Saturday it grew cloudly, with a brief thunderstorm at night, and a light sprinkle all day Sunday, but there were plenty of people on the streets of Innsbruck.
On Saturday we looked for the laundry and the internet cafe and bought some snacks and sundries and found the post office, while on Sunday we saw most of the famous sights. The difference was striking; workaday Innsbruck is dirty and even dilapidated in places, while the old city is full of beautiful buildings, fancy stores and restaurants, and plenty of tourists. The tourists included a few people who were staying in Innsbruck, and lots of folks on tour buses.
Our hotel serves a typical continental breakfast buffet with cereals and fruit and yoghurt and boiled eggs and sweet breads and whole-grain breads and rolls and cheeses and meats and butter and jam and juice and tea and coffee. We've learned not to try it all in one day!
We're now busily reading two books; one on the Habsburg dynasty, and the other on modern Austria. They are helping us gain some understanding of this complex area. Old City of Innsbruck
Innsbruck is in the Tyrolean Alps, surrounded by high peaks, and home of the winter olympics some time ago. It was also the luxurious imperial seat of some of the Habsburgs, and boasts an imperial palace and church. On the other hand, the population of the surrounding region consists mostly of mountain farm families, who have raised dairy and beef cattle for centuries and developed picturesque and colorfully decorated homes, furniture, tools, and clothing. Take this mix of ancient heritage and natural beauty, add thousands of tourists a day, and toss well into the twenty-first century, and you get some idea of the forces pulling on Innsbruck.
The Tiroler Vollkskunstmuseum was open from 9 to 12 on Sunday, so we visited it first. It's a large museum, with two floors full of everything from carved and decorated cases which the haymakers wore behind their back to hold the whetstones to keep their scythes sharp, to entire stuben, the large Tyrolean living rooms with enclosed stoves and elegantly carved timber walls and ceilings.
At first it seemed like we might be shadowed throughout our visit by the hostess; first she offered to check our tote bag, to which we agreed. Then she pointed us through the doors to the museum, which is housed in a former Franciscan convent. We came into the central courtyard and were startled to see an exhibit of scarecrows. The hostess appeared, looked at us, and disappeared into an office.
Our attention was drawn to a series of old sleighs along one path. The seat consisted of a long narrow board. We tried to figure out how you would sit there without being uncomfortable. At this point the hostess reappeared in a burst of friendly German. After a while we got the idea that these were sleds for carrying goods; that the driver stood on the back of the runners giving commands to the horse pulling the sled. But she really thought we were lost, and wanted to move us towards the museum proper, through a door and up a flight of stairs. A brass concert
There were no more scarecrows; that was a temporary exhibit in the courtyard featuring scarecrows as folk art. We started wandering around. We were deciphering the inscription over the door of a Tyrolean house when the hostess appeared again. We were going the wrong way; we were supposed to follow the signs around to the left. We found the diagram on the wall and dutifully followed the recommended path, conscious that the hostess kept reappearing, mothering the visitors through the displays, and adding additional explanations in German. (In retrospect, one could have walked through the museum backwards and it would have been all right.)
Most of the exhibits in the museum were gathered in the nineteenth century, by a group of people anxious to preserve the beautiful decorative art of the Tyrol. They donated their private collection to the government around 1910, with the proviso that it be kept together and displayed as a unit.
Some recent curator had placed large signs in each room, explaining the exhibits of that room in four languages: German, Italian, French and English. These were helpful, but the museum still suffered from a lack of modern curatorship. Many of the items on display did not have explanatory cards, even in German. Since the items on display (such as a whetstone case) were sometimes quite uncommon, the German names were not in our 50,000-word dictionary.
We found out about the whetstone case only because there happened to be a drawing of a man with a scythe with the case fastened in the small of his back. At first we thought it might hold water, which really is nonsensical. Then we understood it was for the whetstone. We deciphered enough of the signs to learn that the scythe was almost a revered tool, because up until quite recently all the haying had been done by hand due to the steepness of the hillsides. The haying had to be done fast, when the hay was ready and before the fall rains, so a sharp scythe was the difference between success and failure.
It's always amazing to us when an entire room, ceiling and floor and all, is displayed in a museum, and these Tyrolean stuben were no exception. The stube was the center of Tyrolean country life; in it was the stove, which is like a large oven, about four feet in diameter and four or five feet tall. The sides are often decorated with glass or tile. There is no opening or vent for Maximilian's altar this stove within the stube. Instead, a tunnel into the stove goes through the wall; possibly to the outdoors possibly to the kitchen or another room. Through this tunnel the people would add the wood and remove the ashes. So the stove heated the entire stube by radiance and convection. Often there was a wooden bench built around the outside of the stove, letting lots of people crowd close to the stove for warmth.
In any case, the stube was a room for lots of people. The entire family, relatives, neighbors, could crowd in and stand or sit on benches around the wall. The posts and beams that were weight-bearing were generally carved, to distinguish them from the heavy wooden planking, which presumably could be replaced. The furniture was heavy carved wood, and including intricate and highly decorated chests and cupboards.
The owners of the rooms on display ranged from poor peasants to wealthy burgers and nobles, but the designs showed remarkable similarities.
Outside of the stuben were dozens of museum cases displaying all sorts of objects. There were tools and utensils, traditional costumes displayed on historic wooden mannequins, ceremonial objects such as processional banners for guilds, even decorations for the valued farm animals, like yokes and saddle horns and the huge cow bells hung from embroidered neck straps.
Back on the ground floor, we saw the final museum exhibit (not counting the scarecrows.) There is a strong Tyrolean tradition of building large Christmas nativity scenes, and the ones on display were incredibly elaborate, ranging from paper and cardboard cutouts arranged against an elaborate backdrop to fanciful plaster and gilt figures. These aren't under-the-tree affairs; the typical size is at least six feet wide by three feet high, with backdrops ranging from urban European street scenes to the hills of Bethlehem.
As we tried to absorb this wealth of decorative folk art of the Tyrolean region, we thought that the Tyrolean people must have a great love of make-believe; the decorations turned their ordinary surroundings into a fairy-tale world. The inspirations for their art are nature and religion and superstition; plenty of animals and flowers, plenty of saints and crucifixes, Maximilian's church organ plenty of devils and goblins (especially for Carnival.) They made beauty by carving and painting their ordinary tools and utensils, and delighted in elaborate ceremonies with colorful costumes and symbolic paraphernalia.
It is interesting that most of the collection of this museum was acquired before 1900, because our impression of modern Austria is quite different. The stores in downtown Innsbruck carry basically the same goods you might find in stores in any prosperous city in the world. The economy of the Tyrol has been radically changed from dairy and stock farms to urban industry, winter sports, and tourism. While there are still objects for sale in stores which seem to have Tyrolean style, they are in fact mass-produced in third-world countries. So the people are no longer practicing their old decorative crafts. During the same century, they have lost their youth in two world wars and seen many thousands of Islamic immigrants move into their once completely Catholic region. It is no wonder that there is a political backlash trying to preserve the old society and culture. We are anxious to finish our books so we can learn what historians have to say about modern Austria.
From the lovely decorations of Tyrolean country houses we switched to the majestic and rococo grandeur of the Habsburg dynasty. The Goldenes Dachl, or Little Golden Roof, built around 1500, is a projection from one of the lovely buildings, consisting of two ornately carved wooden balconies and a golden roof. On Sunday afternoon a small brass ensemble stood on the balcony playing a selection of Baroque music. Wow!
We also enjoyed the magnificent pink, white, and gold Helblinghaus, and then went on to visit the palace built by Maximilian I, the Hofburg, followed by two churches: the Hofkirche and St. James' Cathedral.
The large but relatively plain facade of the Hofburg gives no indication of the riches inside. The Habsburgs had, among other qualities, an intense sense of family identity, which they carefully expanded and maintained over five or six centuries. They created their own mythology, building themselves a place, they expected, among the immortals and certainly among all of the other royal families of Europe. This intense concentration on public relations is Triumphal arch seen in the wonderful public rooms of the palace, where Habsburg portraits are on every available piece of wall. Of course there are magnificent pieces of furniture and objets d'arte, but the pictures of the members of the family completely dominate the palace. Any visitor to the palace had to come away with a sense of the greatness of the Habsburgs.
The Habsburgs were the most fervently religious family of all the royal families of Europe. (Sometimes this had disastrous results, as the Austrian branch scourged the protestants, including John Hus, and the Spanish branch led the Inquisition.) Many of the Habsburg emperors went to mass several times daily. It is not surprising that they poured their wealth into churches.
The Hofkirche contains the tomb of Maximilian I, although he is buried instead in Wiener Neustadt. Maximilian himself, like many Habsburgs to follow, devoted many years of his life to planning his own funeral. No doubt his tomb in Innsbruck would be even bigger and more elaborate had he lived longer. As it is, the marble casket is big enough for six or eight people, and it is surrounded by a Renaissance iron grill. There is a statue of Maximilian praying on top, and statues of the four cardinal virtues at the corners. Then, surrounding the tomb on three sides, are the 28 life-size bronze statues of Maximilian's ancestors, both real and imagined; each of these bronzes stands on a marble base and has one hand held in a position to grasp a burning torch for a funeral service. The imagined ancestors include King Arthur, Theodoric of Verona, and Clovis. The statues of Arthur and Theodoric were designed by Albrecht Durer. Overlooking the whole display from the balcony are 23 smaller statues of the protecting saints of the Habsburg family. Maximilian's tomb takes up about half of the nave; but up front there is still space for a church, with two or three masses on Sunday.
While the Hofkirche is crowded by this enormous tomb, the other church, St. James' cathedral, is one of the most beautiful we have seen in Europe. The church may have been consecrated in 1181. It was damaged by an earthquake in 1689; totally rebuilt from 1717 to 1732; restored from 1884 to 1891; damaged by bombs in 1944; and again rebuilt and restored from 1945 to 1950. The style is elegant and joyous 18th century Baroque with a magnificent altar featuring the painting of Our Lady of Succor by Lucas Cranach the Elder, and exuberantly decorated organ pipes in the rear.