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Am I allowed to say that back in the day I loved Austria? Yes, it was too expensive, yes it was full of unrepentant Nazis, and yes the whole place was a bit too pleased with itself but, as the then neighbours included Warsaw Pact Hungary and Czechoslovakia and Tito’s Yugoslavia, there was sufficient to be smug about.
Being billeted further east involved not getting enough to eat, doing without electricity, flooding after an eighth of an inch of rain and progress hampered by oxen carts and hand ploughs. Trips to Vienna were a much-anticipated treat allowing for monster desserts to be consumed in upstairs corner shop cafes within sight of the Opera and St Stephen’s Cathedral. Beneath ebullient Hapsburg plaster cornices sat magnificent edifices of ice cream and gateaux. No doubt there is a great big long German word for an Ostie who’s consumed 8,000 calories in half a day and is waddling back to Westbahnoff with a grumpy face and a backpack full of badly concealed contraband chocolate.
I returned many years later with Mrs AWS and the children. The six of us fitted snuggly into a City Night Line couchette as far as Munich after which an OBB Railjet took the strain all the way to the Austrian capital. Sudbahnhof and Westbhanof had gone, replaced by a building site with temporary wooden platforms themselves subsequently replaced by the soulless Wien Hauptbahnhof. Not to worry, mine and my father’s and grandparents’ reminiscences rendezvoused further west in a place that has fared much better.
One occasionally had a chance to strike out beyond Vienna. In my old railway box sits a Zugbegleiter for train Number 166 Montfort which departed at 15:00 from Wien Westbahnhof, destination Bregenz 708 km away,a journey of eight hours and eleven minutes. Bregenz sits on the eastern, Austrian, shore of Lake Constance which we visited last time. If you didn’t realise Austria was such a big place (708 Km is 439 miles or London to Inverness in a straight line), the distance is explained by the rails having to meander around mountains and lakes. Likewise the speed, or lack of it, 439 miles in 8 hours and 11 minutes suggests a start-to-stop average of 53 mph.
Running my finger up the leaflet; Dornbirn, Hohenems, Feldkirch, Blundenz, Langen am Arlberg, St Anton am Arlberg and Landeck retain their mystery therefore I must have alighted at Innsbruck, at twenty past eight in the evening, having covered a fascinating 510 twighlight kilometres that encompassed St Polten, Linz and Salzburg. According to the legend there was a dining car. I will have been in it.
It’s alarming to think that in the near-seventy years since my father and grandparents visited, my own Cold War trip was a lot closer to 1954 than to the present day. On the other hand, it was reassuring to recognise in an instant, despite the subsequent dilapidation of my grey cells, the first image captured in their old album.
This is Maria-Theresien Strasse, the Baroque main shopping street in Innsbruck. We are facing north and looking in the direction of the River Inn after which the capital of the Tyrol is named. Although the modern-day population has risen to over 130,000, the view today is recognisable and the street continues to contain handsome buildings tempting shoppers. You can stand on the very same spot here. Note of warning – if you’re looking for Poundland or Lidl, look elsewhere.
The tramlines are still in place but remain deceptive as the route takes a sharp turn to the left with the main section of the street being pedestrianised. The closest shop to us, to the right and on a street corner, is a Palmer’s clothing outlet. Although now a Hugo Boss, and with a remodelled lower story, there is still a Palmers with its distinctive crown logo (one of 132 branches in Austria) further down the street opposite the Rathaus, more of which later. Palmer’s also remain Austria’s biggest textile manufacturer.
In our postcard from West Germany, we noted the Furstenberg brewery magnates had more in common with each other than just brewing beer, having provided four heads of the dynasty to the Nazi party. Likewise a better-known Nazi, Hugo Boss, was famous for supplying clothing to the German army, Nazi Party and the SS. Using slave labour and prisoners of war in his textile factories while doing so. Continuing the theme, behind the tram to the left we can see a VW Beatle, designed by Ferdinand Porsche, also a bit of a lad.
Beyond the back end of the tram can be seen an outsized ‘Z’ that denotes the Zelger building or Zelgerhaus. The Zelger is Josef Zelger who built this Josef Retter-designed bay-windowed green building in 1911. Those who understand such things tell me,
‘The facades are richly structured with avant-corps, oriels and balconies and designed in the style of the Neo-Empire’.
The five-story corner site also sits on Anichstraße. Old postcards describe Josef Zelger’s outlet as a ‘modegeschaft posamentefabrik’, literally a fashion shop and trimmings factory. We shall imagine upper stories of seamstresses making and altering the fine dresses of fine Tryolian ladies in the pre-Great War halcyon days of the western extreme of the Hapsburg empire.
Although the Hapsburgs didn’t last and neither did Austro-Hungary, the Zelgerhaus has. An outsized Z remains on the corner entrance of the building which still houses clothing retailers such as Hallhuber, Intermissimi and Rosebud.
The opposite side of Anichstraße stands as a rounded cupola-topped corner. This five-story building is the Max Haus and was built between 1889 and 1893. The guidebook insists,
“The upper floors are structured with baroque window frames, curved or broken gable crowns and Corinthian pilasters. On the second floor runs a stone balcony resting on massive volute consoles with wrought iron railings. The attic with transversely oval skylights and round gables is crowned by a curved tambour with a dome.”
To the right of the Max Haus, the Baroque continues with three townhouses that were converted into the Palais Künigl at the beginning of the 18th century. The architect was Johann Martin Gumpp. In 1848 the palace was given a classical facade and became the Hotel d’Autriche. From 1897 it served as Innsbruck’s town hall, or Rathaus. In the modern day, the lower stories are retail outlets and the upper are galleries.
In the middle of Maria-Theresien Strasse and opposite the old Rathaus stands a column holding a statue of Mary. This can be seen in the photo – just. Erected in 1706 to commemorate Bavarian troops being driven out of the Tyrol on 26th July 1703, it is a Cristoforo Benedetti piece in red marble. The base is surrounded by Saints Anna, Cassian, Vigilius and our own George. The 26th of July being St Anna’s day explains her presence among the other saints and also gives the column its name – Annasäule, or St Anne’s Column.
More visible, to the left of the representation of Mary stands the onion-domed spire of the Hospital Church of the Holy Spirit. Although there has been a church on the site since 1315 the present building is Johann Martin Gumpp the Elder’s 1701 Baroque design replacing an earlier Gothic structure. Beyond that are mountains, the snow-filled gulleys of the lower slopes of which can just about be made out in the photo.
Contained on my railway leaflet is an advert for the Tourhotel Breinossl at Maria-Theresien Strasse, 12. Still there but renamed Stage 12, a recent Daily Telegraph review became overcited by the design-driven hotel with pop-up views of the Alps from its slick glass-walled rooms. As well as a free holiday and as much sachertorte as she could down, reviewer Kerry Walker must have been offered a half share in the business as she enthused,
In the heart of Innsbruck’s Altstadt, where pastel-painted Renaissance houses lift the gaze to the jagged NordKette Alps. The shops, restaurants and pavement cafes of Maria-Theresien-Strasse are right on the doorstep, and you’re a five-minute walk from trophy sights like the Goldenes Dachl – a Gothic oriel glinting with 2,657 copper tiles – the Hapsburg Imperial Palace and the River Inn. From the centre, funiculars and cable cars whisk you up to slopes in minutes for high-altitude hiking, mountain biking and, in winter, skiing.
Anyway, saves me from having to over-describe a bad translation from my old guidebook while hamming it on Google Street View and wiki.
If we head south and point in the other direction we come to Leopoldstrasse and its iconic victory arch which, unusually for a victory arch, is the least interesting part of the view. If I may draw the reader’s attention to the near left of the old photograph we can see an Agfa Photo Linser sign above a shop front. Next to that, a Gasthaus (inn) sign hangs over the pavement and beside that the signage for a garage.
In the modern day, those buildings are gone. However, in their place is what is unmistakably a former car showroom with big display windows and a car-width passageway through to workshops at the rear. These days the building is a fair trade outlet encouraging peasants to remain poor by being unproductive while relying on virtue signalling charity from the other side of the world.
Brief research showed that the showroom was not only formerly called Autohaus Linser but that Auto Linser still exists. A more utilitarian unit thrives away from the town centre and nearer the Inn river with a bigger car lot, showroom and workshops from where they sell Opels and Kias. Their website celebrates 130 years in business. One of the encouraging things about revisiting the Tyrol is the number of independent and family businesses in place of the ‘clone town’ outlets we suffer from here. We wish the Linsers and their enterprise all the best for the next 130 years.
Opposite ‘Linser Corner’ sits the hotel Greif with the single-story building beyond that being the Modern style Greif cafe extension which is stencilled with the wording Restaurant, Cafe, Hotel, Greif. The Greif cafe was a famous landmark and features in many Old Innsbruck websites and publications. Originally, Greif hotel owner Robert Nissel used the building as a beer depot for his brewery but in 1949, only a few years before my family visited, it was converted into the distinctive annexe pictured above. Well-known Tyrolean architect Lois Welzenbacher created a popular concert café, restaurant and buffet. ‘Public outrage’ followed when the cafe was suddenly demolished in February 1976.
A disappointing browse around TripAdvisor shows that the hotel hasn’t survived either, at least not as a hotel, and appears to be the offices of the Haus Der Technik. The cafe is now a five-story slab-sided and large windowed 70s construction which serves as the Vapiano Pasta and Pizza Bar with the upper floors being the Tyrol Water Board. The area can be explored in the modern day via this link.
Next door to the Linser Corner is another famous building. As I leafed through my crumbling forty-year-old German language guidebook, I was alarmed to see it described as ‘Judenstil’ (Jewish Style). Given local tradition, one was concerned about what the natives might have done. Fortunately a second reading, this time with my spectacles on, showed the word to be ‘Jugendstil’ or Young Style which means Art Nouveau in English – if you see what I mean. The address is Leopostdstrasse 2, or the Winkler Haus, and is an Anton Bachman design. A splendid feast of gaudy natural references about the facade suggests inspiration from nearby meadows and fertile lower mountain slopes.
All of which draws us to the least interesting part of the street, a rather dull triumphal arch, built in 1765 to celebrate the wedding of Archduke Leopold to Spanish princess Maria Luisa. At the time Leopold was Holy Roman Emporer, King of Hungary and Bohemia and Archduke of Austria.
You’d think he could have managed a better arch.
© Always Worth Saying 2022