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About Corinna   write me    Feeds provide updated website content        

Eric Romania
Innsbruck, Austria
Story and photos by Corinna Lothar

he ride up the mountain on the cable car is worthy of a James Bond thriller. It takes your breath away, and you feel just a tiny jolt of adrenalin. The city of Innsbruck ("Bridge over the Inn") sparkles in the morning sun below as we rise through the pine forest. Above us the mountain soars a craggy 7,700 feet, crowned in dazzling snow. Far away to the south, veiled in haze, lies the Brenner Pass over the Alps, and the road to Italy. The Inn River ambles like a giant friendly snake through the valley below.

ski slope at Nordkette, Innsbruck
The chair lift up the ski slope to the top of Nordkette as seen from the end station of the cable car

We are on the Nordkette, one of Innsbruck's premier ski areas, which rises straight up from the city. The funicular starts its ascent from the center of Innsbruck's old town. Halfway up, the transfer is made to a cable car that glides almost to the top, which skiers reach with a chair lift. Whether you are a skier or a snowbunny come to watch and enjoy the sun from the terrace of the mountain-top restaurant, it's a delight not to be missed.

At the second station of the funicular is the alpine zoo where visitors can see an unusual collection of alpine birds, animals and fish, the only themed zoo of its kind in the world.

There are ski areas in Innsbruck's southern mountains as well, and for summer skiers, the Stubai Glacier is about 25 miles from town.

Innsbruck is no Vienna, although it was the seat of the Habsburgs for a time. There's an abundance of coffee houses and churches, but this is an old and conservative Tyrolean town, perched between Italy and Austria. It's a favorite weekend excursion for the Milanese and other Italians of the north. Shopkeepers speak Italian as well as German. English is the third language here, spoken by nearly everyone.

Western Tyrol is the narrow arm of Austria surrounded by Switzerland, Germany and Austria, with Innsbruck in the center, halfway between Germany and Italy. Because of its strategic location on the ancient trade route between Verona and Augsburg via the Brenner, the easiest path across the Alps, Innsbruck has always been an important center of commerce, beginning in the Bronze Age when the area was settled by Illyrian tribes. The Romans arrived in 15 B.C. and built an army outpost.

By the end of the 12th century, Innsbruck had become a rich walled city with four gates. The Habsburgs acquired control in 1363; the 15th and 16th centuries were the city's golden years. During the Napoleonic Wars, Innsbruck was ceded to Bavaria, an ally of the French, but was returned to Austrian rule after the Congress of Vienna in 1814.

Bergisel Ski Jump
View from the starting gate of the Bergisel ski jump with the cemetery and the city in the background

The opening of the railway through the Brenner Pass in 1884 made Innsbruck the axis of the European transport network. In 1938, Austria welcomed its annexation to Germany. (The Innsbruck-Reichenau concentration camp was located in Innsbruck.) Because of its importance as railway junction, the city was bombed heavily during World War II, and occupied by the British after the war.

Innsbruck's easy access from neighboring countries and natural beauty makes it a hub for summer and winter tourism, especially for its superb ski slopes.

Innsbruck was the site of the winter Olympic Games in 1964 and 1976. In 2002, Innsbruck inaugurated Bergisel, a new ski jumping stadium in the outskirts of the city on Bergisel Hill, the site of the 1809 battles fought by Tyrolean peasants, led by Andreas Hofer, against the French and Bavarians. Designed by Zaha Hadid, the ski jump soars with grace and elegance. There's a restaurant on the concrete and glass observation platform. From the start of the jump, one can see the city below, and just beyond the multi-colored stands of the stadium surrounding the jump slope lies the city cemetery - a warning perhaps to all who dare fly through the air on skis.

Innsbruck's old town is a charming jumble of stone arcaded streets and narrow alleys, lined with three and four story houses, which are decorated with huge fairy-tale characters during the Christmas market every December.

Golden Roof
The Golden Roof of Emperor Maximilian I

The old town's most famous landmark is the Golden Roof (Goldenes Dachl). On the occasion of his second marriage to Bianca Maria Sforza of Milan in 1500, the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I built a covered balcony onto his early 15th century mansion. The roof covering the balcony contains more than 2600 gilded copper tiles. Of the original Renaissance structure, only the balcony and its golden roof are still intact. Inside the building is a small museum dedicated to memorabilia and paintings from the life of Maximilian I, father of Philip II of Spain.

Nearby in the old town is the 15th century City Tower - once used as a prison - and St. Jacob's cathedral. Over the altar of the cathedral is an exquisite painting of the Madonna and Child by Lucas Cranach, the Elder.

There's no shortage of museums: art museums, a Museum of Tyrolean Folk Art, the City Archive Museum devoted to Tyrolean art and the history of Innsbruck, the Royal Palace and Court Church (where folk hero Andreas Hofer is buried) with its cenotaph of the Emperor Maximilian, a pharmacy museum, and a bell museum.

Bell-casting at Grassmayr foundry
Casting a bell in the Grassmayr foundry

The unusual bell museum is part of the bell foundry of the Grassmayr family. For fourteen generations, since 1599, the Grassmayr family has been casting bells; the oldest still ringing was cast in 1636. Grassmayr makes every type of bell imaginable, from cowbells to cathedral bells and supplies customers all over the world. Visitors can watch the casting and decoration of the large bells in the foundry next to the museum.

Elisabeth Grassmayr, wife of the current director of the company, explains that the secret of the bells lies in their unique construction, for the large bells are actually musical instruments whose complex structure produces as many as 50 different musical notes. Today's art of the bell consists of calculating the precise tones of a bell. Decoration is up to the purchaser.

The oldest bells come from China, where gongs were hammered out of copper as early as 3000 B.C., but other bells were developed in distant time in Egypt and Mesopotamia. The Romans used bells in temples and in the baths. Irish and Scottish monks took the bell to central Europe in the 6th century. Modern bells are made of bronze - 78 percent copper and 22 percent tin.

The largest bell in the world was cast in 1732 in Moscow, weighing 214 tons. The oldest bell in the little museum is 1,000 years old. The numerous materials used in the production of a bell are on exhibit in the museum, and each step of bell manufacture is explained. The highlight of the museum tour is the "sound chamber," where visitors can experience, among other bells, the water bell: by striking the bell, vibrations are produced which are transferred to the water in the form of waves.

A few miles outside Innsbruck in Watten is the "world of Swarovski" - the plant, showroom and museum of the company famous for its precision cut crystal. The company, founded in 1895 by Daniel Swarovski, has expanded from manufacturing crystal studded ribbons to glass reflectors, precision optical instruments, decorative crystalline objects and figurines, jewelry, accessories, chandeliers and fabric studded with countless tiny crystals. The factory and workshops are not open to the public, but the museum, entered through a grass-covered "giant," highlights the extraordinary work of the company. The large showroom is a shopper's delight.

In 1995, the company opened its Chamber of Wonders, redeveloped a decade later by Andre Heller, a multimedia artist, into a fairytale landscape of 14 tableaux, some animated, some with sound, but all - whether paintings, sculptures or installations - glittering with the magic of the crystals. The new Chambers include such diverse attractions as British artist Jim Whiting's Mechanical Theatre, a surreal landscape of flying fashions that dance about a mysterious walking woman (all made in the company's technical department); Austrian designer Susanne Schmoegner's fantasy kingdom full of gleaming crystals; Jessye Norman on a huge screen singing the final aria from Handel's Dido and Aeneas; or the Crystal Forest of Fabrizio Piessi where fire, water and crystal encounter one another in a scene of flickering, sparkling oscillation. The humor, brilliance and imagination exhibited in this wondrous Crystal World enchants all who visit Swarovski.

Crystal design, Swarovski Chamber of Wonders
Part of the magical crystal design of the Crystal Theatre in the Swarovski Chamber of Wonders

Innsbruck offers a visitor a wealth of art, culture and sports. There are good restaurants in town and in the surrounding villages, such as in Igls, where traditional Austrian cuisine is enlivened with an accordian player and a guitarist. A guide gets in the mood by making music by blowing into plastic bags.

dinner at Aegidihof
Dinner at Aegidihof in the village of Igls, accompanied by accordion and guitar

There's no shortage of good hotels. Theatre, dance, music are all available, including such off-beat musical entertainment as a concert by the Tiroler Kaiserjaeger. The brass band keeps the traditions of the Emperor's favorite regiment, known for its love and loyalty to Austria, and performs Austrian favorites for a dirndle clad audience.

"We are a rich town," Elizabeth Grossmayr says as she guides visitors through the Old Town. She's right. Innsbruck will ring a bell for any visitor.


Getting There:
The closest nonstop destinations from the U.S. are Munich, Vienna and Zurich. From there, it's a short hop to Innsbruck's airport, or a pleasant short train journey from all three cities.

Innsbruck's old, elegant five star hotel is the Grand Hotel Europa located across the street from the railway station and a few blocks from the Old Town. It's an old-fashioned hotel, furnished in Tyrolean style, although many of the rooms are being modernized. Rooms have large bathrooms. The hotel has a first class restaurant; service is excellent.

The Penz is a highly recommended contemporary style hotel on the edge of the Old Town. It's geared for business travelers as well as tourists. The hotel doesn't have a restaurant but breakfast is included in the rates and the breakfast buffet located on the top floor of the hotel - with terraces offering a magnificent view of the Alps - is sumptuous.

Der Riese Haymon (Haymon the Giant) is a cozy restaurant serving typically Austrian specialties in the center of town. The restaurant is named for the giant who slew another giant and then, filled with remorse for his deed, became a Christian and a dragonslayer.

Hotel Goldener Adler, where Mozart is said to have stayed, is located in the center of the Old Town in an historic building. The restaurant is elegantly appointed and has excellent Austrian and international cuisine.

Pferdesportranch is a horse farm on the south side of Innsbruck, near the village of Axams and near the southern ski areas. Sleigh rides are part of the fun when visiting the farm. Food is simple, served family style.


For general information on Innsbruck, see

Let Corinna know what you think about her traveling adventure.

* * * * *

I found a Mich Goss J. Grassmayr Innsbruck bell with Jesus, a crucifix and a flower on it. Do you have any information about it you can share with me? Many thanks.

--- Liz, San Bernardino, CA

I don't have any information on that specific bell. If she wants information, "Liz" in San Bernardino should contact the factory. Here is the information: Address Grassmayr Foundry and Bell Museum, Leopoldstrasse 53, Inssbruck, A-6010 Austria. Telephone: 43 512-59416-0. Fax: 43 512-59416-22. E-mail: or


Been there -- thought I'd done it -- you proved me wrong. Great travel coverage -- even for those who have lived there.

--- Bill, Redmond, Oregon

Corinna, my dear,

What a wonderful series of words you have collected together to paint a mesmerizing story about one of my favorite places. Even though I've traversed these same locales as you many times, your delightful descriptions made me want to book a flight this very second and see again some of the places that time did not allow me to linger in before. Your photos are also riveting, and I loved the pantyhose one - what a clever, sexy way to promote that article of the female form. Your colorful words make the entire region literally come alive before my eyes - a rare gift for any writer! Bravo and again Congrats on your top notch feature. Best regards.

Best regards,

--- John C., Palos Verdes, CA

Hello Corinna,

This is very roundabout ... I was recently teaching (Legal Reasoning) in Kabul and encountered Ann Geracimos, who said she knows you from the Times. She recently provided me with an electronic version of your 2007 piece about returning to Frankfurt (which I enjoyed very much). Jonelle and I are well (and enjoying our 3 grandchildren, who live within blocks of our house). I hope you are well. I will now look for your travel writing regularly.

Best regards,

--- Howard De Nike - San Francisco, CA

What an amazing background Ms. Lothar has! I enjoyed her article very much. I found it to be quite intriguing, especially the interpreter school bit.

--- Melinda, Boise, ID

I loved your article on Metz.

I was an exchange student living there from 1981-1982 and have always felt like Lorraine was the most overlooked part of Europe.

You really captured the feel of the city with your photo and articles.

--- Al Stewart, Seattle, WA

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