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November 1999

Down south

Travel article about Innsbruck, Austria

Just 150 km south of Munich lies the city of Innsbruck. The capital of the Austrian province of Tyrol, it is situated just north of the Brenner Pass which leads to Italy. Here, the visitor can enjoy skiing or hiking in the surrounding snow-capped Alps, relish dance and music festivals or feast on Tyrolean culinary specialties. The small city of 130,000 is breathtakingly beautiful, hospitable and easy to explore on foot. The mountains dominate the city, their shimmering white-and-bluish-gray tinge provides a glowing backdrop to the Italianate architecture of the Altstadt. Local color enlivens the Old Town Square, where Tyrolean folk dancers perform in traditional costumes and, during Advent and the Christmas season, brass ensembles play from the Goldenes Dachl, the gold-covered loggia of a former royal residence. Shopping is most elegant along Maria-Theresien-Strasse, but a roam through the arcades of the Old Town will be rewarded by good deals. Charming cafés, which serve up a variety of coffees and innumerable pastries, offer welcome respite from sightseeing and shopping. Innsbruck is not only famous for Alpine sports and scenery, but imbued with living history, at once fascinating and unique. Few other cities offer a comparable opportunity to savor the sites, sounds and settings of a Renaissance crossroads as does Innsbruck. Here, tales of emperors, a secret wife, collecting, courtly music and lavish displays of wealth take center stage. These stories are recalled in the architecture of the Old Town, dating primarily from 1500 to 1540, the castles and the Renaissance and Early Music Festivals of Innsbruck. “Happy Austria, while others wage war, you marry!” The notion of making love, not war, was closely associated with Albert II’s marriage to a daughter of the King of Hungary and Bohemia, which brought both realms under Hapsburg control, but the above adage was even more closely linked to Maximilian I. Crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 1493, when Columbus was still making his way to the New World, he reigned until his death in 1519. Maximilian I first married Mary, heiress of the duke of Burgundy, then Bianca Sforza of Milan. It was he who brought pomp and splendor to the then provincial Tyrolean town of Innsbruck by adding the extraordinary Golden Roof, for example, to the royal residence at the Old Town Square. Effigies of the emperor and his wives are still to be seen beneath the sparkling, gilded copper tiles. The loggia supporting the roof is a premier example of the transition from late Gothic to Renaissance architecture. From here, the imperial family enjoyed watching the spectacles that took place on the square below, such as pageants, tournaments and open-air markets. Under Maximilian I, who coaxed the great Flemish composer Heinrich Isaac away from the powerful Medici family in Florence, cosmopolitanism flourished at a German-speaking court for the first time. Isaac even served as an imperial diplomat, but he is best remembered for his poignant song Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen (Innsbruck, I now must leave you): “I go along my pathways into a foreign land. My joy has now been taken. I know not to recover, for in such misery I am.” As was expected of a Renaissance nobleman, Maximilian I sang and played an instrument, and he and his successors were munificent patrons of the arts, music in particular. a walk from the old town square up the Hofgasse leads to the Hofburg, the Imperial Palace constructed in the Rococo style. Nearby is the Hofkirche, or Court Church, commissioned by Maximilian’s grandson Ferdinand I, himself Emperor from 1558. Constructed from 1553 to 1563 to accommodate the monumental tomb of Maximilian I, the Hofkirche is the largest imperial memorial in the Occident. Only the terracotta army of China’s first Emperor in Xi’an boasts a grander scale. Although the tomb remains empty, it is surrounded by tributes to Innsbruck’s first great patron ruler. In an effort to surpass such Florentine bronze-casting virtuosos as Benvenuto Cellini and Giambologna, Tyrolean artisans fashioned 28 larger-than-life statues of Maximilian’s real and metaphorical ancestors, including King Arthur. Among the many artists to have collaborated on these bronzes were Albrecht Dürer and Veit Stoss. The main Hofkirche organ, built by Joerg Ebert, dates from 1558. This instrument is the oldest organ north of the Alps. Further exploration of the church reveals the beautiful Silver Chapel, with its gloriously ornate altar, and a more muted sounding Italian organ, replete with wooden pipes. Its less dynamic sound provides a stark contrast to the boisterous Ebert organ. Concerts can be heard on both these organs, which resound with the original timbres and tunings known to the great Renaissance organists Paul Hofhaimer and Arnolt Schlick. The Tyrolean Folk Art Museum in the Hofkirche cloisters exhibits costumes, rustic furniture and farmhouse rooms decorated in styles ranging from Gothic to Rococo. Adjacent to the Hofkirche are 16th-century dwellings built in the Italian style with three or four floors of living quarters perched above shops with elegant arcades. Gazing up from these alleyways to high mountains, such as the Patscherkofel, Seegrube or Hafelekar, it is possible to lose your equilibrium. Not only are the Alps imposing, the buildings here are slanted. Thicker at the base than at the top, these edifices distort vision in a curious way. After roaming through these alleys, even the most robust tourist will be hungry. Fans of traditional Tyrolean cuisine will encounter such restaurant names as red, black and golden eagles (Roter Adler, Schwarzer Adler, Goldener Adler), a gray bear (Grauer Bär) and a white horse (Weisses Rössl). As with the architecture, the cuisine has a certain Italian flair, combined with Austrian heartiness. Specialties found in most restaurants include Schlutzkrapfen (ravioli in brown butter), Knoblauchsuppe (garlic soup), Filet Romantik (veal, spinach and mushrooms baked in a crust) or tasty Tiroler Speck (cured ham) and Kräuterschnaps (strong herbal digestives). Schloss Ambras, the largest Renaissance castle in Austria, is perched on a hill to the southeast of Innsbruck. In the mid-16th century, yet another generous Hapsburg patron of the arts, Ferdinand II, had the present castle erected upon the ruins of an older one. This multitalented Archduke of Tyrol founded cloisters and a school, and reformed the laws of the land. He was the first Hapsburg to seriously collect art and curiosities, and an avid sponsor of festivals and other spectacles such as theater performances with musical intermezzi, processions, dancers, Italian buffoons and tournaments. These are but a few examples of the splendid entertainment the Archduke offered at the Innsbruck Hofburg and at Castle Ambras. today, one may delight in many aspects of Ferdinand II’s passions and pleasures in the castle’s museum and gardens. Battles against the Turks are vividly evoked in Ferdinand’s collection of “spoils of war.” A giant eunuch’s full battle regalia graphically portrays the fearsome warrior. The Spanish Hall provides a stately concert and banquet setting, while the portrait gallery of Hapsburg women recounts the brief flowering of these beauties, most of whom died in their twenties in childbirth. A rare exception was Philippine Welser, Ferdinand II’s beloved morganatic wife from an Augsburg patrician family, whose marriage was kept secret for 10 years from the Hapsburg family and longer from the public. Ferdinand presented Castle Ambras to his bride. She ran the residence with great panache, ensuring a splendid court life at the castle, where her exceptional pewter-walled baths may still be admired. Until 1665, Innsbruck remained a residence of a branch of the Hapsburgs who further promoted courtly culture in the city, engaging artists, musicians and actors from across Europe. The great musical tradition of that period was revived about 30 years ago at the city’s first annual Early Music Festival. This event has made Innsbruck synonymous with Renaissance music and early opera. Every summer this internationally acclaimed music festival draws a great audience to delight in performances of madrigals and motets, concerts and early operas, in Castle Ambras and other venues in Innsbruck. The emphasis lies in historically influenced music-making and performance on original instruments or faithful replicas. These performances enable visitors to enjoy Maximilian’s Imperial Kapelle — a vocal and instrumental ensemble, Philippine Welser’s Italian madrigals and commedia dell’arte buffoons and Ferdinand’s noble dozen trumpeters — much like audiences did over three hundred years ago. Nestled cozily in its Alpine Eldorado, Innsbruck titillates the senses. In every corner of the Old Town, something vies for the visitor’s attention. The city’s art, architecture and musical traditions bear witness to its Renaissance heritage, revealing Innsbruck as a gem of rare beauty. hitting the slopes Twice chosen as the site of Olympic competitions, in 1964 and 1976, Innsbruck provides the most convenient and diverse winter sports opportunities of any city in Europe. Innsbruck’s Olympic Mountain, the Patscherkofel, offers 11 km of slopes for skiers of all levels of ability, while the second Olympic site, Axamer Lizum (40 km of slopes), is excellent for both skiing and snowboarding (halfpipe and fun-park). Kühtai also provides 40 km of slopes of easy to intermediate terrain, while the steep Nordkette (70% inclination) is recommended only for advanced skiers or snowboarders. Crosscountry skiers should take advantage of the 450 km of groomed trails on the Seefeld Plateau. For year-round skiing, try the several nearby glaciers, such as Stubaital and Zillertal. From the city, there are excellent bus connections (approximately every 15-20 minutes) to six local ski areas. Among the special packages is a ski weekend including two nights in a hotel, a ski pass for three areas, bus transfer and ski or snowboard equipment rental (from DM 285). Driving over the Zirler Berg from Garmisch-Partenkirchen to the winter sports areas west of Innsbruck, you must have winter tires on your vehicle. The well-paved roads often have a 14%-16% incline, and winter conditions can change quickly. For the best Alpine views from numerous economical, family-run lodgings, head for the villages of Oberperfuss or Ranggen, both above 800 m. There, you are ideally situated to take the cable car to Rangger Köpfl, called the “Hausberg” (“home mountain”), with 17 km of easy to intermediate ski slopes. Don’t fall out of your beds, however, when a religious holiday begins with cannons at 6 a.m. Local tradition is still prevalent in all variants, but you may understand scarcely a word of the mountain dialect. <<< Bergsilvester: Magnificent fireworks on the Nordkette mountains, Dec 31. Air and Style Snowboard Competition: Dec 3. World Cup Ski Competition: 26/27 Feb, Ladies’ Downhill and Superski. Central Tourist Association Zirl (western ski areas)-Tel. 0043-5238-52235 Innsbruck tips Hofburg: Mon.-Sun. 9-17. Hofkirche and Folk Art Museum: Mon.-Sat., 9-17, Folk Art also Sun. 9-12. Castle Ambras: Dec.-Mar. 14-17; Apr.- Oct. 10-17. Closed Tuesday. Shuttle bus. Christmas Market: Nov. 26 - Dec. 29; Brass music: Goldenes Dachl, daily 17; Living Manger Scene: Dec 24. Innsbruck Card: Includes all museums, public transportation, some cable cars/funiculars. Valid 1, 2 or 3 days. Innsbruck Tourist Office: Tel. 0043-512-59850, Fax –7. Tourist-Information/Ticket Service: Tel. 0043-512-5356, Fax –14.

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