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EU > Austria > Innsbruck

Up in the mountains

Innsbruck, AT (View on map)

There are very few places in Innsbruck that do NOT offer a magnificent view on the surrounding mountains. Situated on the banks of the river Inn ? hence the name of the city ? Innsbruck provides a perfect gateway into the Tyrolian mountains. Coming from a country that is almost as flat as a pancake, I am obviously very eager to find out what life surrounded by mountains looks like.

Jana (22):

..never really missed 'her' mountains because she never left them for longer than three weeks
During the past few months, landscape has proved to be one of the most decisive factors in how people think. Tyrol is not an exception to that rule. People who were born in Tyrol grow up with love and respect for the mountains, and love and respect for nature as a bonus. Only the unfortunate ones who live in the very narrow and sunlight-deprived valleys may have a different opinion - so the suicide numbers tell.

Innsbruck-born Jana (22, photo) is quite clear in how she feels about the mountains: `I love them and I need them. So far, Jana has never been away from home for longer than three weeks, which she thinks is probably the main reason why she has never really missed them. I do know that I easily get lost on flat terrain. I use mountains as reference points to find my way. They are my mountains and they are currently in perfect shape: still plenty of snow on top while the grass looks fresh and green. I love snowboarding, which you can do close to the city for 7 months out of each year. I don`t think there are any people in Tyrol who cannot ski. It`s something you grow up with, in the same way people near the ocean will learn how to swim. Parents will teach their children the basics, and all schools will organise skiing points at one point during their program.`

Yvonne (26) did not realize how much she loved the mountains until she spend a study semester in Spain. `I now care about them more than I did before. I can now sit on my balcony and marvel at the sight of the mountains. I just sort of took them for granted, before realizing how they are typical and different from most other mountains I have seen elsewhere. The valleys are very narrow, the slopes are steep. I wonder how they got born from what used to be flat land.`

Yvonne tells me about the various rituals associated to the mountains: `Whenever the summer season is over, farmers go to the higher meadows to collect their cattle and take the animals back down to the valley. On another day at the end of summer, a religious ritual prescribes that cross-shaped fires shall be lit on the slopes of the mountains, in such a way that they can be seen down in the valley. I don`t know exactly what the event relates to, but it is well worth seeing.` `There are also plenty of songs that put the mountains at the centre of attention. `There are plenty of children songs that praise the mountains. Older people may also sing if they hike in groups. Yodeling has become old-fashioned. I don`t know anybody who can do it. Only the sarcastic Piefkesagen which make fun of the stereotypes Germans have about Austrians, will contain contemporary examples of people yodeling: typically an old man next to a hut who starts singing whenever German tourists approach just to keep the stereotype alive and make some money out of tourism.`

Tyrolians are very conscious about nature and they will take care not to leave any rubbish behind. Yvonne explains: `They simply carry it along with them, back down again once they return to the valley. I`ve seen other countries where people just leave all their trash in the mountains thinking that it will somehow vanish of the face of the earth. I don`t know if there is any public service in Tyrol that actively cleans the mountains. It`s just common use not to produce any waste. Fortunately, Tyrol is a big area with plenty of mountains, so it doesn`t easily get overcrowded. Except for the resorts obviously. But the areas that only have huts are usually very quiet. Overcrowded is a relative term. We call the mountains overcrowded if one person up in the mountain unintentionally makes a stone roll down the mountain which then incidentally kills somebody on its way down. We would classify such an event as due to overcrowdedness.`

The impressive Tyrolian mountains keep inviting people to climb them and reach their tops. Some people come unprepared or simply have bad luck. `Every year, several people die in avalanches, they fall down cliffs, get killed by falling rocks or otherwise do not survive their mountain adventures`, Yvonne says. `Even though Tyrolians consider dying in the mountains a glorious death, it would not be something to particularly aim for. Mountains require respect. There is always a risk about being up in the mountains and coming unprepared can have very grave consequences. At a minimum, people who head for the mountains should bring food, water, different layers of clothes, good footwear. Don`t think you can do without a map. Generally speaking, overestimating serves as the perfect way to get yourself into dangerous situations.`

Marcel (22) says there is no feeling like standing on top of a mountain. `Hikers celebrate their achievement by writing their names in the book they find next to the cross that marks the top. `On the top, you feel insignificant and overwhelmed by the view, yet insignificant at the same time. In a way, you are in control because you conquered the mountain. It`s a strange mixture of vulnerability and invincibility.`

Marcel thinks that winter is the most dangerous season to go into the mountains: `For tourists, it`s better to stay in the tourist centres. It`s so easy to get lost during wintertime, especially if the weather changes. If it gets cloudy, everything will just turn white: the sky, the ground and the trees. The marks of the hikers` routes that you could at least use to navigate in summer are covered in snow. There`s risk of avalanches which locals may be more familiar with than tourists. Some people are trying to push it to the limit, some also push the limit a little to far and end up in pretty bad situations. It also happens to locals, many of whom are fond of off-trail skiing. They try to stay away from the busy tourist areas, and as long as they stay in their own region, they usually know the area very well.`

Making friends in Tyrol seems to work in a way similar to the Finnish approach to friendship. Tyrolians can be slow in making friends, but a Tyrolian friend will be one for life. Christophe (21) from Bavaria tells how Tyrolians are sometimes seen by outsiders as conservative, narrow minded and tending towards racism. Chrisophe himself had no problems integrating in Innsbruck though: `Bavaria and Tyrol are quite similar to each other. I got quite easily accepted here. Bavaria has a similar kind of accent to the local one here. I don`t need to make a lot of effort to understand people here. Had I come from Hamburg, it would have understood almost nothing at the beginning of my stay here. Austrians are not big fans of Germans, or even foreigners in general, but they don`t necessarily count the Bavarians in with the Germans.`

The hesitating welcome that foreign settlers in Tyrol can expect, has recently also been incorporated in law. Tyrol is a popular province for `luxury season immigrants` to buy summer homes, which would remain uninhabited for most of the year. The rush on Tyrolian houses made it almost unaffordable for Tyrolians to buy houses in their own region. The government then decided that Tyrolian real estate could only be sold to people who could prove that they would spend more than half of every year in Tyrol. Foreigners are allowed to come to Tirol, amuse themselves in the resorts, spend their money and preferably move home when the holidays are over.

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