Tucked behind a modest facade in Innsbruck’s center is the incomparable Cathedral of Saint James. This is Baroque architecture in all its pastel pink glory, complemented by a healthy wallop of silver and gold leaf. When in doubt, add a cherub.
What you’re seeing is mostly post-WWII restoration work. Innsbruck was a major railway hub for the Nazis and was bombed repeatedly. 600 high explosive, 45 delayed-action bombs and 12,000 incendiaries hit the city on December 16, 1944, and the cathedral was almost destroyed.
Lest we forget, on the wall of the nearby Old University, there is a simple plaque that reads:
“In memory of the resistance fighter Robert Moser, Innsbruck. He was tortured to death by the Gestapo in this building. His fate reminds us of all victims of the National Socialist terror in Tirol. Such a thing must never happen again in our society.”
The Province of Tirol
Robert Moser was an electrical contractor who, perhaps unwittingly, employed the famous Allied spy, Frederick Mayer.
A German-born Jewish American, Mayer enlisted in the U.S. Army after Pearl Harbor. He managed to capture a U.S. brigadier general (during training), parachute into the Alps (in winter), pose as a German army officer (residing in their barracks) and survive torture by the Gestapo. In 1945 (and still a sergeant), he accepted the surrender of Innsbruck’s German forces.
Innsbruck is located in (pause for excruciating pun) the Inn valley. Brücke means “bridge” in German – hence Innsbruck, “the bridge over the Inn.” That would be the muddy, roaring river depicted here.
It’s a thoroughly Austrian city, iced in pink and white, full of trundling trams, thick cigarette smoke and pensioners on a summer jaunt. Packs of tweens gather to lob spit and pick-up lines across the cobblestones. Tourists cluster in the biergartens – where the sandwiches are laced with hard-boiled eggs – and in front of Maximilian I’s famous golden roof.
If you prefer botany to Baroque, head for the Imperial Gardens. There, in the former haunts of Habsburgs, you can idle away an afternoon listening to music or watching a game of outdoor chess. Just try to ignore the appalled gasps of ghostly aristocrats.
St. James holds the tomb of Archduke Maximilian III of Austria, Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights. Skip the penitent man in prayer and head for the birds.