this was one of my own, a human, a hunter, who had brought in a young deer on his shoulders. But it also came to me that he was in all likelihood less a hunter than he was a poacher.

Yes, it is long a custom here for those facing hardship to enter the forest and take a deer without the permit of any of the local nobility or the rich who own the rights here. This, along with the custom of mountain treks that last for days and even weeks by men who must feed their families, walks that neither know no respect the lines drawn on the bright maps our little ones learn in their schoolrooms.

“You are a hunter,” I offered then.

To this he made no reply, or gesture.

“I was passing the church and heard the music,” I said. “I must have dozed off.”

At this, the monster merely nodded and he shifted his load. I saw that he had a rifle on his back. I began to wonder, and then to marvel, at how this man could have hefted this not inconsiderable load home from the forest.

“So you are a traveller,” he said, at last.

“That I am.”

“Everyone is a traveller,” he said then. “Everyone on God’s earth.”

I thought to ask him what he might mean by this but something in this man’s demeanour, or perhaps his way of speaking, told me that would be an impertinence.

“You are late in from the woods,” I said instead.

“That's how it is,” he said, again in that voice that was both soft and enigmatic. “One must wait for the right time.”

Seeing that the monster was but a man, and that he was in all likelihood a villager here, I was emboldened to try a little mischief.

“Tell me then, you are not afraid of the spirits in the forest?”

“The spirits?” he said after several moments. “Which would they be?”

“Oh the ones we hear of, the ones in the old tales. Perhaps you don't believe in them then?”

He did not reply. The moments stretched longer, and my disquiet returned.

“That hardly matters,” he said, finally. “They are there all the same.”

This silenced me, and to this day, I do not know why his sparing words should have had such an effect. I knew immediately that he was not being mischievous with his words, and it galled me that I had no words to address him further on this, so strange was his pronouncement.

Perhaps it was the air of the mountains or the long day’s hiking in the woods and over moors and valleys, but the words did not come. Sensing this perhaps, he then asked me if I were looking for a place that I might have an evening meal. I was indeed, I managed to reply, and a simple Gasthaus where I could spend the night. He directed me to one, and we then parted.

I retired that evening after a hearty meal, full sure that my sleep that evening would be the soundest sleep possible, and the only dreams would be those of the skies and trees, and the bright sun that had guided me all day.

But instead I passed several sleepless hours pondering our meeting, this hunter and I. How is it possible, I wondered, that a man in the age of telegraphs and trains can believe as he did? Of course, I resolved to tell my colleagues of this man who seemed to live a life no different than one of centuries past.

We all have our trove of stories, do we not, of bijou events and ‘characters’ that we collect and later relate, to show the rich variety of our world and society? Yes, what sophisticates we are, striding through the streets of our imperial capita, Vienna.

Our retelling of those yarns so often makes our pleasure keener, we believe, especially if they raise a smile or a laugh. Such tales as we collect and retail serve to make us more sociable and to enhance our own public selves while they make those occasions more entertaining.

But now, all these years later, I cannot conceal from others how I have tired of those coffeehouses and dinners, those lectures and conferences. For all the learning of my colleagues and friends, I find my thoughts returning to that small village of St. Kristoff, high up on that hill, with the forest around it, so remote from the bustle of life here.

I returned to the village several times over the years; it had altered not a whit. Yet for reasons I cannot understand, I have never been visited by any desire to inquire for my hunter there.

For a time, I half-believed that I had not met him at all, but that he had come out of my dream. I still remain undecided on the matter.

I told no one of my meeting that evening so long ago, but committed it here to this journal instead, to consider its meaning yet again.
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The Austrian Gendarmerie originated over 150 years ago as a locally-recruited militia to police Austria’s countryside and towns. Its founding was a reaction to the 1848 Revolution that so unsettled European monarchies. It had a military character from the start, and it played a key role in suppressing of efforts at constitutional reform.

The Gendarmerie’s counterpart, the Bundespolizei – “Die Polizei” – police cities and key areas around the country. The Gendarmerie retained some of its of its original military character in military ranks, in aspects of its training and in some of its weaponry and facilities. It also remained under the sole command of the Interior Ministry,

Each Austrian province had its own provincial Gendarmerie command under the command of its own Gendarmerie Brigadier. The Styrian Landesgendarmeriekommando (provincial HQ) was on Strassgangerstrasse, in Wetzelsdorf, a western suburb of Graz, adjacent to the army’s provincial headquarters.

In many respects the Gendarmerie and Polizei reflected a city/country divide in Austria. Gendarmes were known to be more informal than their state police counterparts, and their appearance in their green and grey uniforms and traditional
tellerkappe (beret) was a common sight in rural Austria. Officers of any rank in the Gendarmerie went by the informal Du and their colleague’s Christian name. The Polizei use the formal Sie along with their ranks, even in day-to-day conversation.

Yet the Gendarmerie was looked down upon by the Polizei. Gendarmes would point out that their pay did not compare well to the other police service. The Polizei retort was that the Gendarmerie would “take anyone,” and might also mention how in former times a reward needed to be given for the recruitment of a new Gendarme.

Though they were not taken as seriously as their city counterparts, the Gendarmerie record was acknowledged to be one of very effective policing. Their specialist units in mountain rescue and counter-terrorism were highly regarded internationally.

Ranking, status and promotion in the Gendarmerie were unusual. On completing their training and duty exam (Dienstprüfung), recruits were given the junior rank of Inspektor but they were on probation for no less than six years. Then an Inspektor became a “Pragmatisierte” Gendarme – holder of a tenured job. Promotion was then automatic after given years of service, to Revierinspektor (district inspector).

The next rank, Bezirkinspektor, however, required a training course of eight months in Vienna. Ranks beyond that required that the candidate has a Matura, and also to undergo training for each successive post of more responsibility.

With changes to institutional structures all over the EU, perhaps it was only a matter of time before the Ministry of the Interior considered that amalgamation of the two police forces necessary.

Many in both services were not happy about this. There was considerable conflict in a trial run of some Gendarmerie and Polizei departments in Vienna. Indeed, this union was widely regarded as so improbable that former Interior Minister dismissed the idea as “about as likely as the Catholics joining the Protestants.” The amalgamation nonetheless went ahead, backed by a court decision, even though the process was accompanied by a confusion that is uncharacteristic of Austrians. Skepticism and suspicion remained.
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Austrian German has its own rich store of words and expressions, of slang and idiom and accent. Regional variations are diverse. It is common to find expressions – and even accents – that are not used or understood in a neighbouring province.

The terms below are to be heard in Steiermark, more often in rural areas. Part of their charm and power comes from the accent and the tone in which they are uttered. As much as native Styrians may sometimes wryly deprecate their “bellen,” (that characteristic baying intonation in the Styrian accent), they readily use it, and enjoy it.

It is worth noting that this same “bellen” can be heard inflecting the speech of that former Grazer and son of the former police chief of that city, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

A note on capitalization: nouns in German are capitalized, even when they are not proper nouns. To avoid confusion among readers not familiar with German, and to avoid place names being mistaken for simple nouns, only proper nouns are capitalized in the text in the story.

Abendessen: Supper
Aber gut: “Well, fine” or “OK.” Literally “but good.”
Ach so: “Well, yes” or “Ach so wie so”– “That’s how life/it goes.”
Alm: Mountains
Apfelfest: Apple festival where visitors enjoy locally made apple cider
Arbeiter: Manual worker
Arsch: Arse
Arschloch: Arsehole
Ausländer: A person from outside the country: negative connotation. If a foreigner’s nationality is known, Austrians will use it, e.g. Englander.
Bäckerei: Bakery
Banhof: Train station. Hauptbanhof: main station
Bauch: Stomach
Benzin: Gasoline, petrol
Besoffen: Drunk
Bisschen: A little, some
Bist närrisch: Short form of: “Bis du narisch?! “ – Are you crazy?”
Blauer: Right-wing, often secret admirers of fascism; literally “a blue one”
Blumen: Flowers
Blöd(e): Silly, even stupid
Bleib ruhig: Stay quiet
Brodl: Stomach belly (dialect)
Brauners: Brownshirts, i.e. Nazis (often linked to “blauers”)
Bruderschaft: Brotherhood
Brummschädel: Thick head from hangover
Bullen: Slang for Gendarmerie or police generally; literally “bull”
Bundespolizei: The state police force in Austria; called “Die Polizei” by the public, usually “BP” by members of Gendarmerie
Burli (also Burschi): Boy; fella; mate. A term of fondness between men; sometimes ironic, can be insulting
Depp: Idiot
Detschen: A not-too-hard slap across the face or head; “a cuff on the ear” (see Watchen)
Dodel: Fool, but not malicious
Donauschwaben: Ethnic Germans in Swabian region by upper River Danube
Dorf: Village, small town
Dumkopf: “Dumb-head”
Dickschädel: “Thick-head”
Echte(s): Real, genuine
Fërlangerten: A favoured coffee in Austria
Fetzn: Rag, piece of cloth
FetznschädlFool; literally rag-head
Feuerwehr: Fire brigade
Fiakers: Fixer, schemer
Föhn: A strong, short-lived warm wind in winter; said to drive people mad
Frisch: Literally fresh, but means new, original
Galerie: A series of mugshots, meaning criminals (slang)
Gauner: Petty criminal, “a loser”
Gasse: A lane, or small street (see Weg)
GasthausHotel or “guest house”
Geburstag: Birthday
Geh’ma jetzt: Here we go
Geh scheissen: Go and shit
Geh weg: “Get outta here”
Gell: Unique Austrian idiom. Corresponds with: “right?”; “OK?”; “huh?”; “eh?”
Gendarmerie: See summary of Austrian Gendarmerie at the end of this glossary
Genau: “Just so”
Genug: Enough
Gerade aus: Straight ahead
Glacetrizz: A schemer, on the shady side
Glockl: Smaller glass of beer (see Schweigel)
Glotze: “Die Glotze” – “The (idiot) box,” i.e. TV
Gösser: Austrian beer brand
Gott: God
Gott sei dank: “Thank God”
Grossen braunen: A favoured coffee in Austria
Grüss Gott: Hello, literally “Greet God”; often shortened to “Grüss”
Gschäftl: A shady plan, a “con”
Gschaftlhuber: A schemer
Gscherter: A rural Styrian; literally “shirt”
Gut/gute/gutes: Good
Hackn: Plan, scheme
Halt die Pappn: Shut up (dialect)
Handi: A personal mobile/cell phone
Hässlich: Ugly, unpleasant
Hauptbanhof: Principal train station
Hauptplaz: Main square of a town
Hausfrau: Housewife
Heast Gschissena!: “Well hello shit!” i.e. an unpleasant surprise
Heimat: One’s homeland. This does not necessarily correspond to the modern state, but to one’s native area, or province.
Herrlich: Lovely
Herz: Heart
Heurigen: An evening of wine, food, talk, visiting several gasthauses
Hochschule: Secondary school/High school
Hof: A house; can be a large building
Holtzpyjama: Being killed (slang). Literally: “wooden pyjamas” i.e. coffin
Hosen: Trousers
Huber-Bauer: Idiom for “the farmer type,” “rednecks”
Hursohn: Son of a bitch
Jäger: A hunter
Jausen: A light meal, often buffet style, consisting of meat, buns, cheese and a variety of add-ons
Jetzt: Now, immediately
Junge: Lad
KachelofenTraditional masonry stove or fireplace, usually tiled, with small aperture; designed to radiate heat from its masonry mass
Kasperl: Silly fellow (affectionate)
KD: Kriminaldienst (see Kripo). These plainclothes Gendarmes work out of the provincial Gendarmerie HQ
Kasperl and Pezi: Much loved and longstanding mainstays on Austrian children's TV
Kieberer: Slang for police officer
Kleine: Short for Kleine Zeitung, popular tabloid from Graz (klein/e: small)
Klo: Toilet; short for wasser-kloset
Klopfer: Button Du hast einen Klopfer – “You're losing it” (slang)
Klug: Intelligent
Konditorei: Restaurant
Kopf: Head
Krank: Ill
Krebs: Cancer
Kripo: A term used between Gendarmes for both Kriminal Polizei (police staff) and Kriminalabteilung (criminal department)
Krot: Frog
Krügl: A glass of beer
Kruzitürken: A swear word suggesting what an imaginary combination of the Christian cross with the Muslim Turks would be. The Ottoman Empire long had designs on Styria, and Austria generally.
Lagers: Camps, enclosures
Laibach: The Austrian name for Lyubliana, capital of Slovenia. Slovenia was part of Austria, or the Austrian Empire, until the end of WW2.
Lass: Leave (it), let it be
LeberkäseMeatloaf of liver, pork and bacon
Leberknödel suppe: Soup or broth containing liver and dumplings
Liebchen: Sweetheart
Loden: Woolen jackets and coats, traditional; usually green
Luder: A trickster, mischievous
Ludeln: To pee
Machs du: Do you want…
Mädchen: Maiden; young lady
Magenbitter: A liquid tonic for a bilious stomach
Mahlzeit: Enjoy (food)
Maibaumaufstellen: A Spring festival where men of the village raise a maypole that is used as the focus for an outdoor party and meal
Mann: Husband, also “one” i.e. a person
Mannerschnitte: Chocolate-filled wafer biscuits
Marburg: The German name for Mariabor, Slovenia
Marterl: A roadside shrine of varying size and materials. Marterls were usually erected at sites of accidents. Taferls, their counterparts, are usually carved wooden statues depicting Mary, and are often found at crossroads in rural areas. They are characteristically mounted on wooden poles, under a “roof.”
Matura: High school diploma on graduation
Mutti: Mother
National service: Mandatory period of national service, currently eight months. Exemptions are allowed for objectors; they work as social workers or ambulance drivers for their service.
Närrisch: Foolish, crazy
Natürlich: Naturally, of course
Nicht war: Is that not so?
Niemand: Nobody
“Null Komma Josef”: See “Zero Point Joe”
Oestis: Easterners i.e. from Eastern Europe
Oetzi: An ancient man found preserved in the Alps in 1991
Offenegg: A hill
Olta!: “Yikes!”
Oma: Grandmother (“granny”)
Opa: Grandfather (“granddad”)
Pallawatch: (Slang) a screw-up
Pas auf: Go away. Said with emphasis; it is hostile – get lost.
Prima: Good, well done
Puntigamer: A brand of beer popular in Styria, named after a suburb of Graz
Platz: A (town, village, city) square – Hauplatz: main square
Prolete: Boorish
Posten: (post)Gendarmerie station
Radl: Bicycling
Randsteinpflanze: Slang for a prostitute; literally a sidewalk flower
Rathaus: Town hall
Raus: “Let's go”
Reiskocher: Japanese car (slang). Literally: Rice cooker
Riegel: Troll (slang). Literally: a lock
Rossegger, Peter: Rossegger, a Styrian, was nativist poet and writer who collected local lore and observations of rural Steiermark in the 19th century
Rote: “Red.” Used to describe left wingers; also ironic use (see Sozi)
Rotkopf: “Redhead”
Ruhig: Quiet. “Bleib ruhig” – “Be quiet”
Schandi: Slang for Gendarmerie
Schass: Fart (slang)
Scheisse: Shit
Schleiche: Black market
Schmutzig: Sooty, also implies embers
Schnapps: Spirits (alcohol)
Schnappsencard game
Schatzi: Sweetheart. Literally “little cat”
Schnabel: Nose (dialect)
Schau: “Look”
Schrecklich: Terrible
Schule: School
Schwartz: Literally black; used ironically to refer to supporters of the right-wing Freedom Party; suggests “conservatives” are in fact fascists
Schwartzarbeiters: Workers in the underground economy, without legal status
Schweigel: Larger glass of beer (see glockel)
Schweinerei: Pig-like; used to express disapproval of situation, place
Semmel: A bun (baked bread)
Servus: Greeting – “hello”
Schwuchtel: Homosexual (slang)
Shreklich: Terrible
So geht’s: So it goes – “That's the way of the world”
Sonderkomission: Police investigation, a “SOKO” is called for a case that goes badly
“Sozi”: A supporter of Austria’s Social Democratic Party (see “Rote”)
Spatzieren: Going out, traveling about
Speck: Home-cured bacon, ham
Stadleute: City people
Stadt: City
Stanzen: Fired, but slang for murdered
Strafregister: Fingerprint/Police file
Strassgänger Strassgänger strasse: Styrian Gendarmerie HQ, in Graz West
Steiermark: Styria
Stübe: A pub
Teufel: The devil
Tischlerei: Carpenter or joiner’s shop; also furniture shop
Tragisch: Tragic
Trottel: A fool, but a conniving and malicious one
Tschuschen: A highly derogatory term for peoples of the former Yugoslavia
Unglucklich: Unlucky
Ungerade: Unusual
Vati: Short form of Vater – father
Verlauer: Outspoken, indiscreet
Verrückt: Crazy
Verstehst: Short form of Verstanden sie – Do you understand? i.e. “Get it?”
Verstunkene: Stinky, lousy
Vielleicht: Perhaps
Volksdeutsch(en): Ethnic Germans who had settled in other parts of Europe, often for generations. Most became refugees after WW2.
Watschen: Slap delivered with back of the hand (“backhander”) (see Detschen)
Weg: Literally “a way.” Weg is usually a path, paved or unpaved
Wehrdienst: National military service (compulsory)
Wilkommen: Welcome
Weib(i): Derogatory term for wife – shrewish
Wipsi: Groggy, tipsy, giddy
Wirt: Host/waiter
Wissenchaft: Organized knowledge e.g. science
Wunderbar: Wonderful
Wunderschön: Truly lovely
Wurst: Sausage
Zahlen: Bill
Zentrum: The centre of town
Zero Point Joe: Viennese slang equivalent to US/Canadian “diddly squat” or UK “bugger all,” i.e. nothing. It is even less than nothing, because it implies an ironic or cynical realization. This term originated in Vienna during the years of Allied occupation after WW2. Zero Point Joe, a beer made in Vienna, contains no alcohol.
Zigeuner: Derogatory slang for Roma/Gypsies
Zoll: Customs and border post