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:
Wiel_Raisting_google

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.

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
Schanze Before
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
Sillpark
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.
Bürgerbräu

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.

Forgotten Innsbruck: The Irrwurzel

Fellow-blogger Paschberg has posted the following 1966 article from Innsbruck’s local newspaper, about a mysterious root found in certain places  which, should you step on it, will send you wandering through the mountains, completely disoriented. Here is an English translation by me, because I find weird legends like this kind of cool.

MYSTERIOUS “IRRWURZEL” OF MARIA LARCH

from the Tiroler Tageszeitung, Innsbruck, 25 October, 1966, Nr. 247, S.6

“Was terrestrial radiation to blame for the mental state of Johann König from Gnadenwald?

In response to Dr. Dietmar Assmann’s article “300 Years of Pilgrimages to Maria Larch near Terfens” in the October 8 issue of “TT”, I would like to tell a story which is interesting on ethnological, scientific, psychiatric and mountaineering levels.

The history of Maria Larch the legend is exhaustively discussed in the article. In conclusion the author writes, “like many other cultural sites of this kind, we see close ties of nature with the desire for protection from its violence.”

The saga tells of such violence. According to it, a mythical root grows in the Larch valley. The Tyrolean ethnologist Johann N. from Alpenburg wrote over 100 years ago, “in the forests and meadows, on mountain and valley grows a root which possesses such powers, that whoever steps upon it will meander aimlessly for days, just as the witches and masters of the dark arts understand how to distract a person and lead him astray.” Such persons would wander the entire night and came to only by the morning call to prayers. Such instances are said to have been frequent in the Larch Valley, although no one knew anything for certain.

Dr. Guido Hradil, Adjunct Professor at the University of Innsbruck, described such occurrences as terrestrial radiation which, like that which has been measured in the Gastein Valley, may also be observed in Gnadenwald.

On January 4th, 1912, innkeeper Josef Heiss, whose inn stood at the edge of the Larch valley and who also owned a timber business, was busy with his men and horses pulling logs on sleds from the forest near Maria Larch to Gnadenwald on sleds. They had been delayed by the shying of the horses and it was getting dark.  Hansel, a boy from a nearby farm, rode by on his sled as they were bustling about to go. The woodsmen called out, “Hey, where are you off to, so late?”, but he gave no answer. The company left the unfriendly boy alone and hurried home, as night was already upon them.

The next day word got out that the boy hadn’t come home. His family, the workers, the neighbors and soon the whole village was searching for him, along with the police. Soon enough they found tracks of the boy’s sled. The tracks led from Maria Larch, through the so-called Sau Valley through the woods, crossed the Umlberg road, went straight up nearly vertically on the steep and icy slope of the Walder Pass, cut through the meadow there to the summit and descended the north side into a gap, where with a sleepwalking instinct he had made his way between the cliffs down to the stream. Here his sled broke. His body was found frozen by the stream. He had pulled off his shoes and stockings.

The discovery caused an uproar in the region. Why did the boy leave the marked road in the Larch valley and sled through the fields? Even if he’d become snow-blind, how did he cross the road without noticing it? Why had he not noticed the village lights, clearly visible on the way up the mountain? How did he find his way through the pathless gorge in the dark? There were no answers, and no one wished to mention the Irrwurzel out loud.

In the Gnadenwald church’s chronicle the priest had written: “Johann König, single, farmer’s son, in the night of January 4th-5th, 1912, strayed in confusion, found frozen in the Vomp Gap and brought home.” In the city one spoke of an epileptic fit or schizophrenia, perhaps brought on by an unknown force of nature. — I.M. Metzler”

Also included in the post is an article written by the blog author’s father and found among his papers, and in English at that. Here with permission:

THE “IRRWURZEL”

TRADITIONAL FOLKLORISTIC INTERPRETATION OF A POSSIBLE

UNKNOWN GEOPHYSICAL PHENOMENON?

By Alois Schönherr

In the Tyrolean, Austrian and German folklore, there is the tradition of the so called “Irrwurzel”, a mythical root, which, if stepped on, allegedly distorts the orientation of the wanderer to such an extent that he or she will become unable to find one’s way even in a perfectly familiar environment. 1)

Alpenburg writing in 1857 relates that according to tradition the Irrwurzel is very frequent in the pastures below the Tratzberg castle, between Schwaz and Jenbach (30 kms east of Innsbruck), “where everybody is careful, not to walk through with bare feet” , but just how it looks – nobody knows. He also writes that “today the Irrwurzel is no longer known” (i.e. the term is not associated with a certain botanically known plant or root) because in 1803 a dying oil-trader from the Ziller-valley burnt the last specimen by order of a priest. 2) It seems that similar to the personifactions of natural forces like wind or ligthtning as gods, the Irrwurzel constitutes a sort of botanic rationalization for certain mysterious effects.

At least in the Tyrol, stories about the Irrwurzel aren’t always located in a vague, hazy, undated past or associated only with unknown persons and places. The following tale, also related by Alpenburg, can be considered as typical:

One day in 1832 at three o’clock in the morning the porter Jakob Tunner from Alpbach departed from the Kupal alp in the Hinterriss with a load of 100 pounds of butter for Jenbach. After a quarter of an hour, fog fell in but the porter proceeded as he knew the way very well, having used it a “thousand times” in both directions before. He walked for hours, but he never reached the pass leading to the Inn-valley. At noon he rested and prayed, then he went on again. Finally, late in the night, he perceived a hut in the distance. It was the Kupal alp, from where he had started twenty hours before. He was so confused that he asked after the name of the alp. The herdsmen there said he must have stepped upon an Irrwurzel. 3)

NOTES AND REFERENCES

1) In Germany the term “Irrfleck” is more popular, which means a definite spot, a sort of haunted place so to say, where orientation is distorted.

2) Alpenburg, Johann Nepomuk Ritter von, Mythen und Sagen Tirols, Verlag von Meyer und Zeller, Zürich 1857, p. 409.

3) Ibid. p. 410

below the Tratzberg castle, between Schwaz and Jenbach (30 kms east of Innsbruck)”

Singer Lore: Help For Swollen Vocal Cords

Inching my way out of this bad cold flu bronchitis, I turned to facebook to ask my professional singer friends for their personal last-ditch remedies when a gig is getting near and the vocal folds are still swollen (and therefor not, as we say in singing circles, “approximating”). I don’t mean full-out injury, but rather that recovery time when you’re almost, but not quite, there. This question generated a long and entertaining discussion about the pros and cons of certain medications and methods, which I have boiled down to its essence here for you:

Bromelain, a clear winner with the singers in Germany. It’s made from pineapples, is available without a prescription and reduces swelling. My Austrian pharmacy sold me a less-powerful version of it called Wobenzym, but said that they could order Bromelain.

Ibuprofen. There was a bit of an debate about this. Ibubrofen is an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) which works by thinning the blood, like aspirin, but which might lead to real damage if your cords are so raw that the capillaries are near the surface. Some people say “absolutely no ibuprofen”, others say it’s the only option short of steroids, which come with their own set of risk factors.

Some prescription-only suggestions: Serrapeptase (in Germany called Aniflazym),  dexibuprofen, and the once-in-a-decade last-ditch option of cortisone in the form of prednisone and its cousin prednisolone (I guess if you really can’t cancel without dire consequences. But you’ll be out of commission for a while afterward so it really is not often recommended.)

Non-prescription medications and home remedies: Inhaling sage tea with salt, steam, NO steam but cold mist, eating raw garlic, hot grape juice, Eibischwurzeltee (marsh mallow root tea) applied cold (onto the skin?), warm Dr. Pepper, GeloRevoice, diclofenac, lymphdiaral (homeopathic drops),  fresh ginger in water with honey (ginger is supposed to shrink swelling), guafenisin (in America it’s in Vicks 44, not available in Austria), warmed honey, chicken soup, and cancelling the gig.

gelorevoice_fullimage_df_03

Here is a professional singer who recommends rubbing Preparation H (hemorrhoid cream!) directly on your Adam’s apple , which sounds weird. But who am I to say.

Here’s what I normally do, beyond what my doctor prescribes me:

Ibuprofen, Bromelain, inhaling the steam from elderflower (Hollunder) tea (the kind from the pharmacy, not the supermarket), gargling with salt water, nasal irrigation with salt water (boil the water first and let it cool to a usable temperature! This procedure led to a few deaths in the U.S. from people unwittingly using contaminated water from the tap. Better safe than sorry!)

My prescription-only throat spray is Locabiosol, which I get when I am see-the-doctor sick (usually once a year at the most) and then use what remains of it during the rest of year for those borderline cases. A good over-the-counter substitute is Klosterfrau Islandisch Moos throat spray, a little bottle of which I keep at the theater all through the season. I am also a big fan of Golia lozenges, especially the little ones, which are small enough and soft enough for me to keep pressed onto a back molar while I am onstage. I was told that they were also Pavarotti’s favorite throat lozenges. I believe they are only available in Italy (I have generous friends who get bags of them for me when they go to Milan.)

perfetti_golia

If you’ve come here in search of a remedy for your own swollen cords, then best of luck and get well soon!

What are your methods?