Emmanuel Tresmontant - 2009-05-11
Linz may be less famous than Vienna or Salzburg, but this daughter of the Danube is well worth discovering nonetheless… Once home to Kepler, Mozart and Bruckner, Linz has made wise use of its geographic situation by laying the foundations for a futuristic city with an emphasis on sustainable development.
A new destination
Capital of Upper Austria and the country’s third largest city, Linz was built on both banks of the river which has ensured its economic success. The Romans understood the strategic value of this port town (Lentia: in the river bend) set at the crossroads of the Danube Valley and the Salt Route which used to reach into Bohemia. Trade and textiles, and starting in the 19C, the naval industry, locomotive manufacturing, the chemical sector and steel mills have all contributed to its present prosperity.
Long scarred by the dark period of National Socialism, Linz has worked hard to overcome its wounded past. Over the last twenty years, the city has achieved a genuine cultural, architectural and technological transformation. From the city centre embellished with Renaissance buildings, to the magnificent bicycle path along the left bank of the Danube, to the Museum of the Future, Linz has become one of Europe’s most animated cities!
Of course, the past is never entirely forgotten, and Linz is justly proud of the great men who found their inspiration here. Astronomer Johannes Kepler was in Linz in 1618 when he discovered the laws of planetary motion; Mozart composed one of his most beautiful symphonies here in 1783; and finally, Anton Bruckner was the cathedral organist during a dozen years - the city devotes a prestigious festival to his memory in September.
First contact: the beautiful panorama
To discover Linz and the surrounding region (such as Wilhering Abbey, a Cistercian monastery 8 km from the city) by motorcar, it’s best to arrive via the Danube Valley to the west. But it’s from the Pöstlingberg hill (537 metres) that the view of the whole city it at its finest. Overlooking the left bank of the Danube, Der Heilige Berg (The Sacred Mountain), as they call it here, has a flower-filled terrace giving onto a unique panoramic vista of the Urfahr quarter and its City Hall (inaugurated in 1985), as well as the Dornach quarter and its Johannes Kepler University. On the other side of the river, following the Nibelungenbrücke Bridge, you’ll see the famous Hauptplatz in the centre of which the Dreifaltigkeitssäule, the Trinity Column, was erected in 1723 by the States of Upper Austria to thank God for having preserved Linz from three consecutive perils: the 1704 Turkish invasion, the 1712 fire and the 1713 plague. With its statues and angels in white marble, this Baroque monument is one of the city’s most emblematic features. When the weather is particularly fine you’ll also be able to see the Alps stretching a hundred kilometres south.
Old city highlights
After your visit to the Pöstlingberg, follow in Mozart’s footsteps and amble through the heart of the old city, where you may visit the house where he wrote his Linz symphony in record time.
The very animated centre city abounds with students, cafés (such as the Café Jindrak or the Grand Café-Bar Sassi which boasts the world’s highest bar!), bistros (the S’Kistl) and typical brasseries (Josef, das Statbräu...).
As I’ve already mentioned, the spectacular Hauptplatz, originally built in 13C, is an absolute must, as is the Landhaus, a handsome Renaissance edifice which serves as the seat of the provincial government. In the centre of the arcade courtyard stands the Planet Fountain, dating from 1582, commemorating astronomer Johannes Kepler. You must also make a halt at the Kremsmünstererhaus where, according to legend, Emperor Friedrich III died in 1493; and St.Martin’s Church, Austria’s oldest (built prior to 788 CE).
In summer, hire a bike and pedal down the bike path which follows the river; it’s the perfect family outing. You’ll be able to admire the curved glass facade of the Brucknerhaus Concert Hall, the Alter Dom and Neuer Dom (old and new cathedrals), the Lentos Museum (whose glass facade changes colour according to what time of day or night it is) and the botanic garden and its unique cactus collection. Opposite the Lentos, on the north bank of the Danube, you’ll discover Linz’s most impressive museum: the sparkling new Ars Electronica Center, founded in 1996. This Museum of the Future is devoted to digital and electronic art and culture; the only one of its kind, it’s meant to be an experimental laboratory where technological and artistic innovations are mutually inspiring. Currently covering an area of 6,500 m2, it was designed as a luminous sculpture by Viennese architect Andreas Treusch; its facades are all equipped with a system of monochromatic LED light strips. Evenings, picnics and sleeping under the stars are possible on the banks of the river from Dürnberg to the ’Lido’, the sandy beach of Ottensheim…
The Danube by bicycle? An original holiday idea that will take you directly into the romantic heart of the countryside, with its Baroque villages, vineyards, country inns, charming hotels and monasteries... There are 350 km of bike trails from Passau to Vienna, with Linz on the way! Just 8 days of pedalling at a pace of around 40 km a day…
Anton Bruckner, a favourite native son (1824-1896)
Son of a schoolmaster, Bruckner was born in the village of Ansfelden, in Upper Austria. When he was 13, his father died and he was taken in by the St. Florian Monastery, 18 km south-east of Linz, where he was introduced to the chefs-d’œuvre of sacred music. At 24, he became the organist of St. Florian’s; he wrote his Mass in D Minor and First Symphony before being appointed organist of the Cathedral of Linz and professor at the Vienna Conservatory. Hearing Tannhäuser for the first time at the Linz Opera was to be one of the turning points in his life. In due course Bruckner was able to free himself from Wagner’s influence and find his own personal style, notably beginning with his Symphony No. 3. His orchestra, which he mastered with brio, was remarkable for its clarity, magnitude, sensitivity and magnificence. Even at the height of his fame, ‘The Minstrel of God’ had a deep and enduring affection for St. Florian; his body is inhumed in the crypt below his beloved organ.
For more information
Linz, European Capital of Culture 2009
Through 10 May: The Best of Austria exhibit at the Lentos Kunstmuseum.
13 June to 13 September: 20 exhibits and performances by international artists celebrate the magical appeal of the Pöstlingberg.
3 to 5 July: Linz Europa Festival (a musical bridge between East and West) is held at the Linz port.
5 September: the Klangwolke presents fabulous creatures which will parade through the city.
3 to 8 September: Festival Ars Electronica, entirely devoted to the Future.
The Pixelhotel… a unique experience!
Five original (read: a bit eccentric!) architects thought up this surprising group of six hotel rooms fitted out in such unexpected places as an old garage, a shop, a barge, etc. Each room is likened to a pixel! The decoration is straightforward and stylish, and the bathrooms are modern; you’ll need to take breakfast at a nearby café...