Two flower garlands
Without going out on a limb I can declare: Vorarlberg is not Hawaii. That is to say: no white sandy beaches, no active volcanoes and no flower garlands hung around visitors' necks. Also, no studied exuberance and no well-rehearsed show for tourists. The Alemannic culture of this region is exposed to eastern Austrian and even Mediterranean influences, meaning that it's more elastic than reputed, but still the people here as a rule do not promise more than they can deliver. If anything, they promise less. That's true of the people of Bregenz, too.
With this in mind, we'd like to draw your attention to two sights, or rather experiences, in Bregenz municipality that you're guaranteed not to find in classical tourist brochures. We're talking about two walking tours, both very special, one leading up Pfänder mountain, the other around the lake in the direction of Lindau.
First, the "Gschlief". That's the name of the shorter and certainly the more arduous path, which takes you to the summit of Bregenz's own local mountain. This track – at least the middle part of it – is so outrageously steep that sensible townsfolk wonder every time why they didn't choose a more pleasant route. But ambition triumphs in most cases. As is no doubt true of locals the world over these days, the Bregenz burgher is focused more on the clock, i.e. checking his or her health, than the beauty through which the track leads. It's beyond doubt that all notorious Gschlief hikers kid themselves and others a little bit about the speed of their ascent to the terminal of the Pfänder cable car. Visitors, on the other hand, can go about things in a more laid-back way. They may choose to travel up on the cable car and then dawdle back down (in the appropriate footwear), taking in all the strange wildness of the path as they go. Unless of course they want to feel what it's like to climb the Pfänder, and join the ranks of those who have triumphed, at least once, over their own idleness.
Hikers are compensated for the effort involved in following the Gschlief with some spectacular views.
The second secret we want to share with you here is the Pipeline. That's the nickname that has become established among locals for the approximately two kilometre long stretch of shoreline between Bregenz harbour and the neighbouring municipality of Lochau. It essentially consists of a narrow concrete track fringed by a more or less narrow grass verge, both wedged in between the lake and the railway lines – and beyond them, if that weren't enough, a busy national highway. Underneath runs the eponymous, now disused pipeline that used to transport petroleum from Ingolstadt in Bavaria to Genoa until 1997. What drives Bregenz residents there in such numbers, especially on Sundays and in fine weather, is hard to explain to the visitor. One possible way of accounting for it is this: the Pipeline is a magical place. There, as at all magical places, people learn to accept the paradoxical, the contradictory, which is so prevalent in the world, as something natural and self-evident. This may be because the sound worlds of waves and wind on one side and noisy traffic on the other cancel each other out in an acoustic vacuum. When this phenomenon occurs, the mind suddenly expands in all directions and the walker sinks deep into what could be called the Pipeline Trance. If you find yourself in this state, you might even be inclined to take the Pfänder for an active volcano, the Pipeline for a white sandy beach and Vorarlberg for Hawaii.
The Pipeline lies right beside highway and railway line. But that cannot keep users from looking at the horizon, which is wider here than anywhere else on the lake.
There's something extraordinary that must be mentioned here – the entire lake shore in Vorarlberg is freely accessible to the public.
Gschlief and Pipeline: two pathways whose names don't sound very much like recommendations. But on closer inspection they're in fact both real gifts.
Fotos: Anja Koehler