Mountain Blogging: Schönberg

Confession — when I began blogging about 4.5 years ago, I quite honestly thought I might be out of material in 6 months’ time. In fact, the opposite has happened — the ‘to do’ list just keeps getting longer. Recent discoveries (for me) have included a lot of points south of here, in the Wipp and Stubai Valleys. Above, the length of the Stubaital, ending at the Stubai Glacier (yet another thing I need to see, especially before it melts for good.)

Today I went to Schönberg on a couple of leads, and learned more there than I had expected to. In all honesty, I didn’t know a thing about this small town, as it’s not on the rail line and doesn’t seem to have any tourist industry — perhaps it’s really an insider thing. Anyway, I had read that there is a segment of the old Roman Road (Via Raetia) on display in Schönberg, and here it is.

Note the grooves left in the stones by centuries of wagon wheels.

The Via Raetia ran from Italy over the Brenner Pass to Augsburg. The primary Roman road, known as the Via Claudia Augusta, went west over the Reschen Pass (near Graun, home of the sunken village belltower), along the Inn and then over the Fern Pass.
In any event, although the road did indeed pass right through these parts, it was not right here in this exact spot — these stones were dug up and laid out here — next to a large Autobahn rest stop, of all places. And that has a certain logic, the old next to the new.

Two things about Schönberg called to mind George Washington. The first was that Goethe was here, and fortunately the small town of Schönberg has a quote to prove it. (“Goethe visited here” is the German parallel to “Washington slept here.”) On his travels to Italy in 1786 (“The Italian Journey”), the great writer penned, Up on the Brenner I saw the first larch trees, at Schönberg the first Swiss pine. This little chapel is on a spot called Goetheruhe (Goethe’s Rest) and there is indeed a Swiss pine tree on the site. The road that runs by it is called Römerstrasse, and is very likely the old road. This route through Raetia had its own alternative “bypass” route, which branched off near here and followed the upper plateau on the eastern side of the valley (and there is a “Römerstrasse” up there today too.)

The second reason that Washington comes to mind is Schönberg’s relationship to Andreas Hofer, who had friends here and used a local hotel as headquarters during the fighting — which makes it a bit like the 1809 Tirolean Valley Forge.

Schönberg, like much of the higher plateau lands above the rivers, has offered up archaeological evidence pointing to pre-historic settlement. Armed with GPS coordinates from the internet and a google map print-out (yeah, I need a smartphone), I went to search for this area which has been designated as a protected historic monument — and only found this flat-topped hill on private, apparently inaccessible ground, so I can’t say. Then again, the high ground is absolutely lousy with archaeological finds all up and down the valley, so we might as well assume that every hill and dale were inhabited since the end of the last ice age.

To see the Via Raetia road segment without a car: ST Bus from Innsbruck Train Station to Schönberg Ortsmitte. Follow “Römerstrasse” signs to the Autobahn underpass. It’s at the far end of the rest stop, which includes a McDonalds with the best views I have ever seen.

“Tyrolean Landscape” — Or Is It?

This is by Albert Bierstadt, the 19th-century painter who’s best known for his landscapes of the American West. It’s from 1868 and titled “Tyrolean Landscape“, but I am not so sure. There may very well be a duet of jagged mountain peaks in Tirol that look just like this…

…but it bears an uncanny resemblance to the Watzmann, which is in Berchtesgaden.(Image found here.

Yes, I can sense you shrugging your shoulders and rolling your eyes all the way from here — does it matter, you ask? Why yes, it does. Try calling a Tiroler German someday, see where that gets you. 🙂

And since Berchtesgaden belongs to a little dangling peninsula that’s surrounded by Austria, I looked on a map to see if it were possible that one could paint the Watzmann this large while actually standing in Tirol — nope, it’s Salzburg Land all around for kilometers. Was he (1) misinformed about his location, (2) is this indeed another mountain group, or (3) am I missing some important border realignment from the First World War?

But as long as we’re discussing the Watzmann, here is one by Caspar David Friedrich, who had never actually seen the Watzmann with his own eyes and only knew the mountain from others’ works (come to think of it, we’ll call that (4) and it may be the best answer to the above question.)

and one by Adrian Ludwig Richter, which I happen to like the most. It reminds me little of landscapes by the Tirolean artist Rudolf Lehnert.

Friedrich and Richter images found here.

Cozens in Brixen*

I had already been toying with the idea of a series of alpine paintings accompanied by photos of the mountains which inspired them, when Paschberg sent me the link to this watercolor by the 18th century British artist John Robert Cozens, with the somewhat clunky but informative title The Valley of the Eisak Near Brixen in the Tyrol, 1783/84. It currently belongs to the Art Institute of Chicago.

Looking around online for more information, I found a “2.0” version; In the Tyrol, the Valley of the Eisack, near Brixen, 1791 The painting, like the name, is similar but not identical — the view looks to be from further down on the floodplain, closer to the winding river. This version belongs to the National Gallery of Canada.

Near Brixen, June 7 appears to be the original sketch for both paintings. The Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection owns it…

…as well as this sketch with the same name. Since they are both dated June 7, one can assume the two scenes are not far away from each other. Perhaps all Cozens did was turn around, and sketch the view in the opposite direction.

There are tentative plans for a trip into that area next month. I can’t spend days hunting down this particular place but I’m going to keep my eyes open for it. The river may have changed since Cozen’s trip (dredged, straightened) but the mountains will still be there.

*Brixen is a town in the German-speaking, northernmost region of Italy. The Italian name, which may be all you find in an American atlas, is Bressanone.

Pagans In Tirol: Seefeld’s Stonehenge

This is the Pfarrerbichl, or “pastor’s hill”, in Seefeld in Tirol. It is behind the St. Oswald parish church.

An architect from the area was given the green light to erect a stone circle on the hill, with the idea to create a peaceful meditation and meeting place for all religions of the World. The stones are local erratic boulders, dropped off by the glaciers as they retreated at the end of the last ice age. On the architect’s website (he seems a bit of a geomancer with a thing for Pagan fantasy, from the images) he writes that while this is, in his opinion, “one of the most mystical places in Tirol”, and that he believes it had once been a sacrificial burning site, there have not been any archaeological excavations on the hill — and here this reader winced, hoping the “planting” of the boulders did not destroy anything waiting to be found…

The church then got in on the act, and raised money locally to create a Way of the Cross leading to the stone circle, also using glacial erratic rocks, so the entire thing is Christian in character. Although the church’s information plaque was cheerful enough, I can’t help but wonder if there hadn’t been some pressure to “christianize” the circle after it had been erected. Which would be entirely within their right, it being their hill and all. (And of course it wouldn’t be the first thing the Catholic Church borrowed from the Heathens.)

h/t to Kraftorte.

Mösern, the village with the “Albrecht-Dürer-View”, is also where one will find the Friedensglocke (Peace Bell), the largest bell in Tirol, brought to this perch by ARGE ALP, an international association of alpine provinces. The Peace Bell also has its own sort of Way of the Cross called the Friedensglocke Wanderweg (Peace Bell Hiking Trail). The stations of this trail call for such mantras as “Peace needs a path and effort“, and “Peace is living vibration“. Yeah, whatever — this all seems a little New Age-y for me. But anything which promotes peace is a good thing.

These two sights were visited on the same hike, which began in Hatting and ended in Seefeld. Although it was a pleasant enough walk, I would recommend starting in Seefeld and looping back, and including the Möserer See. The trails from Hatting were simply logging roads with no special scenery.

The Albrecht-Dürer-View, in Mösern

Do you remember the local theory that Pieter Breugel sketched out his “Hunters In The Snow” while sitting on the shady banks below Schloss Ambras, at Innsbruck? This is Albrecht Dürer’s Self-portrait at 26, which is hanging in the Museo del Prado in Madrid.

Dürer traveled from Nuremberg to Italy in 1494, and like Breugel he was impressed by the alpine landscape and made sketches which he would use in later works. The village of Mösern, near Seefeld in Tirol, claims that the landscape visible from the window is clearly of the Inn Valley as viewed from Mösern, and has named this particular vista the “Albrecht-Dürer-View”.

I’d say this is a pretty good match, especially for a painting made from a sketch, itself made years before on a journey.

Above photo by Veronika Freh found here. Image of Dürer’s self-portrait from Wikipedia.

Weekend Mountain Blogging: Stubaital

Pagans In Tirol: This cave, when rediscovered in 1976, held pottery from the La Tene era, the pottery being more specifically from 500-300 BC. This cave is presumed to have been a holy spring (Quellheiligtum) for the local residents. Whether they also kept their local brew at a desirable temperature here, no one can say…

The Stephansbrücke was a very big deal when it was erected in 1843, and Archduke Stefan Franz Viktor himself came to the ceremony to lay the foundation stone, at the tender age of 26. The bridge was part of continuous improvements on the Brenner Road, which stretches from Innsbruck over the Brenner Pass into Italy. The history of this highway is long — the Romans made the Via Raetia, and that road (and its later incarnations) remained the most direct way to all points south for a long time. Occasionally one might see an old Austrian or Bavarian film from the 50s or early 60s, where a journey to Italy by car leads over these very roads, some not yet even paved. Then the Brenner Autobahn came and changed everything.

I did not cross the Stephansbrücke, but I did cross this. The woods and valleys looks just as they should in early spring — crocuses are blooming, and other wildflowers along the forest trails. The songbirds are back, and I saw plenty of butterflies and bumble bees — which brought relief, since one hears so much lately of these critters becoming scarce.

This long hike began in the Stubai Valley (via tram) and continued north, toward the Northern Range and the Patscherkofel, following the Ruetz and then the Sill River (mostly a creek, especially this far upstream) The Bergisel ski jump tower, like a beacon, signals that home is finally near.