Soviodurum, and a Mysterious Stone Object

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Roman knee and shin guards with intricate details

I had the chance to visit Straubing, a small town along the Danube in Lower Bavaria – basically I was there on business, but arrived a few hours earlier in order to see the Roman exhibit at the town museum. As Straubing (Soviodurum) was along the Limes and had a military station there, the museum had quite a bit to offer. Perhaps not as much as Passau or even Fliess in Tirol, but a nice exhibit nonetheless.

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Head protection for Roman horses

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Roman glassware found in Straubing, Bavaria

I had never considered whether the Romans used glass, since so often one sees only ceramics. The designs are downright modern.

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A stash of coins hidden before the collapse

This found stash of coins, like many others discovered south of the Limes, reminds one of how it ended: things looked bad, treasures were buried, things indeed got very bad, and the owners never returned to the site to reclaim their property.

The photo below was made earlier and is not from Straubing. Knowing that I was going to be spending some time in Lower Bavaria, I had done a little advance research for any mention of early, pre-Roman history of the area, and stumbled across a fleeting reference to a schalenstein in the Passau Rathaus from 1899. ( I did wander a bit through the public areas of this town hall, but did not see anyone who looked like they might know what I was talking about if I should ask.) Later, however, I took a walk up to the fortress overlooking Passau and came across this.

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What could this be?

Which is, well, technically, a schalenstein (it’s stone, and it has cup markings)
but to me looks more like something made much later. There are what appear to be charcoal markings inside. It is simply built into the wall in one of the towers, with no explanation.

The Jewish Cemetery at St. Ottilien

Near the Ammersee lies a Benedictine Monastery named for St. Ottilien, or St. Odile of Alsace (A recounting of St. Odile’s life on Wikipedia reads somewhat like a season wrap-up of Game of Thrones.) If you find yourself near the small St. Ottilien train station, you will see a small enclosed garden whose iron gate bears a Star of David. This is the Jewish Cemetery.
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In April 1941 the Gestapo confiscated the St. Ottilien Cloister and set up a reserve field hospital there. American troops liberated hospital, overfilled with almost 1,000 war injured, in 1945. Through the work of the Americans, about 450 gravely ill Jews liberated from concentration camps began to be brought to the hospital and nearby school buildings for medical care.
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The US Army erected a Displaced Persons hospital, supervised by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, here in May 1945 to handle the constant stream of former camp inmates. The patients were mostly surviving camp inmates and forced laborers from the Kaufering camp complex, and ill persons from the camp at Dachau and its sub-camps in the Landsberg/Lech area. A Jewish community existed on the cloister grounds, tending to its own religious life and customs, until the hospital was dissolved in 1948. These were people who congregated here, then, for lack of the health and strength to go home, or for lack of a home to go to. Some recovered, and some died in spite of treatment from Allied medics, and those are the people who were buried here.
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65 people were interred in the cemetery between 1945 and 1948. The first gravestone, bearing a Star of David and nine names, was erected in 1945. By 1950 there were four memorials and twelve gravestones with names and texts in Hebrew, as well as an enclosing wall with its iron gate, and a bench. The gravestones were moved to the edges of the premises in 1968 after several exhumations and transferals of remains. Since 1972 the camp cemetery has held the remains of 46 camp inmates and nine forced laborers. The people resting here came from Germany, Hungary, Poland, Italy, France and Russia; most are known by name. According to the cemetery records at St. Ottilien, 10 of them belonged to Christian confessions:  one Evangelical Lutheran, one Reformed, three Orthodox Catholics and five Roman Catholics.

The camp cemetery in St. Ottilien is a protected cultural site, and its care is overseen by the Bavarian Memorial Foundation (Stiftung Bayerische Gedenkstätten.) The monastery publishes a small and inexpensive guide to the cemetery in both German and English, which includes explanations of the Hebrew tombstone inscriptions.

Circumitus: Batavis, Boiodurum

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(The name actually refers to the bicycle route and is not, apparently, what the Romans called it.)

This posting hails from the other side of Bavaria, a “detour” onto the Roman road which follows the Danube and also the boundary separating the Roman Empire (in this case, the province of Raetia) from the Germanic Marcomanni to the north. This border is known as the Limes, and covered the lands on all sides of the Mediterranean Sea, in one form or another.

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The Roman Museum in Passau is built on the site of one of the fortified structures from the Roman period, Boiodurum. This name, like many Roman sites in Germany is apparently of Celtic origin. There were people settled on Passau’s peninsula long before even the official founding date of Rome, but according to archaeological finds they were gone, or least no longer present in sufficient numbers (discontinuity), by the time the Romans arrived; no signs of destruction or conflict have been found either. This brings me to something I have been thinking about ever since I started looking at early European history: the way some history texts tell it, the reader can get the impression that the Romans simply arrived one day –  cutting through virgin land with their swords and putting down roads to get to their provincial capitals which had also just appeared out of thin air. Just as there had been settlements here before, and some infrastructure (mule paths over the Alps), there surely must have been some Roman presence here long before as well, even if only in the form of tradesmen or scouts. Polybius made remarks about the Raetians over a century before the transalpine road plans went into effect.

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The museum found a creative way to present the Tabula Peutingeriana in a large enough size to actually read it.

There were plenty of Roman soldiers in this “three rivers” area, but other people as well, judging from excavation finds. Below is a type of “diploma” awarded to a Roman soldier after completing his 25-year service (if he survived that long). He got some money and a little set of engraved dog tags, threaded together with wire like a spiral notebook, according him privilege wherever he went. Did Claudius Paternus Clementianus of Epfach possess one of these? Probably.

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Part of a roof tile found in the ruins of the Roman Boiodurum fortress at Passau, delightfully marred by a paw print before it was dry.

In Passau one may find a little light shed on the continuity of the place after the Romans withdrew. Roman troops at Boiodurum were among the last to stick it out along the Limes, after other frontier posts had already fallen. Eugippius says that a small group set out for Rome to collect the soldiers’ last pay but were killed by Barbarians, unbeknownst to those remaining and waiting for their return. Eugippius’ biography of St. Severinus mentions “people” – probably both Romans and Romanized Raetians – holing up together in Batavis (the fortified Roman settlement in Passau, on the hill where, not coincidentally, the Cathedral now stands) and defeating the invaders before being urged to leave for safety at Lauriacum (Enns). Eugippus also mentions St. Severinus founding a small monastery at “Boiotro”, most certainly using the existing Boiodurum fortress walls.

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A last sign of the Roman Empire’s long march toward being the Holy Roman Empire: not St. Severinus, but the Holy Bishop Valentin of Noricum (Roman province of Salzburg), who came to Raetia as a missionary. The silver box below his image is said to hold his relics. My understanding of the “Dark Ages” seems to have been a little wrong until now – it was certainly chaotic, violent,  in flux, and certainly dark to live in — but not completely shrouded in misty Unknown. The information is there, you just have to look for it.

In via: Abodiacum

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There’s more to Epfach, an unassuming little village along the Lech, than first meets the eye. It’s a very, very old settlement, in fact. Older, even, then most German towns — Munich, for example, was first established in the 12th century. Epfach, apparently originally a Celtic settlement, was ideally situated to serve as a station along the Via Claudia Augusta in the Roman province of Raetia. It’s Roman name was Abodiacum, (or Abodiaco, as it’s found on the Tabula Peutingeriana).
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The Tabula Peutingeriana, in fact, has two Abodiacos: they are the same village. It stands at the crossroads of two Roman roads : the Via Claudia Augusta, where it’s just after the  station ‘ad novas’ on the road out of Augusta Vindelicum/Augsburg, and the salt road that partly connected Lake Constance (Brigantium) to Salzburg (Iuvavum).
Visitors to Epfach will first see that the north-south road through town is marked as the Via Claudia. Right on this road stands the local museum, which provides information on Epfach’s Roman history, all in a space about as big as my living room. Of particular interest is an exhibit on Epfach’s first internationally renowned local homeboy, Claudius Paternus Clementianus.
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CPC was a Celt with Roman citizenship through his father, which allowed him to serve in the Roman army as an officer. His career took him to Hungary, Romania, Judea (where he served as Procurator there just 80 years after Pontius Pilate held that job, long enough afterward to have probably never heard of him), Sardinia and Northern Africa, before he came home to retire and presumably spend his golden years fishing on the Lech and downing the local wines.

Tripoli, Libya - Roman Mosaic, National Museum, Fishermen

Tripoli, Libya – Roman Mosaic, National Museum, Fishermen

He may have had the good fortune to enjoy his twilight years secure in the belief that the Empire was strong. It was another hundred years before Alemanni tribes began sacking the settlement, followed by the Romans rebuilding it, in turns. The northern frontier (Limes) remained in operation until sometime in the 5th century C.E. Then again, as a Celt, maybe he would have been happy with the eventual outcome.

While Epfach is not on the Via Raetia, there is a connection nevertheless. The Tabula Peutingeriana, a Middle-Ages copy of a late Roman roadmap of the Empire, shows neither the Via Claudia Augusta nor the Via Raetia in their entireties, but rather an amalgam of the two — the route shown follows the VCA leaving Augusta Vindelicum/Augsburg until Epfach/Abodiaco, detours east on the above-mentioned salt road and then resumes its southward way on the newer Via Raetia at Urusa/Raisting (the next stop listed is Coveliacas, near the Staffelsee). This variant may have turned out to have been shorter, the easiest to maintain (the Via Claudia Augusta, in my opinion, goes over much more precarious mountain territory than the Via Raetia), or had better stations, or better connection, or a combination of any of that.

Aside from the museum (open every day, and if it’s not you can ask for the key at the restaurant next door), you can walk to the Lorenzberg, the hill where the Roman military station was located. Epfach seems to have geared its tourism to the Via Claudia cyclists, who can take a break at the restaurant, stop into the museum, walk off lunch with a short visit to the Lorenzberg, and then continue on their way.

A Idea of Mine

I have a confession to make. Beyond all the other things I am doing right now – singing, translating, assisting in a bookselling business – I have a project in mind for the future. I want to put together a guidebook for the Via Raetia.
There are guides and books for following the Via Claudia Augusta, the first Roman-made road to cross the Alps in this region, but I have yet to find a modern tourist guide in English for it’s younger sister, the Via Raetia. The Via Claudia has an “official” route which one can follow ona bike, and much of it may accurately follow the old road. The Via Raetia does not, and here you can see why:
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Clearly one can’t just go traipsing across private property, let alone tell others to do so.

Walking, cycling, sights along the way, history, archaeology, culture, on the route between Augsburg and… well, how comprehensive do I want this to be? I could keep it within Bavaria (Augsburg to Mittenwald) or publish installments (Part 2, North Tyrol from Mittenwald to the Brenner Pass, Part 3 Italy: Brennero to Verona). Even if I had no other work, this would take a few years of research, travel, exploration. I’m not sure I’ll ever get to do it. (Note to any publishing houses: I’m here, “boots on the ground”, if you are considering something along these lines from a distance.)

But all this will have to wait another year at least, because for professional reasons I am going to be spending a considerable amount of time at the other end of Bavaria, namely closer to the Czech border.

Image from Google maps.

From the Translation Desk*: Sütterlin

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There are many subjects I avoid if I can. Most technical texts, for example, or medical ones. There are also certain types of formats I avoid, like excel files (they just don’t come up right on my little Mac screen). But one thing I can do, with some help from the Beau**, is old handwriting like the sample image above. This is called Sütterlin script and it’s indecipherable to most people today. When I first look at a text written with Sütterlin, it makes about much sense as Georgian, or Tolkien runes. Nothing but squiggly lines. But as one sits and studies the characters, their meanings begin to emerge.
Es gibt viele Themen, die ich wenn möglich meide. Zum Beispiel die meisten technischen oder medizinischen Texte. Es gibt auch bestimmte Arten von Formaten, denen ich aus dem Weg gehe, wie Excel-Dateien (sie werden auf meinem kleinen Mac-Bildschirm nicht richtig dargestellt). Aber eine Sache, mit der ich, mit etwas Hilfe vom Beau **, umgehen kann, ist alte Handschrift, wie im Beispielbild oben. Diese nennt sich Sütterlin-Schrift und ist für die meisten Menschen heute nicht mehr zu entziffern. Wenn ich einen Text in Sütterlin betrachte, erscheint er mir zuerst, wie Georgisch oder wie die Runen Tolkiens. Lediglich verschnörkelten Linien. Aber wenn man sich damit länger auseinandersetzt und die Zeichen analysiert, erkennt man ihre Bedeutungen.

*I actually work from the couch, as my desk and surroundings have been subsumed into service for the Antiquariat. Ich arbeite eigentlich auf der der Couch, da mein Schreibtisch das Drumherum für die Arbeit des Antiquariats verwendet wurden.
** He and a friend taught themselves this writing in school, in order to pass notes in class. Er und ein Freund haben sich diese Schrift in der Schule beigebracht, um Nachrichten in während des Unterrichts in der Klasse zu übermitteln.

Nazi Bedtime Stories

The next estate dissolution in which we took part involved the sale of a rather large piece of land in the middle of Munich. A rich textile-industry dynasty family had a villa there with a spacious guest house, and basement garage for classic autos (with a car elevator), and the entire property had been sold. The owner’s mother came from Prussian nobility. Many of the thousand-plus books were from assorted family collections, brought together and stored out of sight and forgotten. One could get a vague sense of family life from one child’s horse book collection, or the 1930s German law publications pointing to a lawyer in the family, right next to a shelf with German resistance memoirs. The art books were in the living room, the romance novels upstairs.

It was in this large, scattered accumulation that I first held in my hand an actual Nazi children’s book.

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Fünf Wiegen und noch eine” (Five Cradles and One More) is an odd little work. Author Henrik Herse was an SS-Obersturmführer and “Fünf Wiegen” contains perhaps autobiographical musings, although it’s hard to say (the narrator is a somewhat impoverished writer with five children and a sixth on the way. The author was a senior officer in the SS, and I don’t know how many kids he actually had). I called it an odd little work but it  was probably typical of many war-time children’s books, no matter the era or location. What it seeks to do is to “familiarize children within the SS Family of their roots and culture”* through children’s rhymes, prose and symbols of Nordic and Germanic origin. [All quoted passages translated by the blog author.]

The goal — it would be impudent to think one knows it. Much more important than what lies in the distance is the way there. We must bring it to its conclusion in a way that does not shame us.

(IOW: it’s not important for you to know where this Reich is heading but you’d better be on board.)

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There are sweet stories of family life in a big house in the country, interspersed with nursery rhymes. Stories of simple meals laid out on the big oaken table, of birthday rituals, of hunger and poverty born with pride, of Christmas trees. The narrator speaks of living a quiet and taciturn life, of the next child being accepted into “our circle”, into which “we don’t let everyone”. I began to wonder what kind of effect stories like this had on the children waiting restlessly in bomb shelters all over Germany. They would begin to dream of being a part of this happy family in the country, of being the “next child”. It would have planted a seed in their impressionable minds, of some rare and holy place where only the best and bravest little Nazis could go. Or was it an exclusive book, only for the children of the elite SS?

At times it reads like a journal or a personal blog. Halfway through the tone gets a bit darker and more urgent. Words like “enemy” and “battle” start appearing in the prose. And always, the idea of Keeping the Faith. His thoughts go here:

It is not so easy to live this life of ours on to its end. It is not always a song which one wants to sing. There are cares upon cares, and they are greedy and want to eat you through and through.
And some men have thrown it all away, and have fled as cowards. To their deaths, or to another side.
That is the most wretched form of desertion, and death should first come to them.
Is love then eternal? many ask. Is that happiness?
Yes!! But only if you are strong enough to win and keep it! The greatest victories are in the battles for our lives.

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None too obscure and none too small,
none to die senselessly and alone,
because the holy torch I was given
I will pass on as the flame of eternal life.

What can I say? Some people have reality TV shows, some people have religious movements. It has the same ring as some early Christian writings. Probably not a coincidence.

What is difficult, is to have courage. To have so much courage that the blows don’t matter in the least. To hold your head up against the blows! The head and ribs can withstand much, when the heart inside beats in resistance.

Those poor victimized fascists.

The poems are now no longer about babies and Mother, but of iron-man strength, of battle, of swords, of blood and of German soil and imminent beatings!  And then, suddenly, we’re back to cradles again, and stories of his children’s births.

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The NSDAP was definitely onto something when they began starting them young. Research suggests that our 14-yr-old brains are “imprinted” with the music and literature which will stay important to us throughout our lives. While the nursery rhymes in “Fünf Wiegen” are for small children, the prose passages are not. These, rather, would have been noticed by them, but understood by 12-14 year olds. What a set up. All those kids, just dying to be chosen for the special circle of fellowship and purpose. It’s almost like a “Lord of the Rings” primer from the side of the Orcs, or Hogwarts fanfic about Slytherin children (which is indeed a thing as well).

One last, important thing: this book is nothing special, there are cheap copies to be had over the Internet. It may have been everyone’s grandmother’s favorite book as a child, the one she sensibly kept hidden from her grandchildren but liked too much to throw out. These are the books that come to light after someone dies.

*I lifted that phrase from here because it is perfect. I couldn’t have said it better.

A Love Story Told In Books

There may be eight million stories in the naked city; there are at least that many in the antiquarian business, especially if your business involves buying up collections from private estate sales. Through the transactions, through remarks, through the books themselves we get to know their former owners, the books telling us their life stories in an almost intimate way. We try to be respectful. Sometimes I refer to these people as our “angels”, in the way an American orchestra’s concert program refers to the highest donors as angels — they are giving us something of themselves and it demands respect.

A recent purchase belonged to a couple of scientists. Their upstairs neighbors were managing the sale of everything in the apartment, including a few thousand books. The high-end dealers had already been through, the auction house rep and the local science institute as well, and there were still a few thousand books in the apartment, much to the neighbor’s dismay.
We looked them over and decided that, except for a few hundred unsellable copies, we would take them. We don’t have a truck, so the transport involved a few trips with the car over the course of perhaps 3 weeks.
Through these trips we got to know the upstairs neighbor and he shared some information about the deceased owners. The man (we’ll call him H.) was born into a German Jewish family in the 1920s. During the early Hitler years the family resettles in Prague, and some time later our man H., then just out of high school, leaves his family behind and flees for Palestine. Reaching the coast of Haifa, he is put on a docked French warship. That ship is bombed, he survives, but is then for some reason classified along with the other survivors as a “foreign enemy”, and put briefly in the Atlit detainee camp in Israel.
After the war, H. studies and worked as a biologist. He meets a woman (A.), another brilliant scientist, a bit younger and (this is where it gets a little murky) by the early 1970s she’s left her husband and son to come with H. to, of all places, Germany, where they both begin work at a very prestigious research institute. H.’s family has all perished in the Holocaust. But A. learns German (we found the language course on records), and they settle into a middle-class life in a Bavarian village, happily studying their insects and reading books and occasionally winning prizes in scientific research for the next 40 years.

As the neighbor remarked, it seems that all they ever needed was each other. They were all they had, having left everyone else behind.

It is hard for me to imagine what life would be like for a couple of Jewish intellectuals in the Bavarian countryside. To be fair, there are plenty of scientists, artists, and other high-minded folks in their particular geographical area, it wasn’t exactly the hinterlands. I think they lived for their work.

They converted late in life and were baptized into the Catholic church. Why? Their many books tell no stories here. Sure, there was a bible or two, tomes about the Holy Land, ancient religions, and even a small crucifix (a gift, maybe). But not a single book about Jesus or Christian salvation.

My personal theory is that they did it so they could stay together, their urns resting side by side in the village churchyard.

Rooftop Blogging: Final Edition

When I began the blog nearly 8 years ago, I wanted to do some kind of photoblogging that could be done on a regular, perhaps weekly basis with ease. A lot of people were doing “Saturday cat blogging”, which I found a little tiresome but it was something amusing to add to the big conversation going on, and I wanted to be part of that conversation by contributing to it. The mountain/city view from my terrace is beautiful and constantly changing, and seemed a good enough choice. So let’s have a last look around.

There have been so many changes to Innsbruck, architecturally speaking. While the little Altstadt retains its Medieval look, the areas just outside it have been changing in leaps and bounds. Here are the ones I can remember since 2000, when I arrived, starting with the changes observable right outside my window:

Bergisel Ski Jump
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The old one demolished in 2001 (I watched from my apartment), the new one, by star architect Zaha Hadid, opened in 2002.

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Sillpark Plaza and Annex
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I like the extra mall shops (and the green roof!) I don’t like the plaza (Vorplatz) for one reason: its acoustics. The shape of it triggers sound — people talking, music, drumming — to ricochet right up through our windows. It has gotten much louder here over the years. Last night a crowd of twenty-something girls were doing some kind of ritual screaming at the beach bar, over and over. They were there for hours.

Amraserstraße/Museumstraße/Brunecker Straße
An old, antiquated Post Office building stood on Brunecker Straße, and for a time I went there to pick up packages. Now the sleek, golden brown Pema Tower takes up most of that block, provides cover from sun and rain on that side of the street, and holds a few nice new businesses. The empty lot on the Amraserstraße side is currently a construction site for another tower. The bus/tram stop has been fixed up nicely too, and a pedestrian tunnel installed.

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Frachthof now

Die Sill Insel
This was a dirt parking lot, if memory serves me. There was some kind of old loading depot building which had some use in the alternative scene, and a little pink villa of sorts which I believe housed modern art. I often wondered what their original purpose was; they may have belonged to the Ferrari Palace (now a vocational school) across the street. Perhaps cargo was pulled off the Sill Canal and loaded on wagons there. The little house, I have no idea. On that site now stands a new apartment building. (It hasn’t destroyed the view, but I did have to get used to idea that other people now stand on their balconies and look over at me.)
Inntal BeforeInntal now

What else has changed? The Hauptbahnhof is new-ish, having reopened in 2004.
The Tiroler Landestheater opened its new annex in 2003, with rehearsal spaces, offices and workshops.
The Rathaus Passage and Kaufhaus Tyrol, both on the Maria-Theresien-Straße,  are two new urban shopping malls which, judging from the masses who go there, seem to be doing very well, despite my insistence that the latter, formerly Bauer & Schwarz, was cursed. The gods of commerce won that battle. Bauer and Schwarz would probably have approved.)
The Convention Center (Messegelände) was taken down and replaced with a newer, larger one.
The Hungerburgbahn was redesigned, with two new stations also designed by Zaha Hadid. The line was extended over to the Hofgarten, where the city tourists can reach it more easily.
The Tivoli football stadium was renovated to seat the larger crowds of the European Championship in 2008, with extensions which, by design, can be added for larger events and later removed.
The streetcars were replaced with the current red, noiseless version. I missed the old ones for a while but quickly got used to the new ones, especially since the Iglerbahn now quietly slithers through the forest, Innsbruck’s own Tatzlwurm.
A less-vaunted change was the demolition of the Bürgerbräu brewery on Ingenieur-Etzl-Straße, on which now stands a modern glass building of businesses below and apartments above. The not-unpleasant smell of hops used to waft through the air on warm summer nights. They made Kaiser Bier, and certainly there was a connection with the Kaiserstube restaurant, just around the corner on Museumstrasse. Below, both Bürgerbräu and the old streetcars.
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The Stadtsäle is going to come down this summer. This postwar structure was erected after the older Stadtsäle was condemned and demolished. A rather beautiful and ornate palatial hall from 1890,
Alte Stadtsäle
it succumbed to allied bombs that fell over Innsbruck late in the Second World War. I have always thought of the current Stadtsäle as our local version of the Palast der Republik, useful, ugly, but aesthetically interesting in a “retro” way.
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When it’s razed, the Landestheater’s Kammerspiel will go along with it, and a new Kammerspiel will take its place. I have many fond memories of this 200-seat theater. You can say I cut my teeth on that stage.

Bürgerbräu photo from here.
Image of old Stadtsäle from here.
Image of current Stadtsäle from here.
All other images by the author.

Weekend Mountain Blogging: Maria Tax – Wolfsklamm

IMG_2034 A half-day hike above Stans to the Maria Tax Chapel. Taxen  is an old regional word for Tannen, or fir tree. Legend has it that the Virgin Mary made an appearance here in 1616,  leaving behind her handprint on a stone, a picture of which was then attached to a tree for people to come and revere it. So we have here both a stone and a tree of religious importance (I was able to find neither, unless the stone is now part of the fountain behind the chapel*.) IMG_2038 In 1627 a wooden chapel was built, in 1667 a stone one. In the same year the first hermit moved into the sacristy. IMG_2043 Sacred trees were a thing with the pre-Christian inhabitants all over Europe. Christianity treated the worship of trees as idolatry and this led to their deliberate destruction. From this site I learned a little more (translation mine):

When St. Boniface took an axe to the sacred Donar’s Oak at Geismar, Germany in 724, and didn’t get struck by lightning for it, he was able to proclaim the victory of Christianity. One sacred tree after another fell, and the Teutons were forced to drop their local religion and accept Christianity. Nevertheless many may not have forgiven Boniface for this desecration; he was slain 754 by the Frisians. According to many legends, when a sacred tree is cut, it bleeds from the sacrilege. Therefore the woodcutter asks the tree for forgiveness before cutting it. And many legends report of cruel punishments for messing with sacred trees . Ultimately behind such legends is the idea of the tree as seat of the Godhead. From a fiery burning bush God speaks to Moses; to Joan of Arc from the branches of a tree. The Buddha’s enlightenment takes place under a tree. The old-rooted idea of the sanctity of trees survived within Christianity and continues in myths and legends of holy images on or in trees. Particularly frequently encountered are sightings of Mary, or her image, in a tree. Many names of pilgrimages hold the discovery of a miraculous image in trees, such as “Mary of the linden”, “Mary of the fir tree”, “Mary in the hazel”,  “Mary of the larch”…

IMG_2045 Further along on the trail, a pair of Steinmänner guard the way. IMG_2050 Thirty minutes later, the St. Georgenberg-Fiecht Abbey looms above. I’ve been here before, but it’s getting late and so I turn in the direction of home by way of the Wolfsklamm. IMG_2052 An army of Steinmänner! It’s like an Alpine version of the Terracotta Warriors, or the Kodama tree spirits in “Princess Mononoke”. How delightful and unexpected. IMG_2057 IMG_2061 The Wolfsklamm in Stans has been renovated and, apparently, re-routed, in that the path through it no longer involves the pitch-black tunnels that I recall from my previous visit. Too bad, because they were fun in a scary way (it was the the first time I ever used my old cell phone as a flashlight out of sheer necessity). It’s possible that someone complained. [Sorry, that’s the Partenachklamm! But the Wolfsklamm bridges have all been rebuilt with sturdy new boards.] But the gorge is still impressive and well worth the €4,50 “toll”.

*The Schwazer Heimatblätter suggests a different origin: that the St. Georgenberg Abbey was having an image problem with pilgrims, due to a prominent prisoner being kept there.  It’s suspected that the monks themselves started the Mary-was-here story in order to keep the pilgrimages coming — that kind of thing is profitable for monasteries, after all.