Tag Archives: Austria

Innsbruck for Knitters

Innsbruck for Knitters

A river divides the viewer from a row of brightly painted houses. In the background, a snow-covered mountain range.

A small city with a population of just over 115,000, Innsbruck is nestled in the Alps, tucked in a valley with impressive mountain faces on all sides, and I say this as someone who grew up with a view of Mont Blanc. It’s charming and easy to walk around – and full of yarn.

Tiroler Volkskunst Museum

History piles up before you even push open the door: the folk art museum is in the old town, near the Dom St Jakob,  housed in a former monestery, attached to the Hofkirche. Inside is a large collection of everyday and festive objects used and created by local people over the last centuries. It’s a brilliant place to visit as a knitter – even though there’s very little knitwear on show.

Hand-made fabrics and crafters’ tools from the last three- or four-hundred years abound and cover the whole process from sheep to shoulders.The collection’s scope is impressive – there are spinning wheels, both mundane and beautifully carved, hand combs with elaborately painted backs, flax combs and at least three different kinds of distaff. There is also a great big mechanical carder, a particularly vicious looking contraption with its spiked wheels.

Each exhibit is tagged with one or more barcodes, and each visitor is given a scanner which calls up the relevant information in their chosen language. It’s a simple but brilliant idea as you can explore the exhibits at your own pace, and find out plenty of detail about displays which excite you.

One of the most interesting displays was a set of local costumes. Some time in the early 20th century, a local sculptor made life-size models of couples from different areas, and dressed the models in their Sunday best. The variations in detail between the different costumes are fascinating and provide an excellent reminder that ‘traditional’ costumes were actually fashionable at one time.

Yarn Shops

I found 3 yarn shops in Innsbruck, all within about 500m of each other and near the city centre – between the river and the train station.

The easiest to find is probably Kapferer Textil at Herzog-Friedrichstrasse 27 as it’s in the cobbled square which is home to the Golden Roof, one of Innsbruck’s premier attracions. The shop carries fabric and stitching supplies as well as yarn so it’s a great stop for a polycrafter.

 Anton Kogler yarn shop in Innsbruck. Image shows large glass shop front windows with some balls of yarn and knitted samples just about visible and shop name over the door

There are 2 shops on Museumstrasse, about 200m from the main train station. They’re both intriguing. At number 6 there’s Anton Kogler, a lovely, old-fashioned yarn shop – the kind where sock yarn is held behind the counter and they expect you to know what you want. Bring your phrase book and wade in – it’s stuffed with European yarns. When I visited, the top shelves were full of hand-knit hats making it easy to see how yarns knit up.

On the opposite side of the street, at number 19, is a fancy dress shop cum haberdashery which is probably called Leimgruber. Stock is limited, but prices were good when I went and it’s worth a look for the yarn and cross-stitch mixed in with toy stethoscopes and fake blood.

All three shops had friendly, helpful staff and a cross-stitch, tapestry or embroidery materials as well as yarn. Although there was some cross over, most of the yarns weren’t the usual ones seen in the UK (Rowan, Regia, Rico…) which was a pleasant change. There was a small amount of local wool in the third shop, but most yarns were commercially spun and dyed.

People watching
Innsbruck is an area where hats, gloves and scarves are strictly necessary, so there’s plenty of knitwear to watch go by. Most hats and jumpers are store bought, but the variety is inspiring.

Austria is world-reknown for their pastries – in France, many pastries are still called ‘Viennoiseries’ – and there are plenty of cafes and bakeries in the old town, so curl up with a cuppa and watch the knitwear go by!

Things you might want to know
I’m not a local – I’ve visited Innsbruck exactly once – but I did visit all these places and in one day. The city is flat (no hills) and all the places mentioned are within about 500m of each other and in the city centre so it’s an easy tour to walk.

Entry to the museum was €10 for an adult at time of writing. This also gave access to the adjoining Hofkirche and possibly another museum – time and language skills were both limited on my part, unfortunately, so I didn’t explore this option.

Fresh snow

Fresh snow

A snowy road curves off to the right, under a blue sky with mountains in the distance

Snow is pretty, but it’s also awfully heavy. It’s hard work shifting it, it’s hard work walking through it, it’s hard work living in it. Luckily the Tirol is well used to snow so, unlike in England, the country doesn’t grind to a hault when a few flakes fall. On Saturday, Innsbruck airport was closed due to heavy snowfall. A couple days later and a thousand meters above sea-level, the roads were clear and the sky was blue.

Books with Alps in

Books with Alps in

A blue sky, snow-covered mountains in the fore and background.

Heidi by Joanna Spyri
Probably the most famous book ever to mention an Alp, Heidi is a classic story about an orphaned girl who goes to live with her gruff, grumpy grandfather up in an Alpine hut. It’s a heart-warming story advocating simple living and fresh goats milk as essential child-rearing tools.

After Spyri died, a family friend wrote two sequels, Heidi Grows Up and Heidi’s Children. Both stories are incredibly soppy, and miss some of the love of the surroundings and the characters which made the original special.

The School at the Chalet by Eleanor M Brent-Dyer
There’s a whole series of Chalet School books spanning the years around the Second World War. The school is small and homely and caters to the international set of the day, so the girls all have an interesting back-story. They get into scrapes and learn valuable moral lessons by climbing around the mountains near the school.

One curiousity, at least in the editions I read as a child, is that the author assumes that all her readers are, like the Chalet School girls, trilingual, breaking into French and German for a line or two without offering translation. That habit often left me feeling like I’d missed a joke but even with a few missing pieces, the stories are good, wholesome romps and I enjoyed them a lot as a kid.

Someplace like home

Someplace like home

 An Austrian building with elaborate frames painted around each window

The Tirol is very much like Switzerland, where I grew up, and the French Alps which I’ve visited regularly. The mountains, the language, the currency are all familiar. That makes the travelling a lot easier, and it means that it feels a bit like I’m home.

It’s a mixed bag though: I’m in a new country but I’m not out of my comfort zone. And that excitement, that good stress, is one of the things I like about travelling.

Fortunately, Austria isn’t exactly Switzerland – speaking German, rather than French was a shock to the system. And seeing the elaborate decorations on many of the old buildings was different and lovely.

Austria: half a goal complete

Austria: half a goal complete

The sky is bright blue, there's a clear, snow-covered mountain in the distance and in the foreground a river flows under a wooden bridge. Everything is covered with snow: it's an idyllic Alpine scene.

I had some internet problems this week which prevented me from posting anything. The problems were entirely due to being in Austria, so I don’t mind too much.

I mentioned that one of my goals for this year is to visit two new-to-me countries, and I very much enjoyed the first half of it. We spent the week in Neustift, in the Tirol. It’s a ski resort about 40 minutes from Innsbruck. It’s also incredibly beautiful so I’m going to show you photos of the landscape and buildings over the course of this week.

This first shot is in Neustift itself, looking down the valley. Somewhere off behind those mountains is Innsbruck, which we’ll get to later in the week!