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.


The things that draw me to archaeology are not the battles nor the Roman legions, nor any of the political aspects, although of course they are all important to understanding the events of the times. What interests me are the little, daily things. How did people live? Why did they live here and not down there? How did the wave of that new cutting-edge thing called “farming” reach them, and what did they do about it?

So, while the arrowheads and swords and grave artifacts in our local museum are interesting in their own way, there are other things I find fascinating — like the tiny little curse tablet found at the excavations of Veldidena (Wilten, an Innsbruck neighborhood and a former Roman settlement).

These are little messages to the Gods about some personal matter. Before the internet, before I Love You I Hate You, before sticking notes in the wailing wall, there were curse tablets. These were popular enough to have been manufactured in advance in some cases, just fill in the details as needed.

The text scratched onto the metal reads, in translation (mine, from the German translation displayed in the Museum):

Secundina curses the unknown thief and consigns his persecution to the Gods Mercury and Moltinus.

The mention of this tablet in the book “Curse Tablets and Binding Spells from the Ancient World” (John G. Gager, Oxford University Press) offers up a longer text version, with some discussion about earlier translations — such as the word draucus which could be connected with the Greek word for necklace; another argument suggests it is an old Celtic “loanword” for cow. That Moltinus is the name of a Celtic God might lend authority to that idea.

Secundina! Number-two daughter, pissed off at the theft of a piece of jewelry, or devastated by the theft of her livelihood? In any event, in her demand for retribution she invokes both a Roman and a Celtic God, just to be on the safe side (maybe Moltinus has more power up here in his home turf than Mercury, far away from Rome). What was life like for a Roman woman in such a place as this? Did she hate the Föhn? Were the natives threatening? Had the early Christians arrived? (Probably not yet.) The God Moltinus (or Moldinus) is known by only one other inscription, and that is from Gaul. Did she have a Raetian or Gallic heritage? There’s probably a novel waiting to be written just about this one woman, and all because she got ripped off one day, and did what people did when that happened.

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.

Forgotten Innsbruck: Post-War Tourism

Rehearsals, rehearsals, rehearsals. Some of them for the opera which opens next weekend, some for later productions, some for various outside projects including one of my own.

These images were scanned from a photo-book called, simply, “Innsbruck Tyrol” (Inn-Verlag Innsbruck, early 1950s) with photographs by Adolf Sickert. Texts are in German, English, French and Italian, so it was clearly a souvenir book for foreign tourists.
Above, traffic of all stripes on the Maria-Theresien-Strasse. I like that the cars, the cyclists and the public transportation all seem to nicely co-exist on the same pavement.

The sun terrace at the Seegrube, on the Northern Ridge. Innsbruck, in the valley below, is still somewhat small. No ski jump, no Autobahn, no shopping malls.

Traditional costumes and masks (a Fasching parade, I’m guessing) from the Ötz Valley. With those mustaches, they remind me of the Guy Fawkes masks sported by Anonymous and some Occupy participants.

Bruegel’s “Hunters In The Snow” in the film “Melancholia”

Much has already been written on the artworks featured in Lars von Trier’s new film “Melancholia”. One of them, in fact the first painting you’ll see in the film’s prologue, has a possible local connection and, if so, an interesting feature.
Viel wurde schon geschrieben über die Kunststücke in den Film “Melancholia”. Eines davon, das erste Gemälde das man im Film sieht, hat eine unbewiesene aber sehr interessante Verbindung mit Innsbruck.

“Hunters in the Snow”, Peter Bruegel (or Brueghel) the Elder, 1565.
Image from

One Professor Wilhelm Fischer of Innsbruck wrote an academic treatise a while back, maintaining that Bruegel, on his return trip from Italy, must have come through Innsbruck and made sketches of the landscape. In his opinion this is clearly the village of Amras, the Sill River, and the Inn Valley beyond (with some artistic changes taken into account. The valley is a tad too narrow so the other settlements are not exactly in the right place, for example. And our mountains are not that pointy.)

Der Innsbrucker Professor Wilhelm Fischer behauptet, daß Bruegel auf seiner Rückreise aus Italien in Innbruck weilte, und machte Skizzen von der Landschaft. Laut Fischer ist das Dorf im Bild offensichtlich Amras, mit der Sill und dem Inntal im Hintergrund (man muß aber dann manche künstlerische Freiheiten einkalkulieren — das Tal ist zu eng, die andere Siedlungen sind nicht genau, wo sie hingehören sollen. Und die umringenden Berge sind nicht so spitz.

If this is so, then that skating pond may well be the lost and forgotten Amraser See — remember the Amraser See? It vanished some decades ago and now the DEZ shopping mall stands in its place. What an apt subject for the film.
I doubt Lars von Trier had even heard of this, perhaps he used the painting among others to show melancholy (the dejected hunters and even their sorry-looking hounds) being confronted by both gaiety (villagers out and about)  and disaster (according to this blogger the farmhouse on the river has just had an explosion. In any event, it is burning.) Like Justine’s arrival at her wedding reception, you might say. We could continue into the theme of Death As Bridegroom but that’s beyond the scope of my knowledge.

Wenn dieses Gemälde das Dorf Amras zeigt, dann ist der Teich im Bild der verschwundene, vergessene Amraser See, wo jetzt der Einkaufzentrum “DEZ” steht. Herr von Trier weiß davon sicher nichts; vielleicht stellt das Bild für ihn eine richtige Melancholie dar,  (die niedergeschlagene Jäger sogar ihre Hünde),  die mit Fröhlichkeit (die Dorfleute) und Pech (ein brennendes Haus) konfrontiert wird. Man vergleicht ihr Ankommen mit Justine’s Ankommen an das Hochzeitsfest (im Film).

Considering the film’s theme of everything going under, the inclusion of a painting which itself shows something already lost and forgotten is interesting (to probably nobody but me, but hey, it’s my blog and I get to write what I want.) A lost world inside a lost world.

Ein Bild von einem verschwundenen Ort, in einer Geschichte über das kommende Verschwinden unserer Welt. Eine verlorene Welt in einer verlorenen Welt.

More about the artworks featured in the film here (English) and hier (deutsch.)

Pagans In Tirol: Schalenstein

My best blogposts lately have been inspired (stolen) from others’ efforts, and this one will be no exception. Earlier this month fellow blogger Paschberg went exploring on the newer trails carved out by the mountainbikers, and came across a rock cliff with cup markings carved into the top. This would be the second set found, after the boulder near Tantegert. Naturally, I needed to go find this for myself, and so, equipped with a marked google earth map graciously sent to me, I set out to find the Schalenstein.

After wandering around the general area (there are all sorts of named and unnamed tracks criss-crossing around over there), I circled back and came across this rock face, part of a longer ridge that cuts through the woods.

And sure enough, at the top was a flat, square-shaped boulder, with three cup markings bored into the surface. I was delighted to find it, and at the same time wanted to kick myself for passing so close to this area regularly for nearly two years, and never looking around over this way. This Schalenstein was practically in front of my nose, or better said, over my head.

Behind the rock is a kind of partly enclosed ledge, big enough to sit on. That’s where I noticed the bolt anchors — there are several of them driven into the rock at different heights. Clearly, this cliff is being used for rock climbing practice.

And at the so-called “witch’s cottage”, just a minute or two down the path, it became a little clearer that the climbing practice has some connection to whoever uses the cottage now. Note the climbing holds decorating the wall, and the photograph next to the door.

I walked further uphill along the ridge to inspect more boulders, but they are all covered with thick moss and tree roots. There’s just no telling what’s underneath them. The Schalenstein was the only rock that was somewhat free of moss — which leads me to believe that it’s being somehow, anonymously, maintained.
I once asked an archaeology-minded friend about the cup markings in the rocks here, and she responded with cynicism. There are fakes, there’s no proving their antiquity. She has a point, and the rocks don’t seem to be of interest to anyone official (Not that I can see. Maybe I’m wrong about that.) But they are there. The sacrificial altar sites at Goldbichl and Bergisel are not all that far away, nor is the possibly-Pagan “Judenstein”. It is said there are other marked stones in the area, hidden away in the woods, waiting to be visited.

Forgotten Innsbruck: A Photo Book

Recently an old, tattered copy of a photo book on Innsbruck by one Adolf Sickert (Innsbruck: Ein Farbbildwerk, published by Meinhold Verlagsgesellschaft, Dresden 1943) fell into my hands, and some of the photographs I found interesting enough to scan and post here. For example this view of the Serles over the snow-covered rooftops of the old town, with its swastika-draped facades.

This town square still looks pretty much the same — the fountain is still there, and the grass, and even that nice big tree. The old ladies are gone, replaced by young homeless men and their dogs. The name of the square, too — at the time it was Adolf-Hitler-Platz, but it went (back?) to Theaterplatz after all that business ended.

The old Hungerburgbahn — would this be one of the original cars? — had open windows from which one could lean out. This track is no longer used since the new line was built, but the bridge is still there.

The arch, where Maria-Theresien-Strasse meets Maximilienstrasse. The gun shop is now a bakery/lunch counter. The “oldtimer” trams, like the one shown here, are pulled out and run every so often.

Das Tirol Panorama

There was finally time for a visit to the Panorama Museum, home of Innsbruck’s historic Riesenrundgemälde, previously displayed in the Rotunde in town. The interior is all modern glass and concrete, but they’ve done nice work with the presentation of the old-timey panorama painting, which still has its charms. One particularly strong impression is one of the very first — you have to descend an escalator to a lower level and then walk up a set of stairs to get “into” the panorama, and from the bottom of the stairs you see the Northern Range, and for a second you really aren’t sure if it’s not the real thing you’re looking at. Later in the connected Kaiserjägermuseum you find yourself looking up another set of stairs, at the top of which is a large picture window which does look out on the real Northern Range, and then you realize what the architect was up to.

Back downstairs, one proceeds into a large space with a lot of “tiroliana”, some of it hidden in secret compartments within wooden pillars, which looked popular with children. In the center of the room is a lot of political remnants (such as the horse’s head from a Mussolini statue from South Tirol, blown up by activists in 1961).

On the other side, a showcase of all manner of local “stuff”, past and almost-present. We didn’t quite get this part; it was as if the museum had to find a way to tie all these objects together and decided to display it almost randomly, with the archaeological finds right next to  20th-century mountain-climbing gear, insect display cases next to old crèches. Sometimes the explanatory signs were not easy to find. We decided that the snowboard must have been Andreas Hofer’s.

If you are visiting Innsbruck and want to see the Museum, I recommend taking the Nr. 1 streetcar to Bergisel (the last stop), then walking up the hill to the museum. There is also a restaurant with outdoor seating, and a gazebo from which to enjoy the view. Just across the park is the entrance to the ski jump arena, which also houses a cafe perched atop the jump, and more impressive views. This museum seems to be more for the locals than for visitors, but if you are interested in getting a sense of Tirolean history and culture without having to do much reading or traveling around, this could do it. The museum offers free headsets with audio tracks which explain what you are seeing. We did not take them, so I can’t tell you how they are.

>Es Lebe Der 1. Mai


 Every May 1st at around noon, the Leftists get out their banners and march through the center of town. They’re peaceful enough, lots of families; the police presence assures no violence (I have never witnessed any myself, not even animosity from onlookers. Mostly a bland curiosity, maybe. It’s a different story in larger cities, but then it always is.)

 This banner (which appears to be a new model, the old one had a yellow background)) still leaves me shaking my head. How can you march for socialism, democracy, peace, and against violence, racism and discrimination, alongside a banner with a portrait of Lenin, Stalin and Mao?