Innsbruck, Inn, Mariahilfstr., Nordkette

To Innsbruck And The Spring!

By Reinhard Mandl*

The sun has not shown itself in Vienna for days, and it is far too cold for the beginning of March. The situation in the west of Austria is quite different: There, daytime temperatures are already like in the spring, with bright blue skies. Actually, there is nothing stopping me from getting on an early morning train to Innsbruck and taking the Hungerburgbahn up to one of the panoramic observation decks of the Alpine metropolis. The Hungerburgbahn is incidentally the only cable car included in the KlimaTicket.

Eine Reise in die Alpenmetropole

The elongated new station building shields the many platforms of the Innsbruck central station from the Südtiroler Platz square. Buses wait on the square among the hectic bustle of the Alpine metropolis. I take a little time to admire the murals of Max Weiler in the arrivals hall. The two commissioned works from 1954/55 once triggered angry civil protests. Today, the timeless decorative aesthetics of Max Weiler’s paintings, who died in 2001 at the age of 90, have long been universally recognized.

I leave the station and walk to the Eduard-Wallnöfer Square, which is bordered on the north side by the new town hall (Neues Landhaus), a building from 1938/39 which was originally planned as part of a pompous centralized forum. In front of the building stands the liberation monument that was financed by the French occupation forces after the end of the war. It bears a striking resemblance to the entrance portal of the National Socialist era building behind it and adds to the fascist architecture and use of forms of this square, which I find quite irritating.

From the Eduard-Wallnöfer Square it is only a stone’s throw to the monumental Triumphal Arch. Originally, there was a simple wooden arch here, which was erected on the occasion of the ceremonial entry of the bride of Maria Theresia’s son Peter Leopold, later Emperor Leopold II. On the south side of today’s triumphal arch, reliefs commemorate the marriage of Leopold to Maria Ludovica from Spain. Her wedding, however, was overshadowed by the unexpected death of Emperor Francis I, Maria Theresa’s husband. The sculptures and reliefs on the north side are therefore dedicated to this tragic event. This triumphal arch, built from the stones of the broken suburban gate, thus combines the basic human sensations of grief and joy like the two sides of a medal.

On the Maria-Theresia-Strasse, Innsbruck’s wide boulevard with numerous shops and noble palaces, I walk up to the Annasäule column. The Baroque memorial pillar of Mary is one of the most famous postcard views of the city. Right next to it is the new town hall, although the adjective “new” only applies in reference to the prior building. The old town hall was replaced by the current mayor’s seat in 1897. The redesign of the new town hall by the French architect Dominique Perrault, on the other hand, is quite new: The Rathausgalerien, a covered shopping mall with colourful glass windows, was built in 2002, as well as a 37-meter-high tower. I go up to the “360° bar” on the seventh floor. A narrow balcony runs around it, which offers great views in all directions. Gazing across the spires of the old town and the surrounding rooftops, I can see the districts of Mariahilf and Hötting on the other side of the river Inn, from which the city derives its name.

Herzog-Friedrich-Strasse leads me directly to the Golden Roof, the magnificent alcove balcony of Emperor Maximilian I, who asserted the Habsburg rule as the regional prince of Tyrol in 1490. The “golden roof” was the ideal place for the regent to watch tournaments and other festivities. Today it is a grateful photo opportunity, almost every snapshot succeeds!

Passing the Ottoburg restaurant, I reach the town’s namesake, the Innbrücke or “Innbridge”. On the Herzog-Siegmund bank of the Inn, I stroll down to the market hall. It is now midday and pleasantly warm. There are many people in the outdoor area of the adjacent market café. I look over the turquoise waters of the Inn onto Mariahilfstrasse, with its line-up of colourful houses. The tent-shaped roofs harmonize perfectly with the peaks of the Northern Range (Nordkette) in the background, which I find strangely alluring. It is hard to believe that you can get up there directly from the city centre in almost no time at all! Resolute, I head to the valley station of the Hungerburgbahn. The ride with the funicular railway to the Hungerburg mountain station hardly takes more than ten minutes. Incidentally, there is no castle, or “burg”, above – the name refers to a snack bar, whose small portions earned it the nickname “Hungerburg”, which was later applied to the present district of Innsbruck.

All stations of the Hungerburgbahn – one is located near the entrance to the famous Innsbruck Alpine Zoo – were designed by the British-Iraqi star architect Zaha Hadid. The regular fare up to this wonderful view of the city is 10.90 euros and includes the return trip. If you have a KlimaTicket you do not have to pay anything. However, this does not apply to the use of the Nordkettenbahnen.

From the Hungerburg mountain station, you can go even further up to the Seegrube and take a second cable car to the Hafelekar, a summit on the southernmost part of the Karwendel range at a remarkable 2334 meters above sea level. Since these mountains rise up to the north of Innsbruck, they are also called the “Northern Range”.

The ride back down is as quick as the way up. Opposite the Hungerburg valley station, I walk through the Innsbruck Hofgarten to Universitätsstrasse (University Street) and take a look at the modern building of the SOWI, the Faculty of Social and Economic Sciences of the University of Innsbruck. The award-winning building from the late 1990s is one of the showpieces of “modern Innsbruck”. The House of Music opposite the Hofburg palace is even more recent.

Aimlessly strolling through a few of the old town’s winding alleys, I almost lose track of the time. I ask a passer-by how long it will take me from here to the central station. “Five minutes, ten at the most,” the sporty Tyrolean lady replies. That should be enough!

The train to Salzburg is quite full, but many people already get off in Jenbach. As long as the sun is still peering through between the high mountain peaks, I gaze out of the window, lost in thought. As the dusk encroaches the landscape, I doze off. I am glad that I do not have to drive back to foggy Vienna by car!

My timetable on the 08/03/2022:
depart from Vienna Central Station at 6:30 am, arrive in Innsbruck at 10:44 am // depart from Innsbruck at 5:14 pm, arrive at Vienna Central Station at 9:30 pm

(CO2 emission savings compared to driving by car: 201.14 kg)

* This text is an abridged version of chapter 2 of his book Discover Austria with the KlimaTicket – 20 Trips by Bus and Rail.