Exclusive interview with the singer and TV moderator Sonja Weissensteiner
This interview was recorded in March of 2020, shortly before the first lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
It's peaceful right now at the Hotel "Castel Latemar." Most of the guests are already out having fun on the slopes in Carezza. The blanket of snow on the ground outside reflects the brilliant sunshine through the giant windows of the hotel lounge where Sonja Weissensteiner greets us cheerfully. Born in Carezza in 1981, the TV moderator grew up in the Eggen Valley. Her impressive career got off to an early start: At the age of eleven, she attracted attention when recording a song for her grandmother's birthday. At 15, she cut her first album. That same year, she began her work in front of television cameras as a moderator for the German broadcasting company SAT1. After completing various albums and following a short stint as a radio moderator in Kufstein, in 2002, she moved to Munich and began working for Bayerischer Rundfunk (BR). She has lived and worked there ever since. Since 2013, she has been responsible for conceptional work and moderation for the BR broadcast "Music in the Mountains." She is also a moderator for the Austrian broadcasting station ORF and for the digital broadcaster Gute-Laune-TV.
Together with her husband Toni and their two daughters, they're spending a few days in the hotel operated by her parents – and is taking the time not only to chat with us, but also to later accompany us onto the slopes:
We are sitting right now in the lounge of the Hotel "Castel Latemar." You grew up here in Carezza. What childhood memories do you have that are connected with this place?
I spent the first six years of my life here in Carezza. At that time, my parents ran the Grand Hotel's restaurant. One of my earliest childhood memories was of looking up and seeing that ornate, impressive building. When I turned six, my family moved to Eggen. And then, ten years later, we moved back here, to the "Castel Latemar." At that time, it was really humming with activity here at the Karer / Costalunga Pass. There were various taverns – one of which was in our own house – and the "Hennenstall," a popular place where young people could hang out. It's gotten somewhat quieter here now. It's now a family ski area that I really enjoy visiting to go skiing with my children… When I think about it, the Karer Pass evolved in perfect keeping with my own preferences! (laughs)
Your children were born and raised in Munich. Do they have a bond to your original homeland?
They most certainly do! It's a strong bond! My husband Toni and I are both native South Tyrolese. As a consequence of that, we all four still speak at home in our local dialect. Of course, in a certain sense our children are typical Munich kids. But our two families are here and we come back very frequently for weekends. Portal-to-portal, the whole trip takes only three hours!
You attracted attention as a singer already at a young age. Then you began moderating – also with considerable success. How was that for your parents and your siblings? Were they okay with that? Did they support you?
Yes, they most certainly did! They gave me a lot of support, accompanied me to TV performances and events, and generally "kept an eye" on me. On the other hand, I was pretty independent even as a child. I was eager to stand on my own two feet and "do my own thing." My parents always accepted and encouraged that. But at the same time, they also gave me the security I needed. I am very grateful to them for all they have done for me! I was able to test my skills and challenge myself, but still always knew: Even if I were to fail, they'd be there to catch me. It was and still is very important for my development to have a close relationship with my family.
What do you miss the most about Carezza?
The winter months in Munich are pretty difficult for me! (laughs) At first, my husband Toni and I were very perplexed by the residents of Munich – In the middle of winter, there they'd be, wrapped in thick blankets while they sat in the sidewalk cafes, basking in the sparse sunshine. In the meantime, we do that too! That's because of the thick cloud cover that can persist for days or even weeks. It's at such times that I yearn for Carezza, its ideal weather, the great outdoors, and the fact that one can spontaneously grab one's skis and head for the slopes… I practically grew up directly at the ski slopes, so skiing is simply a part of everyday life for me – and I miss it dearly!
So even as a child, you spent a lot of time in the great outdoors, in the mountains, on the slopes, amidst Mother Nature?
Yes, we kids were always outdoors having fun. I had a very idyllic childhood. There was so much to enjoy, so much natural beauty right at our doorstep… And so we never took trips elsewhere. In retrospect, I sometimes view that as a small handicap – my family simply never had the urge to go explore other parts of our homeland. Before I started with "Music in the Mountains," for example, I had never traveled to the Ulten Valley or the Staller Saddle. Instead, we were always poking around the Latemar and the Rose Garden. I don't think that we had even ever visited the Seiser Alm to go skiing – at least, I have no memory of ever having done that! (laughs) We just didn't feel the need to go elsewhere; after all, we had everything here!
Where do you go first when you return to the Eggen Valley?
I always first go out into the great outdoors, of course! In the wintertime, I go skiing. In the summer, I go hiking. My husband and I want to imbue our children with these values. I've even noticed in our circle of friends and acquaintances that, more and more, people want to experience nature and find peace. After that, I visit our neighbors and old friends. It seems to me that that's how the South Tyrolese are: We love to meet up with others, to sit together and socialize – with a glass of good wine or maybe a slice of pie. It's a tradition that I am happy to continue!
What's your favorite hiking route?
When I'm out without my kids, I love taking the Rose Garden roundtrip – often just in the company of my girlfriends. It's a great hike, and the perfect tour for me, at four and a half hours. When we take the children with us, we sometimes go to the Masaré or a bit into the Labyrinth … but now that they're getting bigger, we would like to attempt more-challenging hikes.
And in the wintertime? Is there one ski slope that one simply shouldn't miss?
Yes, there's only one right response to that – the "Kölner Hütte" ("Cologne" alpine hut)! (laughs)
One last question – we're curious: Are you sometimes approached here in the Eggen Valley by fans who recognize you from television?
Well, it's not as though I were Lady Gaga or something! (laughs) But: Of course, I am indeed occasionally approached by people who recognize me – frequently from even outside of South Tyrol – for example while shopping in Munich, or taking a stroll along the shores of Lake Ammer. That's very flattering, of course – but I like the fact that such random meetings occur under casual, informal, and friendly circumstances. I don't know if I could cope with it if I had to constantly be on the look-out wherever I happened to be. When you are immensely successful and achieve superstar status, that has an impact on your whole life – and on that of your loved ones. The measure of success that I enjoy seems to me to be the perfect balance – and I enjoy it very much!
Translations from German: Alexander Busek – Studio Traduc, Bolzano