This morning we do a tour of Innsbruk, a little by bus and a little on foot. Our guide (who is dressed in a beautiful traditional Austrian dress) tells us about Innsbruk in particular and Austria in general. The city has a population of 120,000 and is the capital of the state – Tyrol. University in Austria is free and, since Innsbruk has a lot of colleges and universities (including medical training), many students come here. She tells us that, due to the excellent health system, the social safety nets, and free university, the taxes are extremely high. Sounds a little bit like home…
High above us on a rock outcropping, the Olympic ski jump soars into the sky. It was designed by a famous architect and rebuilt in 2000. All around, the ranges of the Alps are stacked in order of height, a ring of promontories measured in a thousand metres and up, then a ring measured in two thousand metres and up. The latter are still sprinkled with snow, which makes them glint in the distance, whiter than the clouds, piercing the sky.
We visit a park just below the ski jump, where the ubiquitous statues to war heroes stand polished and proud. Andreas Hofa, a farmer who became a hero when he defended Innsbruk against the French and Bavarians, is now a huge bronze figure in a sweeping hat. Shields – the kind that decorate many houses here – are painted on various wooden signs. The red eagle: symbol of Tyrol. Two headed black eagles: the symbol of monarchy. Here, the power was under the Kaiser and Kaiserin – the Emperor and Empress – the people who held the wealth and the fate of the people in their hands. Those who dwelt in luxury while others starved. I wonder – has the world actually changed that much?
Inside the Wilten Basilica, we are amazed by the soft pink colours, the marble, the paintings, all a comforting, uplifting pastel. Our guide tells us the influence was feminine, and (I don’t know why) we laugh. The style is known as rococo, which the wikipedia states was a late baroque period when artists “gave up their symmetry and became more ornate, florid and playful”. This church certainly displays that artistic flare to the fullest, with its golden swishes across the ceiling and the lifelike angels and carvings dancing on the walls. The word rococo might have come from the word “shell” and I can see why this is might be correct: the colours resemble the inside of a seashell.
On the way up the mountain to the village of Igls, we pass a bell factory. The Grassmayer family has its own symbol: a crowned angel on top of the bell. We also pass the stadium, where Andre Rieu is going to appear, so I say hello to him for my cousin Janine. The monastery is a beautiful, reconstructed building of deep ochre and while framed windows. It’s outstanding.
We wind up the mountainside, passing deep green pastures with goats, cows, and sheep, a few horses here and there, the sloped rooftops and painted shutters post card perfect. Flower boxes overflow with geraniums. Always in the background, those giant mounds of earth, silent and steady, look down upon us, snowcaps flashing in the glimpses of sunlight here and there.
We stroll around the little village of Igls, which is a place you might envision out of Heidi. At some point, we wander into a little store, where Wendy and MJ write out their postcards. The clerk says, “I’ll be right back” and he leaves us standing in the shop, alone, for about five minutes. Ahh, the safety of a little community.
When we return to the city, we walk through a huge park which at one time served as a vegetable garden and hunting ground for a Duke. Now, the lake at its centre sports a music pavilion and is open for everyone to enjoy. We enter the Old City through ancient stone archways. Here the buildings are tall and narrow, painted blues and greens and hues of yellow and orange and coral. One of them is flamboyant with its rococo shapes and splashes.
When we see the Golden Roof, at first I’m a bit surprised by its size. I had pictured something larger. But of course, it’s high above a balcony, so it’s probably huge. It was built in 1500 to frame Maximilian I as he stood upon the balcony to make his pronouncements to the people. The royal box itself is decorated with images, coats of arms and paintings of Maximilian and his two wives.
We visit the Swarovski store (I had no idea these crystal creations began in Austria) and wander through the myriad of colourful buildings. In a little kellar café, we have a delicious lunch. Carolyn tries on a Heidi hat and a gentleman passing by offers his pipe to use in the picture too. We decide to call Carolyn the Heidi Ho.
Mary Jo, Wendy and I tour the Hofburg Palace. This is where the provincial royals used to live. The opulence is stunning: for instance, a six-foot-long table spread with bronze centerpieces, silver and a myriad of glasses – this was their dessert setting. Paintings everywhere. Furniture and walls covered in silks, astonishing shades of red and pink and blue. It’s interesting that Kaiserin Maria Theresa redecorated the palace with images of herself, her husband, and her children, rather than the tradition of displaying the royal ancestors. Our audio guide notes that she also gave no special distinction between male and female: all sixteen of her children are portrayed and arranged in order of birth only.
A video shows Innsbruk through the 1930’s to 2009 and we shiver as we see the palace courtyard, empty below us now, crowded with people in Nazi uniforms.
On the way out of the palace, MJ discovers that she has lost her ticket and must crawl under the gate to exit. All on video from the front desk.
We grab a taxi back to the hotel and Heidi Ho tries to kiss the driver.
Later, we have a meeting to prepare for Oberammergau. We divide into groups and are asked to talk about what we think the world needs; what the power of positive thought could be asked to do for the earth. Our group lists tolerance, understanding of other cultures, compassion, our Earth’s health. We need a council of spiritual leaders who will cross religious boundaries and speak up to save the earth. We need reform in this particular church in which I was raised, says one of our group: for instance, we should have female leaders.
Several of the groups make very different pronouncements, the kind that have been the reasons for my turning away from this closed, power-centric culture in which I lived, was educated and worked. I don’t believe we “are the church” – no, as in the words of a song from a few years ago – we “are the world”. Kitty says we need a prophet, someone who will speak truth to power. I agree with her. I can no longer sit in the pew of a church that is separatist, misogynistic, homophobic and dictatorial. One that holds untold wealth in dusty chambers while many in the world go hungry or have no roof above their heads. One that merely speaks platitudes while humans continue to commit atrocities on one another. One that merely apologizes for abusing little children. One that sits on the sidelines and allows the need for control to override the need for community, forgiveness, justice and action.
After all my "deep thoughts", I return to the room and find MJ standing, arms akimbo, hair sprouting all over her head, and an acrid smell permeating the air. MJ has burned her bangs with the curling iron! The scent of a woman…who has burned her hair.
At dinner, several glasses of wine and memories of the hilarious adventures of Mary Jo Fitzpatrick, as well as my mother Maureen in Israel, ease the tension in my shoulders. I put down the mantra of anti-religion and decide to enjoy the ride. After all, that's what I came to do. And in the end, I do believe in the power of love.