Tuesday, August 2


Since 1990 I’ve passed through the city of Innsbruck in Austria at least three times. On each occasion I’ve been in transit by train and have never left the station. Innsbruck is located in the Inn Valley, a broad valley that takes traveler north to the Brenner Pass, one the Alp’s main gateways to Italy; or west across the Arlberg Pass into Switzerland. Both are spectacular journeys through truly stunning, snow-clad alpine landscapes. Given its mountainous location, the city has twice host the Winter Olympics; first in 1964 and again in 1976.

Last weekend, my brother Hamish took the entire family for a day trip to Innsbruck. Our one hour journey proved the ultimate test of his family-sized people wagon. We successfully crammed seven of us into the vehicle; Hamish and my sister-in-law; their two children, my parents and I. Our itinerary for the day saw us experience three of the city’s most popular sights; the Bergiselschanze (Olympic Ski Jump), the Innsbruck Riesenrundgemalde (a giant panoramic painting) and the famous Golden Roof, located in the centre of the old city.

The Bergiselschanze is hard to miss. It sits on a low hill overlooking the city. The hill, called Bergisel, was once the site of four battles fought between the forces of Napoleon and the Kingdom of Bavaria against local Tyrolean militiamen in 1809. Today a soaring ski jump dominates its crown. The jump rises 50 metres above the surrounding area. A short elevator ride takes you up to an observation platform offering an uninterrupted view across Innsbruck and the surrounding valley.

The jump track itself runs 98 metres down a 35 degree incline. Jumpers reach more than 98 kmph by the time they’re launched into the air. Ironically, the view directly ahead takes in the cluttered graveyard of Stiftskirche, an ornate 17th Century church on the edge of town. I’m sure more than one jumper has lost their nerve thanks to such a sobering sight.

Nearby is the recently constructed Riesenrundgemalde building. Inside is an impressive life-sized panorama painting of the final battle of Bergisel. The giant 1000 square metre canvas took Munich artist Michael Zeno Diemer three months to complete in the early 20th Century. The completed artwork is impressive. It’s incredibly life-like, bringing the tragedy and triumph of war into stark relief. For most of its life the painting was housed in an aging rotunda on the banks of the Inn River. A delicate and controversial relocation to Bergisel was completed in 2009.

After lunch our final destination for the day involved a leisurely stroll through the heart of the old city. Our route inevitably led us to the Goldenes Dachl, or Golden Roof, a famous local landmark. This an ornate three-story balcony capped by a dazzling gilded copper tiles. It was built in 1500 for Maximilian the First, the regining Holy Roman Emperorn as a royal box from which he could sit in state and enjoy tournaments in the town square below.

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