Sunday, July 17, 2016

Alto Adige

My readers know that Red Baron is member of the Museumsgesellschaft, Freiburg's oldest civic society. Once a year we start out for a Museumsreise, an annual trip exploring cultural highlights in regions that can still be reached by bus. In 2012 we were in southern Burgundy, in 2013 we visited Cologne and the Roman Rhineland, in 2014 we saw inner Switzerland, in 2015 we explored the south of the Harz mountains, and this year we went to South Tyrol, a region named Alto Adige in Italian that will translate into Oberetsch (Upper Etsch). The Etsch is the famous river that in former times was referred in Germany's national anthem as the southern border of all German-speaking people.

The Etsch bordering marble town Laas (see below)
In fact South Tyrol was part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire before 1918. In the peace treaty of St. Germain following the First World War this German-speaking region was assigned to Italy.

In Merano, our headquarter during the trip, today still 70% of the population is of German mother tongue whereas 50 kilometers further south in Bolzano 70% of the inhabitants rather speak Italian. Advertising and street signs in Alto Adige are bilingual but the farther you move south the more Italian becomes dominant.

You will find an extensive gallery of photos of our trip on the Museumgesellschaft's web site. Here I shall concentrate on some highlights and curiosities.

In Merano we stayed at the Bellevue, a classical hotel that had seen better times.

Most impressive were the nostalgic double doors to the rooms with classical keys. Red Baron occupied room number 006, one short of 007.

Franz Kafka was a frequent guest at the spa. In the background stands the 19th-century Lutheran church that attracted rich people from the north of Germany looking for warmer weather.

On our walk through Merano we passed the following trilingual text:

Sadly enough, this terrible event has been surpassed.
A truly international lunch: Italian Prosecco, Danube Monarchy Kaiserschmarren
(sweet cut-up pancake with raisins and wild cranberries),
and Merano sparkling water all served by a Hungarian waiter.
On our way to Bolzano we noticed a strange roundabout decorated with old buffers near the train station, where else?.

In Bolzano we visited the Tyrolean iceman. Ötzi, the wet mummy, is on display at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology.

Still at minus 6 degrees centigrade with ample DNA.
Ötzi was discovered in the Ötztal (sic!) Alps in 1991 freed from a glacier that is suffering from climatic change. Free at last after more than 3000 years conserved in ice.

For lunch I dug into classical Austrian Mehlspoisen (pastries and cakes): 

Apricot cake, cherry strudel, and iced coffee (Eiscafé).

Another highlight of our trip was the visit of the marble quarries at Laas. Here a railcar of the Vintschgaubahn with the name Usedom enters Laas station.

In the background the marble storage area.
A mystery: Why does the name of a small island in the Baltic Sea, now split between Poland and Germany, figure as the train's name?

We were told that marble from Laas is better than Carrara marble. The reason: Laas marble formed at higher geological pressure is finer-grained, has a higher density, and therefore is more resistant to wear and chemical attack. This is why the new WTC in New York ordered all their marble plates and panels - the only production that is still profitable - at Laas.

Marble for eternity at the cemetery in Laas. Mind you, they do not pay for the stones.

Austrian Emperor Francis I visited Laas while taking a cure in Merano.
A heavy souvenir

In 1966 Elisabeth and I visited the St. Proculus church in Naturns where I took photos with a Zeiss Contax  in B&W.

At that time the place was open to the everybody, the interior of the church was cold and damp but at the wall there were impressive frescos dating back to the 8th century.

Once of the scenes shows the Apostle Paul on a swing? It happened while Paul (aka Saul) was in Damascus. The story goes like this : After many days had passed, the Jews conspired to kill him, but Saul learned of their plot. Day and night they watched the city gates in order to kill him. One night, however, his disciples took him and lowered him in a basket through a window in the wall ... (Acts 9:23-25)

Here are the same motifs 50 years later and in color taken with my iPhone 6S Plus. Color is the killer. As far as contrast and sharpness are concerned, what a technical progress!

There were more frescos at Castle Rodenegg illustrating the Iwein-Cycle.

A fresco at Schloss Rodeneck showing the castle in its surroundings

Iwein, a knight from King Arthur's Round Table, before fighting King Aschelon (Askalon) meets the Woodman and passes the two Germanic trees, the oak and the linden tree.

Following their lance bout (right) the two kings continue their fight drawing their swords with Iwein hitting Aschelon right on his head (left).

On our way back in Brixen I noticed a commemorative plate in the prince-bishop's church.

Palace of Brixen's prince-bishop.
The  entrance to the church is the one in the back.

Pope Pius VI was there on May 23, 1782, on his way back from Vienna. There he had tried in vain to convince Emperor Joseph II to rescind his decision on closing monasteries and making monks and nuns do useful work in education and nursing care. When the pope insisted Joseph simply answered: Tempi passati (Times have passed).

In the cloisters of Brixen's cathedral we saw more outstanding frescos, this time in Gothic style.

Adoration of the Magi

St. Christopher
Before the long leg back to Freiburg some of the group visited the Dark Innkeeper (Finsterwirt) for lunch.

A perfect translation

Pork loin with polenta and 0,1!! liter of local rosé wine. That was all.

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