The Internet has no Quality Filter

In the avalanche of offers that appear every day in your in-box, junk often looks just as good as quality. Recently, a promotional e-mail from a tourist authority funded jointly by the Alpine countries-Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, and France-contained the following item:

The charming mountain hotel Forsthaus Graseck-which boasts its own cable car-offers double rooms from 52 to 86 euros per person/per night, single rooms from 29 to 56 euros. Very reasonably priced apartments are also available. Forsthaus Graseck's three-night "Mountain and Wellness" package includes a gondola excursion to Mt. Eckbauer. Price for three nights: 259 euros per person. The hiking tour contained in the package is followed by a health spa treatment and massage, as well as body-wrapping with fango or hay.

The Forsthaus Graseck is well-known to this writer. We first went there in 1979, after seeing its red roof-peak symbol in the '79 Michelin Red Guide for Germany. The hotel is very remote, reached only by the two persons-plus-luggage cable car that rises out of a tiny enclave at the end of an unpaved road, not far from the old Olympic ski stadium. We loaded our luggage into the cramped cable car and ascended to the hotel's Bergbahn station part way up the mountain. Dangling hundreds of feet above the rugged Partnach gorge, while brushing rocky outcrops in a rickety, swinging capsule about the size of an elevator in a very small hotel, is not a ride for the acrophobic.

The Forsthaus turned out to be an almost fairy-tale Bavarian mountain chalet. A shaggy St. Bernard patrolled the reception area, an open fire warmed a cozy Stube, and the guestrooms, each with balcony, faced the dominating view of the magnificently craggy Wetterstein range. The hotel had a connection with the Olympics and in its stairwells hung signed photos of Germany's leading skiers and famous frequent guests, such as international Olympic czar, Avery Brundage—the man who decided the 1972 Munich Olympics would continue after 11 members of the Israeli team were murdered by Palestinian terrorists. The moderately-priced hotel's upscale clientèle were no doubt attracted, as we were, by the idyllic location.

Year after year, we went back. The view and the location remained stellar. The hotel did not. Soon it lost its "red" designation in Michelin (awarded to particularly "pleasant or restful" hotels), and in a few years it disappeared from the guide altogether. On a return visit in the early '90s we noted that little if anything had been done to the guestrooms and public areas. The mattresses had become lumpy, and the cigarette burns and water stains on the coffee tables were in exactly the same places they had been 10 years before. Something was obviously wrong.

Last December, curious about the state of a hotel that held so many wonderful memories for us, and harboring hopes of a resurrection, we rode the cable car once more. The upper Bergbahn station is now in such a state of disrepair that one becomes uneasy about the condition of the cars and cables one's very life depends on. In 10 seconds we knew there had been no resurrection. The hotel's exterior was shabby. Inside it was quiet, dirty, and, sad to say, unchanged. We settled in the Stube for an afternoon cup of tea and a snack. Even this simple fare was sub-par and served in an offhand manner. The slanting afternoon sun revealed layers of dust and dirt on floors and surfaces. I have no doubt the chairs, tables, and reception area furnishings are relics from 1979, without any attempt during that 25-year period to paint, refinish, or upholster.

On the stone walkway, 10 feet from the hotel's entrance, sat a pile of dog droppings. We watched two employees walk past the mess without a glance. The dress and demeanor of the employees we observed during our 30-minute visit were not consistent with what Gemütlichkeit considers minimum standards. For a moment, we thought about asking to see a couple of guestrooms but decided we had seen enough. Our old favorite, the Forsthaus Graseck, is a sad, dreary, decaying mess.

The point of this story is that the Internet has no filter. In the avalanche of offers that appear every day in your in-box, junk often looks just as good as quality. That, of course, is why you rely on Gemütlichkeit. (You can subscribe online if you aren't already a subscriber.) As one of our renewal letters says, "Our recommendations and cautions are based on what we have personally seen, heard, tasted, sniffed, and touched." Though we cannot, of course, filter the Internet, you can trust our information.

The foregoing raises a question: Does the Alpine tourist authority apply some threshold standard to the properties and offers it promotes? In my experience, even though they represents the commercial interests of their members (mostly hotels), the German, Swiss, and Austrian national tourist organizations require members to meet defined standards. Possibly the standard for promotion via the Web should be higher than for mere membership.

My hope is that the person who wrote the e-mail that I and thousands of others received has never visited the Forsthaus Graseck, and the touting of this substandard hotel is an anomaly. The fact that such a hotel is being promoted on the Web is not news. That it is being offered by a reputable European tourist agency, however, raises troubling credibility issues. Caveat emptor and depend on Gemütlichkeit. -RHB