Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Letter from Europe

  • — Issue 2009/26 posted by hidden europe on

Alighting from the train at Bregenz station in Austria, the traveller instantly has a sense of being in a place that takes recreation seriously. The station architecture is memorably bizarre with its turquoise-green platform canopies and the spiral walkways that decant new arrivals onto the lakefront. Bregenz lies on the eastern shore of Lake Constance (the Bodensee in German) and is the most un-Austrian of Austrian cities.

article summary —

Dear fellow travellers

Vorarlberg (Austria)

Alighting from the train at Bregenz station in Austria, the traveller instantly has a sense of being in a place that takes recreation seriously. The station architecture is memorably bizarre with its turquoise-green platform canopies and the spiral walkways that decant new arrivals onto the lakefront. Bregenz lies on the eastern shore of Lake Constance (the Bodensee in German) and is the most un-Austrian of Austrian cities. If Bregenz' city fathers get their way, the station will be torn down and rebuilt closer to the city's main commercial district. But for now the station is gateway to the nearby casino, children's playground, the lakeshore arena (Aida this week for opera buffs) and a numbers of bars, cafés and cabaret venues - including one called Freudenhaus. That literally means pleasure house but the name evokes other associations in German, so hidden europe decided not to investigate too closely.

Bregenz is capital of the Vorarlberg, the province of Austria that is the most distant from Vienna. The Austrian capital is over seven hours away by the fastest trains, so it is no surprise that folk in the Vorarlberg have their own take on all things Austrian. They have a very distinctive dialect (more Swiss than Austrian in character), an economy that has consistently out-performed the rest of Austria and an unusually large number of migrants - mainly workers from Turkey.

Curiously, if the citizens of the Vorarlberg had had their way, they would not be part of Austria at all. Ninety years ago, voters in the Vorarlberg cast their ballots overwhelmingly in favour of secession from Austria - hoping that their region might be admitted as a new canton of Switzerland. The international community was none too keen on the idea, fearing that the Vorarlberg's secession might presage a fragmentation of Austria. So it was not to be. And today the region remains engagingly distant from the mainstream of Austrian affairs.

hidden europe 28 preview

From Bregenz we followed the route south towards Feldkirch once taken by a detachment of some five hundred Russian soldiers who at the end of World War II were en route to Liechtenstein. We document this extraordinary incident in the September issue of hidden europe with a comprehensive feature on Liechtenstein.

Elsewhere in this new issue of the magazine you will find reports from Vitebsk (Belarus), the Luxembourg village of Schengen, Genoa, Trier, Zagreb, Wissembourg in Alsace and the Principality of Seborga - an oddball community in the Ligurian hills that affects to be independent from Italy. In hidden europe 28, we also remark on a pioneering nineteenth-century conservation initiative in the dry steppes of southern Ukraine, look at cityscapes in the art of Marc Chagall and note the centenary of the publication of an important piece of Yiddish travel writing: Arum voksal (Around the Train Station) by David Bergelson. Please take a look at the table of contents here.

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe)

This article was published in Letter from Europe.

About The Authors

hidden europe

and Susanne Kries manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers. They delight in discovering the exotic in the everyday.