It tolls for thee… And on this day, me!
Some of my favorite musical sounds are chimes and bells, so I made sure to visit the one place in Innsbruck (and all the world?) that is a bell museum, factory and gift shop all in one. This is the Johann Grassmayr Glockengiesserei. Glockengiesserei translates directly to bell foundry, and the Grassmayr family has been forging and finishing their world-renowned wonderfully tonal bells since 1599 in this same building - they certainly know what they are doing.
The tour is awesome – I fell in with a school’s class field trip and although the language was German I picked up quite a bit of it (and the guide – an elderly lady who loves her job – helped me out in English on the harder parts). You step off the sidewalk into a not-too-large gift shop and I was tempted to stay right there, drawn by oodles of beautiful bells of all sizes and other mesmerizing bronze and brass creations.
But I was waved at by the tour lady who didn’t want me to miss out (in the off-season the guided tours are by prior arrangement only). Glad I followed her advice. As you step out of the gift shop down a few stairs into an interpretive display area on the bell-making process, you instantly get a feeling of the age of the building – thick stone and mortar walls, cobbled floors, low ceilings as this level is partially underground.
The next room is a sort of hands on demonstration area – our guide showed us how the tuning forks were used, we all got to bang with a mallet on four bells made of different metals to hear the differences in sound, stuck our fingers in a large upside-down bell (almost three feet in diameter) filled with water as she whacked the bell so we could feel the sound vibrations within.
The next room was into the oldest part of the foundry itself, as you can see by the photos below.
The large bell in the last photo above is their official “wishing bell” – you must make a wish and then whack it with your mallet as hard as you can. The louder the gong, the better chance of your wish fulfillment.
Around a corner or two, up a few steps then into the more modern part of the foundry where they put the finishes touches on the bells and prepare them for shipment.
Not only are they bell-making in here, but bell-ringing – they have their own personal Grassmayr Glockenspiel (carillon). A ten foot tower with over a dozen bells – for us it played a rather spectacular version of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy (one of my favorites).
The photo below shows several finished bells wrapped up and ready for shipment, as well as several bronze bowls which sound nearly as long and lovely as the bells. The large dark brownish chuck of metal standing behind the bowls in the right rear is the way-taller-than-me “clapper” for a huge bell which we did not see.
Next stop was a short video detailing the Grassmayr history, then out to a lovely bell garden as seen in the photos below, filled with old and new bells, old clappers, big clocks (clocks and bells have a symbiotic relationship here) and statues. In a few more weeks when the flowers and roses come into bloom, this garden will be gorgeous.
After a little bell knowledge I’ll end with a couple of photos of two of my favorite bell garden bells. The following blurb is from the Grassmayr website:
The secret of Grassmayr bells lies in their unique “ribbing” construction. Thus, the bells from Tyrol are actually musical instruments, whose complex structure produces several different musical notes (in large bells, as many as 50 different notes). The tonal structure of a Grassmayr octave bell, for example, distinguishes itself through its acoustically audible striking note, the prime, the upper octave, the fifth, the third and the lower octave. The challenge lies in bringing these different notes into sonorous harmony with both the other pitches in the same bell as well as with the range of notes contained in the other bells of the set.
Based on the given tonal requirements, i.e. the musical notes of already cast bells, Grassmayr calculates the new bell form and transfers them graphically as “ribbing” onto a wooden mould. With the help of this pattern, the casting form is then manufactured of loam. During the casting, molten bronze (78% copper and 22% tin) flows at a temperature of 1100° C into the bell form.
Besides the individual harmonized half-tones, the vibrant, long lasting echo (tonal duration) is one of the hallmarks of Grassmayr bells.
Fascinating! (My son would understand it all.) And even in the small bells in the gift shop – I bought one less than three inches in diameter and about that tall, cast and finished in the same methods as the larger bells – the gorgeous echo rang amazingly long with just one strike.
The bell above was made in 1736 (that’s my wee foot for scale). I love the intricacy of this one, even the scary faces at the very top. The large bell below was made in 1609, when the Grassmayr’s had only been casting for 10 years. Also a wonderful example of the craftsmanship of this historic Glockengiesserei.
Innstrasse 1 was my address at this next stop on the European tour – in beautiful Innsbruck, Austria. Look for the narrow pinkish-colored building right across from the end of the bridge in the center of the photo above. I had a tiny third floor room with tinier bathroom (less than cruise ship size) in this early 1400′s structure of thick solid wireless-blocking walls, dark wood trim and mouldings, and intricate staircases (sans elevator) that seemed to go on forever. The river in the photo is the Inn and so Innstrasse = Inn Street. “Bruecke” is actually the word for “bridge”, and this bridge connects Innstrasse with the old city center – a perfect location and base for exploring.
Surrounded by the snow-covered Alps in the heart of the Tyrol region of Austria, Innsbruck is simply stunning. Nearly every street corner yields a view of the steep and scenic mountains, so it is difficult to forget where you are (even after many, many days of globe-trotting from here to there and everywhere) or to even get turned in the wrong direction. The town is gorgeous and there is so much to see – from the famous Golden Roof (and it really is gold) as seen in the center picture above, to statues and fountains, and to their own Triumphal Arch as shown below. The south end of Innsbruck’s main artery, Maria-Theresien Street, is spanned by the Arch (modeled after those in Rome). Empress Maria Theresa ordered it built in 1765 with a twofold purpose: to honor the marriage of her son, the Duke of Tuscany (later Emperor Leopold II), and to mourn the death of her beloved husband who died during the marriage celebrations. One side of the Arch symbolizes the joyful aspect of the event, the other side sadness.
The other photo above was taken at Schloss Ambras, just a short distance from the city center. I didn’t take the time to tour this castle, but did step off the tour bus for a moment or two and wander a bit. I’ve done the bus tour thing about everywhere I’ve stopped – great for getting a general feel for the sights and sounds of the area, and for figuring out the attractions to spend more time on.
And I’m also a sucker for trains, trams and cable cars of any fashion as well as scenic mountain vistas, so one of the first things I did was walk over and catch the steep up-the-mountain funicular train to the ski areas above Innsbruck. This train was not a cog-wheel like the one we took up to Zugspitze near Garmisch (see the post The Top of Germany), but more of a cable pulley system – definitely an engineering marvel.
The train takes you across the Inn River, up to the Alpen Zoo then up to the Hungerburg - a small community at the bottom of the north ski slopes. A cable car then takes you on up to Seegrube, and one last smaller tram continues up just a bit further to Hafelekar, until you’ve got the view in the picture below. That’s Innsbruck way off in the distance, down in the valley. This high peak doesn’t have all the amenities of the level below (restaurants, ski shops, sundecks, bars) – what it does offer is a bit of extreme skiing. Long runs with slopes over 70%. I’m telling ya – they looked vertical from where I was standing! I watched a guy ski this mega black diamond course – he came into view from behind the jagged stony peak, casually skirted across the top of the snowy ”cliff” then did a slight turn and plunged downward, quickly disappearing in a spray of powder and speed. Terrifying. And I’m not afraid of heights in the least.
I took the easy way down (tram) and got a bite to eat. Carried my sandwich and Coke Light out to the sun patio (above), took my coat off, sat in my shirt sleeves and soaked up the amazingly warm sunshine while admiring the spectacular views and watching skiers and snowboarders conquer the more normal slopes. A wonderfully pleasant afternoon.
From this wonderfully pleasant vantage point, if you look straight down the mountain, across the Innsbruck valley, then up the slopes on the other side, you’ll find the Bergisel Ski Jump which I visited the next day. Innsbruck has hosted the Winter Olympics twice, utilizing this jump. It has since been “remodeled”, raised several meters and had a restaurant and observation deck added to the top, which was my lunch spot on this day.
A very, very (very) long and steep walk got me to the base of the jump near the landing area, spectator seats and Olympic torch, then a short but still very cool funicular whisked me up to the base of the actual jump structure (the back of which can be seen in the photo below). The next pic is the view from atop the restaurant, after an elevator ride up.
Slightly downhill and to the east of Bergisel is a lovely memorial park. There is also a restaurant and museum, as well as the pavilion below with yet again fabulous views (if not quite so high as Bergisel) of Innsbruck and the surrounding Alps.
A couple more shots from the Inn Bridge looking southeast and southwest, and that will be about all I can squeeze into this post. Innsbruck is wonderful and I’ll definitely have to come back here and continue exploring its beauty and history. My favorite spot in Austria, and coincidentally, just across the mountains from my favorite spot in Bavaria. I must simply be an Alp lover.
Travellers beware – the famous crystal merchant Swarovski is based here in Innsbruck and the selection of sparkly wonders is mind-blowing. Money-blowing too as many of their creations are small enough to fit into an already stuffed backpack… They have several retail locations around the city, but their largest store is co-located with the visitor information office. Pretty savvy that.
Next post will feature one of my favorite spots in Innsbruck, an all-in-one museum, shop and foundry – can you guess?
The photo below is my favorite Innsbruck tour guide and her trusty means of transport (who had just enjoyed a carrot and hunk of fresh-baked bread)…
So how many people do you know who are impressed by manhole covers? But hey, the logo of this Slovakian city is remarkably similar to our Corps Castle, don’t you think?
In talking with people and searching the internet while planning our jaunt to Europe, I kept coming across references to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia and located very near the Austrian border and Vienna. I was impressed enough to add it to the itinerary and so spent three nights here at an amazingly affordable five-star hotel (Kempinski River Park). One of the reasons to visit? It’s one of the cheapest places to vacation in Europe at the moment.
Bratislava is situated on both sides of the banks of the famous Blue Danube river, and dominated by the hilltop castle seen below. It seems as if the town castle logo is a combination of this castle and the ancient ruins of the Castle Devin just outside of town (a ninth century structure blown up in 1809 by Napoleon). Although restored and rebuilt several times, the Bratislava Castle is nearly as old as Devin.
From the castle grounds you have a spectacular view of the city, the Danube and Austria to the west. In the photo below you are looking across the wonderful “old town” or city center area to areas of newer construction. Bratislava bills itself as the “big little city” but it didn’t seem smallish at all to me. Quaint and quirky, definitely, interesting and uncrowded, yes, but not small. And hey, they have a McDonald’s, a Burger King, and I saw the big brown UPS truck running around as well.
The old town is beautiful and I explored it over several days – the centuries old buildings, narrow cobbled streets, gorgeous churches, elaborate statues and fountains (sans water this time of year)… A popular meeting place is the old St. Michael’s Gate seen in the first picture below.
The church above is St. Clare, and my favorite shop so far on this trip was just across the street from it, run by the “Poor Clares”, an order of nuns associated with the church. They earn money by the proceeds from the crafts they sell, and this shop was filled with many lovely and unique wonders. I’m a sucker for pottery and local crafts, so I had to think real hard about the one backpack I was traveling with the and space available therein (nil).
Here are more examples of the fun and quirkiness of the Bratislavans… The town “Rubbernecker” is seen everywhere and I love this sidewalk brass rendition watching the world go by, complete with signage. The next photo is my old-timey bus tour guide – a real character. He knew as much English as I knew Slovakian – none – but the tour was tape recorded in many languages so you still learned about the town. He and I became a team though as I had started early and there were no other riders on the first go-round through the old town. He was shy at first (me too), but we had fun and he pointed out the sites as I listened to the descriptions through my headphones. We both talked and laughed a lot and managed to communicate although we never understood a word.
In the next shot I captured the restaurant Paparazzi, complete with a brass-sculptured cameraman looking for a scoop. Then what about this awesome bridge across the Danube? The UFO-looking structure on top is the UFO restaurant, complete with observation deck.
Then there’s the skinniest building in old town, which houses a clock museum (which was unfortunately closed, it being Monday), and the upside-down pyramid which houses the local radio station.
Bratislava isn’t as well-known or popular a destination as other large cities in Europe, but I have a feeling that will change over the next few years as more and more people become aware of the city and its charm.
I’ll leave you with these final pictures, the “hotel taxis” offered by the Kempinski – yes, I got a ride to the old town in the Rolls Royce, and also utilized their 7 Series BMWs on occasion. Cool beans!
The large time gap between this post and the last can only mean one thing – R&R is over and I’m back in Afghanistan buried under mounds of work. Have several more travel posts in the queue though, so stay tuned…