Monday Musing: Ich bin Brixener

All cities and towns in the Südtirol (South Tyrol) have two names: a German and an Italian one. Indeed, the Südtirol itself is called Alto Adige in Italian. The largest city in the province (and its capital) is Bozen in German, Bolzano in Italian. The second-largest is Meran (German) or Merano (Italian). The third largest is where I live (and which is my wife Margit's birthplace) and it goes by the names Brixen and Bressanone. Now large is only a relative term. About as many people live in Brixen as work in the Empire State Building every day: ~20,000. Bozen, which is 40 kilometers to the south of us, has a population of a little over 100,000.

The streets in these cities and towns also have two names, German and Italian, and which is to be listed first on street signs has been a divisive and contentious concern in the past, the signs having been changed every few years for some time. (German names are now listed first, in a symbolic Italian bestowal of autonomy on its odd German-speaking province.) Half the Tyrol was annexed by Italy in 1919 according to the Treaty of Saint Germain, after the decisive defeat of the Austro-Hungarian army in 1918. The northern half of the Tyrol remains part of Austria to this day with Innsbruck as its capital. The population of the Südtirol, however, had an uncomfortable relationship with the Italian federal government, especially after the fascists adopted a policy of Italianization in the province after the mid-twenties. After WWII, and up until the 60s there was a small but active armed independence movement in the province. Since then, things have been relatively calm, and the German-speaking majority seems to live without explicit tension with the twenty-something percent Italians now amongst them. The removal of formal borders between Austria and Italy (because of the Schengen Treaty) and the adoption of a common currency have also made it possible for the Tyroleans in the north and the south to feel more united. And Austria provides special privileges to students from the Südtirol who wish to study at universities there, so a large number of students go there rather than attend Italian colleges. The medium of instruction at primary and secondary schools in the Südtirol is mostly German, but there are also Italian schools. But enough recent history. The city I am living in is a lot older than all this.

Brixen lies in the Eisacktal, which is the valley carved out by the river Eisack in the Alps. This basin was populated even in the stone age. The view from the balcony of my apartment in the photo below [all photos here are my own except the one of me, which was taken by Margit] shows the Eisack flowing in the foreground. In the background, the sun is rising from behind Plose, a peak of about 8,500 feet. My apartment is at about 2,000 feet above sea level.


The area was eventually captured by Drusus, the stepson of Emperor Augustus, and then in 15 B.C. incorporated into the Roman province of Rhaetia. (So I guess capture by the Italians is not such a new thing here.) After the fall of the Roman empire, it became part of the Bayern dukedom in 590. In 901 King Ludwig the Child donated it to Bishop Zacharias. The official modern birthday of the city of Brixen is September 13, 901.

In 970, the Bishop Albuin moved his residence from Saben (Klausen) to Brixen, and after the turn of the millennium (yeah, that millennium) a wall was built around the city. This past Thursday, Margit and I rode our bikes from Brixen to Klausen (about 12 km from our apartment) on a lovely bicycle path which runs next to the Eisack all the way, and then climbed straight up 800 feet to Saben (Bishop Abuin's former residence), which you can see at the top of the photograph below. You can also see Margit on her bike in the lower right hand corner.


Brixen became the capital of the province after Emperor Konrad II donated it to Bishop Hartwig in 1027, before most of the province was taken over by the Counts of Tirol in the 1200s. In some form or other, the Holy Roman spiritual princedom of Brixen, consisting of the small towns of Brixen, Klausen, Bruneck and some district courts, survived until its secularization in 1803. Almost all the historical information about Brixen given above was first gleaned (and then rechecked from other sources) from the informational pamphlet provided by the tourism office of Brixen. The pamphlet also states:

Brixen remained the center of art and education throughout the Middle Ages, gained civic self-administration on the threshold of modern times, lived on trade and craft and had to bear the accommodation of mercenaries. After 1803 Brixen became a little province town and its economic position did not recover until the beginning of tourism, favored by the mild climate and natural beauty of Brixen.

Today Brixen prides itself on its good reputation as a health spa, and as a place with a lot of art treasures and valuable collections.

The Rienz river empties into the Eisack at Brixen. The region is self-sufficient in electricity generated from these waters. In the photo below you can see the Eisack on the left (I am standing on a bridge across it) and the Rienz coming down on the right side. They join a couple of hundred meters behind where I am standing:


In the 10th century, a cathedral was built in Brixen, and this building today dominates the town square (known as the Domplatz). The photograph below shows the Domplatz from the south side of it looking north (the building with the green roof is the town hall):


The “Dom” of the Domplatz can be seen here (looking northeast from the south):


The Domplatz has various interesting features, such as this fountain sculpture designed by Martin Rainer:


or this Jesus:


And here is a closer look at the town hall (notice the German first, Italian second):


In 1909 a “Millennium Column” was built to celebrate a thousand years of the city's history. There is a statue of the Bishop Zacharias, and at the top a lamb, which is Brixen's heraldic symbol:


The old city center itself is very pretty with narrow meandering cobblestone streets (closed to motor traffic, but you can go on bicycles) lined with privately owned shops (sorry folks, no Gap Kids, Victoria's Secret, Banana Republic, or even a single McDonald's to be seen anywhere here) and cafes and other places that are clean and well-lighted:


There is a lot of tourism (mainly Germans, Austrians, and Italians) all year round. In the summer there is hiking and mountain climbing, biking, hang-gliding, etc., and in the winter some of the best skiing in Europe. Innsbruck, where the winter olympics have been held twice (1964, 1976) is only an hour away (I went on Friday and saw the outlandish and huge ski jump at Bergisel designed by Zaha Hadid there) by car through the Brenner Pass. The mountain behind my apartment in the first photo, Plose, has a ski run with a five thousand foot vertical drop on it. There are luxury hotels (and some cheaper ones) in Brixen to cater to the tourists. One of the oldest and best-known (and near my house) is The Elephant:


Now, for those of you who read my last column at 3QD, I am extremely happy to report that Frederica is COMPLETELY healthy and VERY happy in her new home:


Freddy pawing at a ball I have thrown, and in her typical nap position on our bed, on the right.

When she was a young girl, Margit received a bike as a birthday present which she apparently did not like because it was not stylish enough for her self-image. She never rode it, but her parents have kept it in good condition for more than a quarter century. It is now mine, and with pride I have named it Red Dragon:


This one-speed girls' bike gets me everywhere. Margit has her own 21-speed new bike, but the Silver Bullet (as she has named it) can never beat the Red Dragon!

All my previous Monday Musings can be seen here.

Ich wünsche euch eine gute Woche!