Saturday, October 30, 2010

The streets of Innsbruck.

Among the small details of Innsbruck's urban geography that I came to appreciate this summer were the street signs - most especially, the distinctive brown and white signs that you see in most of the photos accompanying this post. Each of these signs includes a short narrative on the namesake of the street or square in question. As a visitor with an interest in history, I was so intrigued by these signs that I decided to photograph a few of them before I left Innsbruck.

During my time in Innsbruck, I lived at the Jesuitenkolleg on Sillgasse, a street named for an old mill stream, the Sillkanal, which was apparently "abandoned" sixty-five years ago.  A sometime resident of the Jesuitenkolleg who may have seen the Sillkanal with his own eyes was the late Father Karl Rahner, who gave his name to Karl-Rahner-Platz, a broad plaza in front of the Jesuitenkirche where Rahner is interred alongside many other Jesuits who lived and worked in Innsbruck.  As much as I like the old-style script used on the signs identifying Karl-Rahner-Platz, I regret that the city didn't see fit to install one of the brown and white street signs on the plaza.  Perhaps the municipal bureaucracy decided that Rahner had lived recently enough that no one really needed to be told who he was; as you can see in the above photos, the same apparently cannot be said of eighteenth-century luminaries like farmer and cartographer Blasius Hueber and the Empress Maria Theresa, both of whom receive the full benefit of the brown and white treatment.

The two World Wars took their toll on Innsbruck - a bit more on this in a later post, perhaps - and they also show up on a few of the city's street signs.  The loss of South Tyrol to Italy in the post-1918 dismemberment of the Habsburg Empire is called to mind by street names like Brixner Straße and Bozner Platz (Brixen and Bozen are both in South Tyrol) as well as by the square that fronts the Innsbruck train station, Südtiroler Platz (a name also found in Vienna and other Austrian cities).  The naming of Edith-Stein-Weg should require little explanation here, partly because I have discussed its namesake previously on this blog. On the other hand, I suspect that the name of Franz Mair will be new to most people who read these lines. Mair was a local high school teacher and leader of the anti-Nazi resistance who lost his life in the closing days of the Second World War.  Prof.-Franz-Mair-Gasse is a pedestrian passage that runs past the institution where Mair taught, the Akademisches Gymnasium Innsbruck, and also serves as a useful shortcut between two major streets, Museumstraße and Universitätstraße, both of which I took daily in my walks to and from class. Frequently passing by the sign honoring Mair's sacrifice, I tried to make a mental note to pray for all the victims of what this and other public markers refer to as "die NS-Zeit."

Cultural Catholicism is pervasive in Innsbruck, influencing the smallest of daily rituals (including the phrase that most people use to say hello, "Grüß Gott," a shortened way of saying "May God greet you!") as well as the naming of streets. I never found a brown and white sign explaining the name of Dreiheiligenstraße - "Three Saints Street" - but you can find an explanation of the name in one of the comments on this post. Other signs of Catholic presence come in streets named for religious institutions of various kinds. Klostergasse is home to Stift Wilten, Norbertine abbey founded in the twelfth century and still flourishing today. Pfarrgasse - "Parish Lane" - is the street leading to Innsbruck's Roman Catholic cathedral, which was an ordinary parish (albeit a prominent one) until the establishment of the Diocese of Innsbruck in 1964. Though Innsbruck lacks a Jesuitengasse - this despite a Jesuit presence that dates back to 1562 - there is a Kapuzinergasse, named for a still-active commmunity of Capuchin Franciscans that has been working in the city nearly as long as the Jesuits have.

I still have a few more Innsbruck-based posts up my sleeve, though they may be slow in coming.  I beg the patient indulgence of any readers who have been waiting for a provocative sequel to the 'monuments, memory, and meaning' post from a couple of weeks ago.  When I do find the time to complete this series, I hope that the results are worth the wait.  AMDG.


At 11/09/2010 3:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your interesting description - but I must make a tiny correction:

"Dreiheiligenstraße" does not mean "Holy Trinity Street" (that would be "Dreifaltigkeitsstraße"), but "Three Saints' Street".

The name refers to the three Saints Sebastian, Pirmin, and Rochus, who are the patron Saints of the "Dreiheiligenkirche" ("Church of the Three Saints") in that street. After an epidemic in the early 17th century, the church was built and dedicated to those three who were said to be patrons in cases of pestilence.

Ironically the Most Holy Trinity and Saint Alexius became additional patron Saints in later centuries - but nevertheless the name refers to the three "original" patron Saints.

The entire quarter around the church itself is often called "Dreiheiligen" ("Three Saints").

At 11/09/2010 10:41 AM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...


Thank you for correcting my error - I appreciate the explanation of the street's name. I was aware that the area and the church were also called Dreiheiligen, but I never had the opportunity to find out more until now.

At 1/29/2011 8:36 PM, Anonymous Manni said...

Hi! My name is Manni, I'm from Innsbruck and I'm interested in urban history and urban exploring. I stumbled upon your blog during some research on Innsbruck's urban streams, some of which are now running underground and others abandoned, like the Sillkanal (which googled me to this blog :} ).
I read your blog post with interest. The brown and white street name signs are relatively new, I think the first ones were installed in the beginning of 2010. The city is going to replace all old street signs indeed, but this is an ongoing process that will need many years to come for completion. That's why e.g. Karl-Rahner-Platz still has an old sign.
However, there's a yearly updated official street name list on the city government's web site that contains the short descriptions to be shown on the signs:
Looking forward to your further posts on Innsbruck!

At 1/30/2011 11:14 AM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...


Thanks for the comment. I appreciate the information on the history of the signs and the link you provided - though I like the new signs, I hope that some of the older ones are kept as well for their historical value.

I do hope to present some more posts related to Innsbruck - they tend to take longer to write, so it's been hard to find the time. Even so, there will be more of them!

At 10/05/2011 7:42 AM, Anonymous Sir Christian Mind said...

@Manni: kannst du mich bitte mal auf kontaktieren? hätte ein paar Frage zu UE in Innsbruck ;)
Danke & Gruss, Christian


Post a Comment

<< Home