Kulturblogging: Die Hofkirche


One of Innsbruck’s main attractions for the historically-minded is the Hofkirche, or Imperial Church (but no one calls it that, it’s just always the Hofkirche). As a tourist sight, the plain white exterior is deceiving (I heard it once remarked that the front facade resembles the face of a polar bear, and this pretty much pops into my mind every time I see it.) The interior, however, is impressive.

The Hofkirche was part of Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian’s last will and testament — and a beautiful sarcophagus was made for him there, although actually his remains ended up in the castle that was his childhood home, in Wiener Neustadt.


Keeping watch over this empty sarcophagus (which makes it a cenotaph) are two lines of life-size bronze statues commonly referred to locally as die schwarzen Mander (“the black men”), although they are neither all males nor even black, but more of a beautiful, deep dark chocolate brown.


The English Wikipedia entry for the Hofkirche describes these figures as being of “ancestors, relatives and heroes”, which is the best way of putting it. They are all titled, some go way back into the early Middle Ages (Clovis I, Theodoric), and the existence of one is now questionable (King Arthur, although he was surely assumed to have been an genuine person in Maximilian’s time.)

IMG_0583King Arthur’s statue in the Hofkirche



I always found the large old clock high above the altar in Innsbruck’s St. James Cathedral a nice touch if a little unusual (do you really want your flock to be checking the time during the mass?) but the Hofkirche goes one better with a charming little clock which chimes the hour, as well as each fifteen-minute interval. This morning I had the honor of participating in a special Sacred Heart Sunday mass, which has special meaning in Tirol — in the time of the battles with Napoleon’s troops (see Andreas Hofer), promises were made that, in return for divine intervention on the battlefield, official masses would be celebrated in the province each year. During today’s service, the little clocked chimed throughout, even making the priests stop mid-prayer to wait until the hour was rung.


And speaking of Andreas Hofer, he’s here too. Thirteen years after his execution in Mantua in 1810, his body was brought to Innsbruck and laid to rest in the Hofkirche, where his statue guards the entrance.

A Belated Memorial Day Posting

I realized too late that I had this photograph in my computer, and that it would fit nicely for Memorial Day.


This plaque is recessed into the wall between Franziskanerplatz and the courtyard behind the Hofkirche. In my 13 years’ residence in Innsbruck, I had never noticed it, until one day I did. If you’re having trouble reading the text, it says:

Zum Gedenken an die in den letzten Tagen des 2. Weltkrieges bei der Befreiung Tirols gefallenen Soldaten der U.S.-Armee.

In memory of the soldiers of the U.S. Army killed in action for the liberation of the Tyrol during the last days of World War II.

(I don’t know what the symbols represent, I assume the service organizations who sponsored the plaque. The cactus is particularly charming.)

UPDATE: I found them! The symbols are division insignia of the US Army. Top left, 44th Infantry (a mirrored “four”). Bottom left, 36th Infantry “Arrowhead”. Bottom right, 42nd Infantry, “Rainbow”. Top right, 103rd Infantry, “Cactus”.

Maybe We Can Translate It As “Kakastrophe”


One sees/hears a lot of English words which have been absorbed into the German language. Sometimes, like HD vs Blue Ray, you’ll hear competing German and English terms for certain things (“Computer” seems to have won out over “Rechner”, for example). But this one in the Tiroler Tageszeitung took me completely by surprise. I really would have expected to see it in quotation marks, since it probably came from the subject’s own Facebook posting (which would not have been in German).

The article, if you’re curious, states that the designated composer of a new anthem in honor of the upcoming Coronation in the Netherlands (the Queen is stepping down and handing the throne over to her eldest son. This is THE STORY up there right now) has withdrawn his composition after massive protest and ridicule from citizens. My Dutch friends assure me that it’s godawful. Hence the Anschiss.

Looking it up in the online German-English dictionaries, I find that the word “shitstorm” was named the 2011 Anglizismus des Jahres (Anglicism Of The Year), and not perfectly translatable, therefor accepted “as is” in the German language. There are links at the links, if you’re that interested.

“It’ll Be A Hot Day Today”


This plaque, found on the stone wall underneath the Golden Roof in Innsbruck’s old town, says: Here, on 25 February 1536, Jakob Hutter, head of the Anabaptists in Tirol, was burned at the stake.

Jakob Hutter was born in what is now South Tirol, in northern Italy. After he joined the Anabaptists, he began to preach and form small congregations in the region. Tirol was persecuting Anabaptists, so Hutter eventually followed many of his fellow believers to Moravia (part of what is now Czech Republic), where conditions were a little better for them. (The Moravian Church, not related not directly related but a possible antecedent to Hutter’s Anabaptists, got their name for this same reason — they had left Saxony for Moravia to escape religious persecution, and the name stuck when they moved elsewhere. Their founder, Jan Hus, was also burned at the stake.)

Good times in Moravia only lasted so long, however, and in 1535 the Hutterites were expelled. Jakob Hutter returned to Tirol, was soon afterward arrested, tortured, pressured to recant and inform on his fellow church members. He resisted, and was sentenced to burn. His wife was able to flee, was however later caught and executed at Schöneck Fortress in South Tirol. Online sources in German indicate that men were burned or beheaded, women drowned, and that 360 Anabaptists were executed in Tirol.

Yet another Tirolean burned at the stake was Mathias Perger, known as der Lauterfresser (g), which translates roughly to the Soup Eater. Perger was what one might call today a free spirit, occasionally working, learned in reading, writing, and astrology. In other words, someone the church considered dangerous. He was arrested on charges of witchcraft and “weather-making”, confessed under torture to such medieval horrors as “desecrating the Host”, and executed in 1645 in Mühlbach (near Brixen/Bressanone).

While Hutter was clearly pious (just the “wrong” religion), the Lauterfresser was odd enough (and perhaps heathen enough) for legends about him to crop up over time. He plays tricks on fellow inn patrons. He makes chickens fly over to the next field and lay their eggs for their owner’s neighbor. He changes at will into a bear and, for sport, chats with the hunting party trying to track it down. The legends make him a sympathetic, clever figure, a sort of alpine combination of Till Eulenspiegel and Fred and George Weasley, if you will. The quote in this title are his alleged words — “Das wird ein heißer Tag heute” — as he was fetched to be taken to the pyre.

BONUS LINK: And speaking of legends, a 1,200-year-old Coptic Egyptian text, recently translated, is found to tell the story of a shape-shifting Jesus who dined with a well-intentioned Pilate before his death. I suppose that it shows, like the stories of the Lauterfresser, that we humans want to hear these stories and be amazed.

“Witch Burning”

My local newspaper reports (g) on an upcoming event called the Hexenverbrennung, or Witch Burning, an old traditional custom in the somewhat remote region of Tirol called Ausserfern. I translate directly from the article, somewhat loosely for comprehension:

On the first Sunday after Ash Wednesday, to cries of “Vivat hoch, die Hex hat Durst — sie will auch eine lange Wurst!” (“Hurrah, the Witch is thirsty, and she wants a long sausage!”*) the communities of Jungholz, Musau, Pinswang and Weißenbach bring back an old heathen custom, driving the winter away with bonfires and Witch Burning.
In earlier times, boys went on “rag Thursday” from house to house, collecting rags “for the Witch”. The Witch — an effigy of hay and straw — would be made, dressed in a gown created from the colorful rags, and hoisted up on a long pole over the pyre. The fire is lit at nightfall. The custom symbolizes the driving out of Winter and is in no way connected to the witch burnings of the Middle Ages.
This old custom from Celtic times has become a popular event with the both the local population and tourists. Above all the social part, the party which lasts late into the night.
The fire is made to drive the evil Winter spirits from the fields and epitomizes the people’s yearning for warmth.

I assumed that this custom must be an old pagan one (bonfire) with some Medieval, early Christian stuff that had attached itself to it over time (the witch), until I remembered the Wicker Man. Roman sources alledge that the Druids made burning human sacrifices to Taranis, the god of thunder. Taranis’ influence apparently covered Gaul, the British Isles, and the Rhineland and Danube regions.
One difference is that the Druids, it is written, burned men.

Supporting sources at Sagen.at (g).

*I’m sorry, but does this sound like gang rape to you?

Forgotten Tirol: PlayCastle

UPDATE: PlayCastle is now Magic Castle, and here is its website, with events and information.


What was I thinking? The snow in Seefeld in Tirol is three feet deep, and where I wanted to go hadn’t been plowed all winter. But on the first official free day in two weeks (three if you factor in that I was actually home sick for those last free days), I was going stir crazy. So even though I was up to my knees in snow, I wasn’t going to let that stop me.


Did you know that Sleeping Beauty’s castle lies in Tirol? Well, not the original (if there were one) but more like the Disney version, sitting alone in the woods, locked up and dark, waiting for a prince with enough capital to come and rescue it. This was actually a 1990s business venture called PlayCastle, a sort of Tirolean Sesame Place, an indoor-outdoor amusement park for children. It had a “Fun Dome” with online skating on three levels, a climbing wall, an “Adventure World” with video simulations, and who knows what else, prominently situated just outside of an alpine tourist resort town. Something for the family to do on a rainy day.They had expected 250,000 to 300,000 visitors annually. The place shut down after one year, and has been closed since I can remember. According to this site it’s currently being used as an events rental space and disco, although nothing looked remotely in use to me.


PlayCastle even has its own little fairy-tale rail station on the Mittenwald line, although in all my travels on that line I have never seen a train stop there. The ÖBB website doesn’t even recognize it as a stop, so I have to assume it’s been discontinued, even though the link directly above advertizes it as a way to get there.


Inside the station, a wannabe-medieval fresco. Local kids are using the station to sit and drink, and who can blame them. At least someone is showing up.

KZ Reichenau Revisited

The event began with an audio recording of of a man named Klaus W., from Hippach (deep in the Ziller Valley), recounting the day the recruiters came to family’s home in the 1940s and said, “one (of you) must go” into labor service. He was chosen, to spare his parents and his sister. A simple story to give light to how these things had been done.

On a recent evening in January, the Wagnersche Bookstore (now owned by Thalia) hosted a presentation by Matthias Breit about Innsbruck’s concentration camp, in a part of the city called Reichenau. The main part of the evening included audio recordings of the recollections of Walter Winterberg, an Austrian man who had been interned there. What follows is a general summary of what we learned and heard on that evening. If I have made any egregious errors, please blame it on the bad head cold I’d brought along (and feel free to correct me.)

Reichenau Aerial

Reichenau was planned and built as a work camp for Italian (mostly) forced laborers who — for whatever reason — were labeled as in breach of their work duties (arbeitsvertagsbrüchig, how’s that word for you?) and in need of a little re-education. Many had probably tried to escape from the farms or factories to which they had been sent. Winterberg came from a Viennese family with some Jewish ancestry. Being a “Mischling“, he was ordered to report for a labor in the Reich’s air defence service. He went, then at some point decided to flee over the Swiss border and into France, in order to aid the French Resistance. (Little did he know that there were Swiss Nazi sympathizers at the borders then.) He was caught while still in Austria and sent to KZ Reichenau for several months before being sent on to Buchenwald.

Winterberg tells of a boy who had been brought from some eastern country, possibly Ukraine, who had suffered a bad work accident and, receiving no treatment, could no longer walk properly. He was then simply written off as unwilling to work, and sent to Reichenau. Another boy from the east, forced to work in southern Bavaria, had been accused of mishandling a child and sent off. This boy underwent the infamous punishment of being forced to strip naked in midwinter and being doused repeatedly with ice cold water until he died. These boys, and many others, were referred to within the camp as piccoli, “the little ones”, all around 12 to 16 years old. There were about 40 of them, and they mostly did maid’s duties: washing up, preparing food, etc.

He tells of Ukrainian inmates, young men, being sent out to clear debris after Innsbruck was repeatedly bombed in 1943. There were strict orders against any kind of looting, but a woman in town came up to one of the inmates and gave him a jar of marmalade. She probably thought she was helping him, and I hope for her sake that, when she died, she still believed that. In fact, when the jar was discovered by the guards, he was hanged.

Others came and went quickly enough to make acquaintance difficult. The average stay was 3 months. Many of the inmates arrived with no idea where they were, little if any idea where they would land next, and did not speak German. On the audiotape, Winterberg wonders aloud what happened to them all after the capitulation.

After the war’s end, the KZ Reichenau became a camp for displaced persons and later on some kind of public housing. It was torn down in the 1970s, to make way for the city’s recycling yard. A stone monument can be found nearby, at the side of the road.

The presentation was followed by an invitation to discussion, and this is where things got a little interesting and awkward. The first to speak, a man who looked to be in his 70s but who must have been older than that, said that he had been in the Wehrmacht and in a POW camp, and that upon returning, found no one interested in what he had gone through, since everyone believed that “all Wehrmacht were criminals”. He tried the “both sides did it” attack, an argument I have heard before, but found no sympathy among the other listeners. A second man said that one cannot look at history this way; this is an chronicle of what happened here in this place. We hear of Mauthausen and Dachau but this is a local story which needs to be heard.

A third man stood to say that he found Winterberg had “prettified” the situation in the camp by not stressing that it was in fact “ein durchgangsstation ins KZ” (“a way station to the concentration camp”, as if it were something not quite so nasty as a concentration camp itself). Breit reiterated several of the points made by Winterberg that the man seemed to have missed, that people were constantly being shipped in and out with little knowledge as to what would happen to them.

At this point my concentration skills were fading, I had a rather bad cold and my head was completely stopped up, but words were spoken to the effect that Winterberg didn’t have anything to complain about, he got through it well enough, he doesn’t mention anything terrible happening to him. Breit reminded the speaker that Winterberg states he was 49 kilos lighter by war’s end (108 pounds lighter ) This is where a woman spoke up and said: these are terrible things. When they are not dramatic enough, when this story, or this story, is not bad enough to make one find it terrible, then…

Breit wrapped things up: If too little horror appears in the reports of Reichenau, think then of the millions who passed through here, headed to their fates. This tale presented here is an historic reconstruction, not a tale of horrors. (This got me thinking of the recent need to make Holocaust stories ever more shocking. Simply being imprisoned and treated badly isn’t enough, the public wants some new godawfulness that they’d never heard of before. I thought until now that this was an American thing, but now I am not so sure.)

As we made to leave, two more listeners chimed in, not with opinions but with requests for their own projects. One man was researching another camp (I did not hear which), the other must have been Herr Muigg, who is gathering information about the Wehrmacht execution site on the Paschberg (de). I have seen his flyers posted there.

Update: thanks to information supplied by, believe it or not, a spammer , I have found that there was apparently another work camp called Reichenau, in the Czech Republic (Rychnov).

Weapons For The Gods

The Ferdinandeum (our provincial museum) is hosting an exhibit of early sacrificial offerings found in and around the Alps for military purposes (g*).

This is evidently something that people did over millennia — gave up offerings of weaponry and other war accessories for battles won, enemies routed or eliminated. The museum stresses that one not only can learn about the conquerors but also about the conquered by the qualities of their weapons.
The exhibit includes many artifacts recovered from Fliess, depots of bronze helmets, shields, swords and daggers, stone axes, Roman figurines. There are also some items on loan from the National Museum of Slovenia, recovered by this man, whose mission in the last several years has been to save the Ljubljanica River’s tens of thousands of treasure from diving treasure hunters and rich collectors. Moreover, that sword in his hand (or one very much like it) might be in the exhibit.
The time frame spans from early pre-historic stone items through the Celtic ages and into the Roman occupation, as the Romans did this as well.

* If you click on this link and then download the pdf “Rahmenprogramm” at the bottom, there is some additional information available in English and Italian.

Archäologisches Museum Fliess

Impressions from a recent visit to the Archaeological Museum in Fliess. It is actually two museums: one part displays the archaeological finds associated with the pre-historical sacrificial burning sites (1500 BC – 200 AD) and treasure hoards found in the surrounding mountains, the other displays artifacts connected to the Roman Via Claudia Augusta which runs right through the area.

The finds at a Bronze-Age sacrificial altar site include many metal swords and tools, prepared for the spirit world by rendering them useless. Above, swords which had been chopped into segments in order for their “essence” to be sent up to whichever god they was meant for.

One of the oldest metal helmets ever found in Europe — it’s native, Hallstadt Culture, not Roman. It too had been cut apart and bent, one assumes in preparation for sacrifice. The three double blades on the top would have held horse hair a plume.

The level of detail and aesthetic beauty is impressive.

Celtic coins, minted sometime between 150 BC and 200 AD, and probably somewhere between southern Germany and Burgundy. At least two of them (top row, second from left and bottom row, second from right) are Büschel or “tuft” coins; instead of an entire head in profile which is found on many Roman, Greek and Gallic coins, these seem to zoom in on a few locks of hair. The discovery of a cache of old coins can bring one’s thoughts right into the time when they were hidden. Unlike a collection of offerings which may have grown over time, they were probably buried all at once, possibly in a dangerous time and certainly with the hope of retrieval. Something went wrong, and they were forgotten, until found thousands of years later.

The game we call “jacks” is also known as “knucklebones”, and is a very old game indeed. The ancient Greeks played it, and it had certainly been around for a long time already by then. The bones used as game pieces are actually astragalus or talus bones from the ankle.

The Archaeological Museum in Fliess is open from May through October. We were fortunate to have an informed and helpful guide who stayed past closing time in order to give us enough time to see everything and to answer our questions. The museum also runs a small press for the publication of literature on the archaeological finds from the area.

Weekend Mountain Blogging

Photos taken in on and around the Via Claudia Augusta, now a hiking trail, between Landeck and Fließ.

It’s clearly late autumn in Tyrol, just before the leaves turn completely. The region is not known for spectacular fall foliage but I find it beautiful in its own, subtle way, the greens and golds mixed with grey and brown.

In Landeck, we had cut through the town to meet up again with the river after it bends south, and came out by chance right above the old “ghost railroad” tunnel, built for the Reschenbahn around 100 years ago. This was to have been a link between Mals (in South Tyrol, Italy) and Landeck over the Reschenpass (an extension of the Vinschgaubahn which runs from Meran to Mals), paralleling the old Roman Road, but plans were abandoned as Austria got caught up in the First World War the plans, started in 1918 and again in 1944, were eventually abandoned (thanks, Paschberg for the correction). It looks as if someone has been getting in. The tunnel (in better days) can also be seen here in the third image.

Wood carvings adorning a house in Fließ.