Your father, Reinhold Messner, is a charismatic personality and the most famous adventurer in the world. But he also sometimes frustrates some people with his unpopular opinions. Have you ever been in situations where you thought: "Why can't our dad just be a postman?"
Magdalena: No, I’ve never asked myself that question, not even as a child. It’s just the way he is.
Simon: (after a pause) Yes, I feel the same way. That’s how we grew up. As a child, you don't really compare yourself to other kids. Our life, which maybe looks special from the outside, felt normal. To us it was just everyday life.
M: Well, maybe the “Yeti” phase was more difficult. When I went to primary school in Merano, sometimes people said mean things to me. You know, when kids mimick what their parents say behind your back. You feel pushed into a corner because of your dad and that’s unfair. As a child, it’s difficult to defend oneself from those kinds of attacks. But looking back, I think it made me stronger. It made me stand up for myself at an early age. I used to say: “I’m with my father, but I'm not my father”.
S: Yes, it could be a problem sometimes. As a child you’re supposed to take responsibility for whatever your father does or says, even though you may not agree with him.
Simon, you just got back from a climbing expedition in Patagonia. How do other mountaineers react when they hear your name?
S: I don’t think my surname makes me stand out in particular. I'm Simon, and just because my last name is “Messner”, it doesn't make me a better climber. But, yes, it’s true that people sometimes react strange when they find out my surname … and I don't like it much!
M: We both enjoyed being students because we blended in with everyone else. If the question of our parents' profession was ever raised, we had to quickly decide whether or not we were going to reveal our true identities. I usually said that my dad’s a writer ...
S: And I used to say that he’s a farmer ...
M: Exactly, if you keep something secret, you’re not actually lying (laughing).
As the son of Reinhold Messner, was it a foregone conclusion that you’d be pursuing a career in mountaineering?
S: No, not at all. As a child I wasn't interested in climbing. It was part of our everyday lives and seemed quite normal to us. Even our bedtime stories were about the mountains! Only later, at the age of 16 or 17, was I drawn to climbing. Nowadays, mountaineering is a central part of my life, but I’m not obsessed with it. If you wish to keep up with the best, you have to be fully committed and train hard: maybe 30 or 40 hours per week. You have to be really driven – but that’s not for me.
M: Our dad never tried to pressure us or to push us in any particular direction.
S: At times I think he may even have given us too much freedom.
M: Yes, we were given all the freedom to choose and at the time we probably even found it a bit overwhelming. But soon you also learn to take responsibility for what you do and when something goes wrong, there aren’t any come-backs. You just have to sort things out for yourself. Cleaning up another person’s mess just isn’t our dad’s way of doing things.