A row of houses as a world-famous postcard motif. The unique late medieval houses of Mariahilf, together with the Golden Roof, are among Innsbruck's icons. Behind them, the Nordkette mountain range towers majestically, making the brightly painted houses look like an artistic and colorful border. Photographed millions of times and the object of tourist 'selfie desire', Mariahilf is an integral part of every visit to Innsbruck. The downer: the tranquil beauty of the magnificent Baroque and Renaissance houses has been filled with little 'inner' life for too long. This seems to be changing now (hopefully).
From 'broken glass quarter' to world-famous photo object
As a student in the 1970s, I had always wondered why parts of Mariahilf were a kind of 'broken glass district'. There were pubs lined up next to liquor stores, and all kinds of shady characters roamed around the houses at night. What I didn't realize at the time was that the row of houses that runs along the left bank of the Inn River from the Mariahilf Church down to St. Nikolaus had for centuries been the 'suburbs' of Innsbruck with all its special features
Today's Mariahilf was called 'Anspruggen' and is older than Innsbruck
A few decades before Innsbruck was founded, the 'strip' on the left side of the Inn River below Hötting had been established as a market settlement. After the Bavarians destroyed Amras Castle in 1133, the seat of the Andechs counts who ruled the area, they retreated to the left bank of the Inn, which also belonged to them. Nevertheless, the bustle and prosperity of a market town in the Middle Ages soon came to an end.
After the construction of the first bridge over the Inn, the market was also moved to the settlement on the right bank of the Inn, which was founded between 1180 and 1204 and immediately fortified. 'Anspruggen' (located at the Inn bridge), as St. Nicholas and Mariahilf were originally called, was 'demoted' to a kind of suburb of Innsbruck. A decline that continued in the following centuries, visible to everyone in the drop in the scale of values and in the social status of its inhabitants.
Thus, the 'Leprosenhaus', the 'Sondersiechen- oder Infektionsspital' were located here as well as later the prisoner house. Handicraft and industrial enterprises settled here. Brickworks, lime kilns, stone huts, but also foundries were established, especially in today's St. Nicholas. To make matters worse, the area was given the unflattering name 'Koatlackn' (excrement hole) in the vernacular, which has survived to this day. At that time, this was due to a constantly leaking wooden water pipe, the wetness of which permanently softened the medieval paths.
Mariahilf: once a 'dead end' street
The row of houses between today's Mariahilfkirche and St. Nikolaus was for a long time divided into the 'upper' and 'lower' Anbruggen. The dividing line was always the Innbrücke and the Höttinger Gasse in the continuation of the Innbrücke. For a long time, a lot of transit traffic coming from the Brenner Pass flowed over the Inn Bridge into the Tyrolean lowlands through St. Nikolaus, the 'lower Anbruggen'. Quite the opposite to the 'upper Anbruggen', today's Mariahilfstraße, which was a kind of 'dead end' until the middle of the 17th century. This is because the traffic connection at that time led via Höttinger Gasse and Schneeburggasse further to Zirl to Seefeld and via Telfs in the direction of the Fernpass. Today's Mariahailfstraße ended where the Mariahilfkirche, built in 1647, is located and led into the Kirschentalgasse.
Only in the year of the completion of this church dedicated to the Virgin Mary in 1649 the road to the Höttinger Au was opened. Consequently, the quarter above the Inn bridge now received the name Mariahilf. However, the present appearance of the row of houses along the Inn is due to a fire catastrophe that completely destroyed the old wooden houses on November 16, 1476. This is one of the reasons why the new houses were built of bricks and stones in late Gothic and Renaissance style.
For a long time, Mariahilf could not really shed its image as a 'through house'. Traffic squeezed between the houses and the Inn River in the direction of Höttinger Au. Even today, a craftsman's sign on the house at 'Mariahilfstraße 14' reminds us that draft horses were shod here. At that time, there was also a lot of activity on the Inn. Heavily loaded cargo ships, so-called Zillen, were pulled upstream to Zirl by horses. And little wonder: the Inn boatmen loved to stop here. For these gentlemen were certainly thirsty, which they wanted to quench in the taverns and beer stalls in Mariahilf.
In recent years, however, the tide seems to be turning in Mariahilf. Two art galleries have set up shop here, a boutique hotel complete with a perfect café and a state-of-the-art hairdressing salon round out the offerings. So far, only the well-known Hotel Mondschein has constantly held the fort
In other European cities, this is interpreted as an unmistakable sign of a 'revival'. Are the Mathias Mayr Gallery and the 'Coordination Institute for the Content and Organization of Contemporary Art' KOOIO unmistakable harbingers of an even more attractive row of houses along the Inn in the future?
The Mondschein, the 'Mariahilf constant'
From the eventful history of numerous business premises in Mariahilf, one constant stands out: the Hotel Mondschein. The construction of a house on this site dates back to 1473 and may have replaced a fisherman's house at the time. The Ischia family took over the existing Hotel Mondschein in 1976 and still runs it today. For a long time, the house also housed restaurants with top gastronomy. Today, the Mondschein with its 33 beds is very popular with tourists due to its proximity to the center.
Mathias Mayr focuses on Mariahilf with his gallery
Mathias Mayr of the gallery of the same name set up his gallery in Mariahilf almost five years ago. He was convinced from the start that "Mariahilf is a potential future area not only for galleries." He has managed, as he says, "to steer his customers and also interested art lovers to Mariahilf".
The gallery owner is currently even considering expansion plans. He will rent a just vacated business premises in the same street to establish another gallery in it. "It will be around 125 m2 in size, which will allow me to expand my art offering decisively." His dream is to open up the current, smaller gallery to young Tyrolean artists as well. "They currently either have to organize exhibitions themselves or pay for exhibitions. I definitely want to change that," he tells us, who is a remarkable artist himself. In any case, the future interaction between the 'big Mayr Gallery' and the already existing small gallery promises an exciting future. For those who want to stay tuned, here is the gallery's Instagram account: galeriemathiasmayr
Die Faktorei: a remarkable boutique hotel
For several years, Anja Janus searched for a house in Mariahilf to buy. Then, more than five years ago, the time had come. The Hamburg native purchased the 15th-century house at 36 Mariahilfstrasse and transformed it into a beautiful, cozy, modern city hotel. "I've always been magically drawn to the row of houses in Mariahilf, so I seized the opportunity," she says. In adapting the late-Gothic building, she took a lot of consideration for the historic architecture, which has remained an important design component. For Janus, it goes without saying that the rooms are furnished with great taste and, above all, natural materials. "All that's missing now is that the pedestrian walkway from the market hall across the Inn, promised by politicians, is realized," she says. "Then tourists could also get a concrete look at that postcard idyll, which is photographed thousands of times every day."
In addition to the wonderful interior and inviting rooms, the menu in the hotel's attractive café won me over. The Faktorei breakfast consists of regional and seasonal products, most of which are organically grown
The exhibition space KOOIO, which opened in 2008, offers a content-related 'system of order' created by artists and aims to be a counterpoint to that system created by the media and the market. The focus is on plurality and different ways of seeing and approaching things. Artists have the opportunity to develop and present projects independently of financial restrictions and thematic limitations. KOOIO is also optimistic about the future of Mariahilf. Chairwoman Eliza Faulhammer has just adapted an adjoining room that expands the possibilities for individual staging
Gerda M. or: Hairdressing as art
Life in old walls' with the hairdressing salon Gerda M. The M stands for Mühlbacher, an East Tyrolean entrepreneur who started 17 years ago to build up her small 'salon empire' with currently 30 employees. She moved into Mariahilf in September 2019 and is very pleased with how business is going. "The underground car park on the market square is virtually around the corner, my customers only have a short walk to us."
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A volunteer at the "Schule der Alm" alpine farming school, cultural pilgrim, Tyrol aficionado and Innsbruck fan.