Kaltenbrunn Bahnhof

IMG_2305Kaltenbrunn Station, a charming little ruin on the rail line between Mittenwald and Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Trains haven’t stopped there since 1984.  When we pass it I am often reminded of the one in the movie The Station Agent.

753827720_CTSeo-LIn the movie, loner and train-enthusiast Fin McBride (Peter Dinklage) inherits this property from his boss and only friend, and thus his life begins anew.

(2nd image from here.)

Posted in Germany, travel | 2 Comments

We’re Doomed

Sure, the refugee situation is grabbing all the headlines, but what are we going to do about the Giant Ant Infestation currently spreading over Tyrol? They’ve already reached Hochzirl!


Posted in art, Austria, current events, travel | 3 Comments

Nazi Bedtime Stories

The next estate dissolution in which we took part involved the sale of a rather large piece of land in the middle of Munich. A rich textile-industry dynasty family had a villa there with a spacious guest house, and basement garage for classic autos (with a car elevator), and the entire property had been sold. The owner’s mother came from Prussian nobility. Many of the thousand-plus books were from assorted family collections, brought together and stored out of sight and forgotten. One could get a vague sense of family life from one child’s horse book collection, or the 1930s German law publications pointing to a lawyer in the family, right next to a shelf with German resistance memoirs. The art books were in the living room, the romance novels upstairs.

It was in this large, scattered accumulation that I first held in my hand an actual Nazi children’s book.


Fünf Wiegen und noch eine” (Five Cradles and One More) is an odd little work. Author Henrik Herse was an SS-Obersturmführer and “Fünf Wiegen” contains perhaps autobiographical musings, although it’s hard to say (the narrator is a somewhat impoverished writer with five children and a sixth on the way. The author was a senior officer in the SS, and I don’t know how many kids he actually had). I called it an odd little work but it  was probably typical of many war-time children’s books, no matter the era or location. What it seeks to do is to “familiarize children within the SS Family of their roots and culture”* through children’s rhymes, prose and symbols of Nordic and Germanic origin. [All quoted passages translated by the blog author.]

The goal — it would be impudent to think one knows it. Much more important than what lies in the distance is the way there. We must bring it to its conclusion in a way that does not shame us.

(IOW: it’s not important for you to know where this Reich is heading but you’d better be on board.)


There are sweet stories of family life in a big house in the country, interspersed with nursery rhymes. Stories of simple meals laid out on the big oaken table, of birthday rituals, of hunger and poverty born with pride, of Christmas trees. The narrator speaks of living a quiet and taciturn life, of the next child being accepted into “our circle”, into which “we don’t let everyone”. I began to wonder what kind of effect stories like this had on the children waiting restlessly in bomb shelters all over Germany. They would begin to dream of being a part of this happy family in the country, of being the “next child”. It would have planted a seed in their impressionable minds, of some rare and holy place where only the best and bravest little Nazis could go. Or was it an exclusive book, only for the children of the elite SS?

At times it reads like a journal or a personal blog. Halfway through the tone gets a bit darker and more urgent. Words like “enemy” and “battle” start appearing in the prose. And always, the idea of Keeping the Faith. His thoughts go here:

It is not so easy to live this life of ours on to its end. It is not always a song which one wants to sing. There are cares upon cares, and they are greedy and want to eat you through and through.
And some men have thrown it all away, and have fled as cowards. To their deaths, or to another side.
That is the most wretched form of desertion, and death should first come to them.
Is love then eternal? many ask. Is that happiness?
Yes!! But only if you are strong enough to win and keep it! The greatest victories are in the battles for our lives.


None too obscure and none too small,
none to die senselessly and alone,
because the holy torch I was given
I will pass on as the flame of eternal life.

What can I say? Some people have reality TV shows, some people have religious movements. It has the same ring as some early Christian writings. Probably not a coincidence.

What is difficult, is to have courage. To have so much courage that the blows don’t matter in the least. To hold your head up against the blows! The head and ribs can withstand much, when the heart inside beats in resistance.

Those poor victimized fascists.

The poems are now no longer about babies and Mother, but of iron-man strength, of battle, of swords, of blood and of German soil and imminent beatings!  And then, suddenly, we’re back to cradles again, and stories of his children’s births.


The NSDAP was definitely onto something when they began starting them young. Research suggests that our 14-yr-old brains are “imprinted” with the music and literature which will stay important to us throughout our lives. While the nursery rhymes in “Fünf Wiegen” are for small children, the prose passages are not. These, rather, would have been noticed by them, but understood by 12-14 year olds. What a set up. All those kids, just dying to be chosen for the special circle of fellowship and purpose. It’s almost like a “Lord of the Rings” primer from the side of the Orcs, or Hogwarts fanfic about Slytherin children (which is indeed a thing as well).

One last, important thing: this book is nothing special, there are cheap copies to be had over the Internet. It may have been everyone’s grandmother’s favorite book as a child, the one she sensibly kept hidden from her grandchildren but liked too much to throw out. These are the books that come to light after someone dies.

*I lifted that phrase from here because it is perfect. I couldn’t have said it better.

Posted in culture, Germany, history, language, literature | 2 Comments

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.

Posted in assimilation, Germany, Life Abroad, lives of others, science | 1 Comment

Summer school, self-administered

I just finished and submitted my first “real”, “paid” professional translation job. It consisted of approximately 200 words and paid a whopping six dollars, but, hey, we all have to start somewhere.

I have always wanted to break into German-to-English translation work on a part-time basis. A few years ago, I began to translate for friends — blogposts, the occasional opera review for inclusion on professional homepages — as well as for my own postings here. I felt I had a natural ability with the English language, and was interested in seeing if that ability could be developed into a way to earn some pocket money. A freelancer’s career in music means that there are some insanely busy times, and some dead times. Doing something else during those dead times would be a great way to keep me in groceries, and off social media.

I began to browse the online translation platforms to see what they are all about. As with nearly every profession these days, companies looking to save money can outsource to an army of young, broke freelancers, and it seems that some of these sites cater to that kind of translator. One of these places has basic translation tests that you must take before you can click on any offered jobs, and so, lacking any resume to speak of, I started there. Luckily I passed everything. Armed with nothing but confidence, I began to build a profile at a respected translation jobs platform.

Well. Translation work online is not what I’d expected. While I was thinking of content and sensitivity to meaning, from news articles to books, a great amount of the part-time jobs offered today involve advertizing, corporate releases, and texts involving legal, technical, or medical expertise. Where my learning-by-doing involved a couple of word processing windows, side by side, with my browser open to the Leo and Linguee online lexicons and – on rare occasion – Google Translate, professional translators are using computer assisted translation (CAT) tools. These software applications line up the corresponding text passages, supply and save glossaries (sometimes provided by the company, so that multiple translators working from different parts of the globe will all use the same terminology), check your spelling, keep any formatting found in the original, and simplify the submission and review processes.
Am I beginning to sound like a corporate manual? I have been learning a lot in the past two weeks.

Posted in assimilation, blogs, language, Life Abroad | 1 Comment


Blogging goes on summer hiatus until something bloggable presents itself. In the meantime, here are our new neighbors.


Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

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.


Sillpark Plaza and Annex
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.


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.

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.
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.

Posted in Austria, current events, history, Innsbruck, Life Abroad, memory | 7 Comments

Weekend Mountain Blogging: Maria Tax – Wolfsklamm

IMG_2034 A half-day hike above Stans to the Maria Tax Chapel. Taxen  is an old regional word for Tannen, or fir tree. Legend has it that the Virgin Mary made an appearance here in 1616,  leaving behind her handprint on a stone, a picture of which was then attached to a tree for people to come and revere it. So we have here both a stone and a tree of religious importance (I was able to find neither, unless the stone is now part of the fountain behind the chapel*.) IMG_2038 In 1627 a wooden chapel was built, in 1667 a stone one. In the same year the first hermit moved into the sacristy. IMG_2043 Sacred trees were a thing with the pre-Christian inhabitants all over Europe. Christianity treated the worship of trees as idolatry and this led to their deliberate destruction. From this site I learned a little more (translation mine):

When St. Boniface took an axe to the sacred Donar’s Oak at Geismar, Germany in 724, and didn’t get struck by lightning for it, he was able to proclaim the victory of Christianity. One sacred tree after another fell, and the Teutons were forced to drop their local religion and accept Christianity. Nevertheless many may not have forgiven Boniface for this desecration; he was slain 754 by the Frisians. According to many legends, when a sacred tree is cut, it bleeds from the sacrilege. Therefore the woodcutter asks the tree for forgiveness before cutting it. And many legends report of cruel punishments for messing with sacred trees . Ultimately behind such legends is the idea of the tree as seat of the Godhead. From a fiery burning bush God speaks to Moses; to Joan of Arc from the branches of a tree. The Buddha’s enlightenment takes place under a tree. The old-rooted idea of the sanctity of trees survived within Christianity and continues in myths and legends of holy images on or in trees. Particularly frequently encountered are sightings of Mary, or her image, in a tree. Many names of pilgrimages hold the discovery of a miraculous image in trees, such as “Mary of the linden”, “Mary of the fir tree”, “Mary in the hazel”,  “Mary of the larch”…

IMG_2045 Further along on the trail, a pair of Steinmänner guard the way. IMG_2050 Thirty minutes later, the St. Georgenberg-Fiecht Abbey looms above. I’ve been here before, but it’s getting late and so I turn in the direction of home by way of the Wolfsklamm. IMG_2052 An army of Steinmänner! It’s like an Alpine version of the Terracotta Warriors, or the Kodama tree spirits in “Princess Mononoke”. How delightful and unexpected. IMG_2057 IMG_2061 The Wolfsklamm in Stans has been renovated and, apparently, re-routed, in that the path through it no longer involves the pitch-black tunnels that I recall from my previous visit. Too bad, because they were fun in a scary way (it was the the first time I ever used my old cell phone as a flashlight out of sheer necessity). It’s possible that someone complained. [Sorry, that’s the Partenachklamm! But the Wolfsklamm bridges have all been rebuilt with sturdy new boards.] But the gorge is still impressive and well worth the €4,50 “toll”.

*The Schwazer Heimatblätter suggests a different origin: that the St. Georgenberg Abbey was having an image problem with pilgrims, due to a prominent prisoner being kept there.  It’s suspected that the monks themselves started the Mary-was-here story in order to keep the pilgrimages coming — that kind of thing is profitable for monasteries, after all.

Posted in Austria, culture, language, Mountains, nature, travel

Innsbruck, I’m Movin’ Out

My regular readers know that I tend to not to get too personal in my posts, even though the rare times when I do so seem to generate the largest direct responses (on social media, at least). But I need to tell you that a change is coming — the “location” of this blog, its epicentre, if you will, is about to shift approximately 130 kilometers/80 miles north, over an international border and out of the Alps (although, I’m happy to say, they are still clearly visible in the distance at my future home.) / Meine regelmäßigen Leser wissen, dass ich dazu neige, in meinen Beiträgen nicht zu persönlich zu werden, obwohl ich in diesen seltenen Fällen die meisten Reaktionen bekomme (zumindest auf Social Media).  Aber ich muss Ihnen sagen, dass eine Veränderung ansteht: Die “Ort” dieses Blogs, das Epizentrum, wenn man so will, ist im Begriff, sich etwa 130 Kilometer / 80 Meilen nördlich über eine internationale Grenze und weg von den Alpen zu verschieben (auch wenn ich froh bin dass sie immer noch in der Ferne von meinem zukünftigen Zuhause deutlich sichtbar sind.)

My regular readers also know that I have already spent a lot of time at the new location, and have blogged there often — perhaps more often than the old location. It’s not that I have any less affection for Tyrol! Other activities — rehearsals, teaching, packing up the apartment, socializing, some work-related projects — have taken precedence over hiking and blogging for a while. / Meine regelmäßigen Leser wissen auch, dass ich  am neuen Standort bereits eine Menge Zeit verbrachte und ich habe von dort auch oft gebloggt – vielleicht öfter, als vom alten Standort. Es ist nicht, dass ich nun weniger Zuneigung zu Tirol empfände! Andere Aktivitäten – Proben, Unterricht, Umzug, Geselligkeit, und einige Arbeits-Projekte – haben für eine Weile Vorrang vor den Wandern und Bloggen bekommen.

I won’t yet be gone from Tyrol completely, I have some irregular work to do here at least until the end of the year (perhaps longer), friends to see, etc. Nevertheless, sooner of later, I’ll be singing this song… /
Ich werde Tirol noch nicht ganz verlassen, ich habe noch einige unregelmäßige Arbeiten zu tun, zumindest bis zum Ende des Jahres (vielleicht länger). Freunde zu sehen, usw. Dennoch früher oder später, werde ich dieses Lied singen …

Just looking at those photos makes me a little weepy! But look at those cool 1960s* city buses on the Maria-Theresien-Straße, about 40 seconds in. / Ein kurzer Blick auf die Fotos macht mich ein wenig wehmütig!
Schauen Sie sich  bloß diese coolen Stadtbusse aus den Sechzigern* auf der Maria-Theresien-Straße an, im Video nach etwa 40 Sekunden.

Of course there have been plenty of moments where this song has seemed more fitting… / Natürlich gab es viele Momente, in denen dieses Lied passender schien …

*Paschberg says/sagt 1970s.

Posted in assimilation, Austria, current events, Innsbruck, music, singing, travel | 6 Comments

Weekend Mountain Blogging: Mittenwald, Scharnitz, Seefeld

IMG_1999I needed to go to Mittenwald because of something I’d promised to do, and since I had the day free it seemed like a good idea to get some hiking in along with some sights.
As there’s only so much ground one can cover in an afternoon, I broke up the journey with short train rides. First, to Mittenwald.

IMG_1992Every so often, a sign that I’m on the old original Roman road. In tracing the route over the Alps one has the advantages and disadvantages of the landscape. Humans are practical above everything: the first mule paths made by the more ancient inhabitants followed the easiest ways over. The Romans built mainly on these existing paths because they were there (once they got onto more open land they had more options). After the Roman retreat in the 4th century CE, the roads remained and continued to be used for trade, later providing for much of the route of the Via Imperii during the years of the Holy Roman Empire. And so on, through the ages, until that ancient road over the mountains is now mostly (not completely) under the B2.

IMG_1995From Mittenwald I walked parallel to the B2 on a quieter trail, to get a sense of what Goethe may have felt when he came through here for the first time, in 1786.

Left Mittelwald at 6, clear sky, a keen wind blowing, and the kind of cold only allowed in February. The near slopes dark and covered in spruce, the grey limestone cliffs, the highest white peaks against the beautiful blue of the sky made exquisite, constantly changing pictures. Near Scharnitz you get into the Tyrol and the border is closed with a rampart that seals off the valley and joins up with the mountains. It looks very fine. One one side the cliff is fortified, on the other it just goes steeply up.

IMG_1996The fortification to which Goethe refers is the Porta Claudia, built in the 17th century and named for Claudia di Medici.
Back on the train, next stop Seefeld in Tirol.

IMG_1998“Bee Hotel”

I had seen this path many times from the window of the train, and often wondered what the signs said. Were they historical markers?  No, the trail is all about bees and honey!

This bee-themed nature trail ended at Reith bei Seefeld. From there a late-afternoon train brought me back to Innsbruck.

Posted in Austria, culture, environment, Germany, history, literature, Mountains, nature, travel | 2 Comments