Heidelberg to Innsbruck

On The Road Travel Essays

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Heidelberg to Innsbruck

Karlsruhe  Lying south of Heidelberg, this city has an instructive name: Karl's Rest. The city is a piece of "fallout" from Louis XIV's invasion of Heidelberg. Louis destroyed other towns nearby, including the castle of Prince Karl Wilhelm, who ruled Baden. Karl was sick of war and destruction, and wanted rest. So he built a new residence in the middle of his favorite hunting grounds. Thus: Karl's Rest.

The city grew, and today it is a manufacturing and oil-refining center. The Supreme Courts of West Germany are located here. The Nuclear Research Center outside the town is a major site for nuclear technology. The physicist Heinrich Hertz (whose name is the unit of wave frequency — familiar to stereo buffs) discovered electromagnetic waves here in 1894, while working at the Technological Institute in Karlsruhe.

Stuttgart  We're now deeper into the old province of Swabia, associated chiefly with romantic poets like Holderlin and Hebel, and with the charming scenery of the Swabian Alps.

Road signs announce the turnoff for the town of Pforzheim, a traditional center of goldwork and jewelry.

Stuttgart, the major city of the area, has a population of 650 thousand. What you can see most clearly from the Autobahn is its spindly radio tower, almost 700 feet high. (Look for it off to the left.) The giant tower is actually a long hollow tube, made up of large concrete "pipe sections." The walls of the sections are thick at the bottom but only a few inches in thickness at the top. This made the tower comparatively cheap and easy to construct, and accounts for its great height.

City of technology: Stuttgart is one of the commercial giants of West Germany, with a long tradition of science, printing, and engineering. During the period of the German Reformation, the city's many printing establishments made it the intellectual capital of German Protestantism. Later, Germany's most prestigious automobiles were first made here. The two pioneers of the German auto industry, Daimler and Benz, began their experiments here with the internal combustion engine. Out of their efforts came Daimler-Benz, the company that makes Mercedes. (The name Mercedes comes from the daughter of the company's most successful foreign sales agent. Too bad the poor girl hadn't bothered to copyright her name.)

Other big names in Stuttgart's industry are Porsch, Zeiss-Ikon cameras, and the largest mineral water bottling operation in Europe.

Stuttgart enjoys political prominence as the capital of the German state of Baden-Wurttemberg.

Swabian Jura (These hills begin about a half-hour beyond Stuttgart.)  Notice how these hills rise up like bumps from the plains, detached from the mountain range. They are called the "Swabian Jura." The name comes from the old province of Swabia, and the term "jura" is used by geologists to refer to a formation of moderately steep hills. These hills are packed tightly together, shaped like a German sausage as they run from north to south. The Autobahn, moving from west to east, slices through the sausage like a knife, giving us a quick eyeful of Alpine scenery.

To the right appear the first signs of the mountains: several castles perched on top of "bumps" which rise up from the valley floor, isolated from the main range. They form natural fortress sites, just made to order for the castles on top. The castles were the work of the two greatest German families of the Middle Ages: the Hohenstaufens and the Hohenzollerns. The Hohenstaufens became the Holy Roman Emperors in the 11th and 12th centuries. But then their power passed to the Hohenzollerns, who rose to prominence about 1450 and controlled the destiny of Germany until 1918. The famous "Kaiser" of World War I, Wilhelm II, was the last of the Hohenzollerns. It was his medieval ancestors who built the hilltop castles we see today.

Medieval life in the Jura: Life was rugged, especially for the peasants who dwelt in the valleys. Winter winds were harsh, water was scarce, and the uneven terrain poorly suited to agriculture. But the people were hardy, and used every ounce of their ingenuity to prevail over the stingy environment. During long winter evenings, the Jura farmers huddled around the fire, singing or telling stories. The more clever of them used this time to think up ways of making life easier for themselves. They hit upon many brilliant inventions, including new weaving techniques, well-crafted household utensils, and some of the most imaginative children's toys in Germany.

19th-century development: These ideas were developed in the 19th century, and can now be seen at work in a string of factories along the Jura, where cotton is processed and where silverware, precision tools, toys, and musical instruments like harmonicas, are manufactured. Among these people at least, adversity has mothered invention.

Ulm  Ulm's old walls, with their watchtowers and gates, are still largely intact. But its chief glory is its 14th-century cathedral. Master carvers flourished during the Middle Ages, along with skilled masons, architects, and sculptors. Supporting all this building activity was a tradition of commerce and finance, reflecting Ulm's position on the great trade route through Southern Germany.

Einstein was born in Ulm in 1879.

(Now we turn south, toward the Austrian border. COURIER: Few towns of interest go by until you come to Memmingen and the Allgau district. Use this time to begin your introductions to Austria and Innsbruck, as you'll have little time to do so once you cross the Austrian border at Fussen.)

Memmingen  Center of prosperous farming region between the Danube (which we left at Ulm) and the Alps: a broad, fairly flat basin with fertile soil. During the Middle Ages, Memmingen was a "free Imperial city" — a privileged status enjoyed by some towns. Such towns were not subject to a local duke or count, but were independent, subject only to the Emperor directly. It functioned as city-states. Some such cities (e.g. Frankfurt) even minted their own money. The town preserves its Old Quarter; from the Autobahn, you may make out several medieval towers and gateways, topped by helmet-shaped roofs. This architectural characteristic is typical of Upper Swabia, the name for this whole province (although officially this area is now part of Bavaria). Memmingen has preserved 5 towers and part of its medieval walls.

Ottobeuren (If you can see it from the Autobahn.)  Ottobeuren is the site of the world- famous Benedict Abbey, the masterpiece of German Baroque architecture. The original abbey was founded in 764, and was granted extraordinary privileges by the Emperor Charlemagne. In 1509, one of Europe's first printing presses was set up, and a school flourished, attracting students from all over Europe. The present huge abbey was built between 1711-31: 6 large courtyards, 20 major rooms, 250 smaller rooms, corridors and chapels, 5 grand staircases, 7 minor staircases. Leading German and Italian artists worked here for 20 years putting on decoration. The world-famous organ was installed by Karl Riepp, one of the masters of his day. It is the largest Baroque-style abbey in Germany (the towers are 270 feet high, the nave is 300 feet long, and the transept is 200 feet wide), 500 yards long, end to end. Like Baroque buildings everywhere, it is simple on the outside, and lavish and ornate on the inside.

The town of Ottobeuren was the birthplace of Sebastian Kneipp, the originator of hydrotherapy or hot-springs cure. There are many hot springs in this area, especially to the west, and Kneipp developed techniques for curing various ailments (usually internal organs, not just skin) by lying in mud baths, splashing in steamy water, drinking sulfuric water, bobbing, rolling, rocking, contorting, stretching, etc. The town of Ottobeuren has modern cure facilities today, open all year round.

The Allgau  The district we're traveling through is called "The Allgau." Basically, it consists of the foothills of the Austro-Bavarian Alps. At the beginning, as we've seen, the land is flat; but the hills become steeper, then the mountains. This land is perfect for grazing; the mountain pastures extend right up to the highest peaks. The high-grade cows with their traditional tinkling bells, produce creamy milk and rich cheeses. For the most part, the landscape is gently rounded hills; up in the steeper mountains, there are many lakes (over 40), and forests of firs. There are also many resort hotels and inns. The area is popular in both winter and summer; winter skiing, and summer hiking. The Alpine meadows are full of flowers: brilliant blue gentians, edelweiss.

The towns are full of art and architectural treasures, and famous castles like Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau. There are over 50 spas in the Allgau, thanks to the many mineral springs. Many towns have "Bad" (bath) in their names, especially to the west of Memmingen: e.g. Bad Schussenried, Bad Worishofen, Bad Wurzach, etc. In the winter, the snowfall is reliable, thanks to the air masses over the Alps; good roads make ski runs easily accessible, adding to the region's popularity for winter sportsmen.

Kempten  The capital of the Allgau district. It is one of the oldest towns in southern Germany: it goes back to the Roman settlement named Cambodunum, mentioned by Greek geographer Strabo (born 63 B.C.). Excavations have been made, revealing old pavements, walls, and bits of household items. There are many medieval buildings, remarkably well preserved (e.g. Kornhaus, the old grain exchange).

Kempten today: As the Allgau is grazing land, Kempten is an agricultural center, especially for dairy goods. Light industry consists of spinning and weaving, and precision instruments; Kempten is one of Europe's leading centers for packing-materials production.

Nesselwang  A winter sports resort is located at the foot of two peaks: Alpspitze and Edelsberg. It has the charming look of a typical Alpine village, with a church belfry standing out. There are ruins of an old castle, called Nesselburg. The cable railways operate all year round.

Pfronten  A sprawling resort, is strung out for 2-1/2 miles along the road, dominated by the crest of the Falkenstein. On this peak stands an old ruin (Falkenstein Castle), which the famous "Mad Ludwig" (Ludwig II) of Bavaria wanted to replace with a mammoth neo-Gothic castle in the style of Neuschwanstein. He had to give up the project. Many popular ski lodges are located here, freshly painted. Ski lifts hoist sportsmen up to heights in all directions.

Fussen  One of the most popular of all these winter resorts we've been seeing. The town is situated in the narrow gorge of River Lech, where the river forms a waterfall (Lechfall), spilling into an artificial lake, Forggensee, formed by a dam. A high-elevation climatic resort, with sulphur spa. Above the old town: Hohes Schloss. This castle was a summer residence of the Archbishops of Augsburg. In the town: the Abbey of Mang, and parish church.

Crossing the Austrian border.

Reutte  The chief town of the Ausserfern district. The district is so-called because it is "beyond" (i.e. north of) the Fern Pass, which lies ahead of us. We're in the basin of the Lech Valley, which meanders off to our right toward the Austrian town of Lech. All along here are the famous painted houses, an Alpine feature that became popular in the 18th century. Some of the houses were the work of the great Johann Zeiller (1708-83), from a local family of artists who spent their lives painting churches and houses. (Small, minute craftsmanship is generally typical of mountain regions, as we noted when going through the Swabian Jura; perhaps the rigors of life in such terrain bred a patience that couldn't exist under easier circumstances. The Swiss are another obvious example.) Reutte is a popular winter and summer resort. Hikers like to walk 3-5 miles to a series of mountain huts, furnished as picturesque inns.

Lermoos  Another popular resort, with exceptional views. (Point out Zugspitze.) Peaks all around, making this one of the most scenic towns in the Austrian Alps. In the summer, concerts and theater performances are given in the town square.

Fern Pass  In the 15th century, this was the main route between Augsburg and Venice. Augsburg, a great banking center, and Venice, a major trading center, were constantly in communication, and this pass was the only link. Whoever controlled the pass controlled the lifeline of trade, and an armed force was used to keep the pass open.

Fernstein  This was a particularly key defense. Steep walls made defense easy. A fortified bridgehead, with traffic regulated by the tall building with the sloping roof. Fernsteinsee (to our left): a wooded island with the ruins of a hunting lodge built by Duke Sigmund of the Tyrol (1460).

Telfs  In the spring, a popular festival of masks ("Schleicherlaufen") is held, attracting spectators from Innsbruck.

Zirl  Local vineyards, producing popular red wine. Here are the ruins of the large 13th-century castle of Fragenstein, up on the Zirlerberg, which controlled the medieval road to Bavaria.

Bavarian Alps  These mountains become, over the Austrian border, the Austrian Alps. But they're a single chain, which came into being ten thousand years ago. Massive glaciers in what is now Switzerland began to expand eastward. Acting as giant shovels, they scooped up earth, rocks, and whole mountains as they gouged their way across the land. The glaciers halted just before the spot where Munich stands today. All this debris was left in huge piles, and these piles are now the Austro-Bavarian chain. It has been estimated that the glacier that carved the Inn River Valley must have been 5,000 feet thick.

Approaching Innsbruck  About 2 or 3 miles beyond Zirl, the road circles around a huge, protruding bulge in the mountainside to the left. This portion of the mountain is known as the Martinswand (St. Martin's Wall). According to legend, the popular Emperor Maximilian, who ruled Austria about the time Columbus discovered America, had a mishap here which turned out well in the end. "Emperor Max," as he was affectionately known to his subjects, loved to hunt in this area, claiming that it was an important way of getting to know his humbler subjects out in the woods and country towns. One day, he was hunting up on the Martinswand and his horse lost its footing and hurled him to the ground. He began to roll down the mountain, but as he approached a cliff, an angel in the form of a peasant caught hold of him. His kindness to his humbler subjects hadn't been forgotten.

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