MCoA - Vorarlberg My Corner of Austria

My Corner of Austria: Jo Todd in Feldkirch (Vorarlberg)

How a student ski trip led to a life among the Gsi-Berger, and Schaffa schaffa, Hüsle baua in Vorarlberg.

What brought you to your corner of Austria?

As in many cases the “what” was a “who”. 1993 was my third year at university, and one of my housemates who was studying German, decided to do her compulsory bit-abroad working in a hotel in Arosa. In retrospect, knowing now how the Swiss speak German, this seems like a somewhat flawed plan! I popped over with a couple of housemates to kip on her floor and ski. Cliché alert? Almost, but it wasn’t the Swiss ski instructor – rather the handsome Austrian barman! Certainly neither of us thought beyond a fleeting international fling, and after visiting Feldkirch a couple of times, there was absolutely no way was I leaving London to live there! Somehow though we never lost touch in the following six years, and I obviously ate my hat and moved to Feldkirch/Vorarlberg in 1999 – as he had just taken over the family bakery and wasn’t in a position to move to England. “I’ll give it a year – England won’t disappear” I thought.  23 years and three kids later, I am still here and loving it! Austria or rather Vorarlberg is definitely home now, but the first few years were… ummm “challenging”.

What tradition or custom is typical for your corner of Austria?

Gsi: Not using the past participle “gewesen” is probably up there – and although I wholly support the gsi thing – the local dialect certainly didn’t alleviate those initial challenging years. You may or may not know that other Austrians refer to Vorarlbergians as Gsi-berger as they replace the word gewesen with gsi and live in the mountains – much like the Swiss and the Liechtensteiners. They also like to mess with the vowels and have different grammar – the Alemannic version of German. Anyway, if you can learn to understand the Ur-Vorarlberger you are set for life, as you can probably understand ANY other German speaker!

Loving Käsespätzle: My mum once mused “Why are they so bonkers over this glorified Macaroni cheese?”

Schaffa schaffa, Hüsle baua: This translates as “work work and build a house”. This is less true than it used to be but previous generations grew up with this as their main goal in life.  Even now with land running out – Vorarlbergians tend to build/buy and then stay put forever … not moving around like in the UK. They are also fully convinced that nowhere is more beautiful than Vorarlberg so WHY would they move? They may have a point.

Funkensonntag: Apparently this is unique to this area (also Switzerland).  One of the oldest customs is Funkensonntag, the first Sunday after Carnival/Fasching. A carefully piled up wooden tower, up to 30 metres high, is set on fire. On top, there is usually a witch effigy which explodes to squeals of delight. It is all a wee bit Guy Fawkes night-ish. The idea is to drive away the “demons of winter” and welcome the spring. Beer and sausages also play a role. Well obviously.

What would you recommend to a visitor who was visiting to see and do?

Schattenberg Schloss und Museum

Visit the 13th century Schattenburg castle and museum in Feldkirch, Bodensee (Lake Constance) in nearby Bregenz is great for lakeside beaches or sailing. Get tickets for the Bregenzer Festspiele if you are into opera. They are sometimes rained-off as everything is outside, but the stages built on the lake and renewed every 2 years are an amazing feat. Go skiing in the Montafon or Arlberg mountains. Go walking up any mountain you can find – all stunning. An especially “untouched” experience is the village of Nenzingerhimmel – incredible landscapes and original mountain houses. The Bregenzerwald houses of the Bregenzerwald region are famous for traditional architecture and the Bergkäse cheese is also fabulous there. Here in Vorarlberg, we are also close to everything so it’s not only a good place to visit, but you can also visit lots of other countries easily and quickly… in non-Corona times at least.

Stage, Bregenzer Festspiele

Where do you recommend going to have something to eat or drink?

For good food – The Hotel Gutwinski, Illvy, or Rio in Feldkirch, Hörnlingen in Rankweil. My husband has a bakery, so I can hardly not mention that 😉. Check out Bäckerei Schnell for an Apfelstrudel or its famous Himbeer Strudel! For a glass of wine – Bengodi in Feldkirch. Living in the Oberland, I am less informed about the “Unterland” near to Bodensee but there are plenty of great places there too.

How can your corner of Austria be reached (by car or public transport)?

If you are flying in – generally Zürich is easier than Innsbruck as it is closer. Memmingen is also an option in Germany. By car from the east – via Innsbruck on the A14. From Switzerland (west) via Zürich St. Gallen or Zürich Walensee-Sargans. Trains also aplenty – and from Villach, Graz and Vienna there are also motorail options.

Motorail Terminus in Feldkirch

Does anyone famous come from your part of Austria?

Good question – Artur Doppelmayr – entrepreneur and cableway pioneer apparently. Katharina Liensberger the young alpine ski racer is local. Stefan Vögel is a hugely prolific German-language playwright from here who also wrote a comedy play called “Schaffa schaffa, Hüsle baua” and that TV Bergdoktor chap Hans Sigl – though not born here – used to go to high school here and shared a flat with my husband’s brother at Innsbruck University!

Enjoyed reading this “My Corner of Austria”?

Come and enjoy an Apfelstrudel or a Himbeerstrudel at Jo’s husband’s bakery, Bäckerei Schnell in Feldkirch.

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