You creepy, homey little town, you
Bregenz’s Old Town: Of coats of arms, legends and dungeons
Whether it be a shark from Lake Constance, a not so ancient watchman from St. Martin, a war-deciding amazon, a gallows bell or a prison, Bregenz’s Upper Town fascinates us thanks to its mediaeval buildings, most of which have far more than just one story to tell.
Bregenz’s Upper Town seems more than just a steep city path away from the touristic hubbub by the lake or the hectic shopping world of the city centre. Even from far away one sees the old city walls, which – depending on one’s character – have a threatening or calming impression on the visitors. As soon as one arrives at the entrance, the historic city gate, one leaves the modern world outside. Historic coats of arms, a mummified shark and the relief of a Celtic goddess immediately plunge everyone into a mystical, mythical world and make them think of time periods in which cults, wars and heretics were commonplace.
The Bregenz watchman
The somewhat antiquated sounding title of “watchman” still exists today. Until two years ago, the watchman even lived in St. Martin’s Tower, the baroque landmark of the state capital. Even if the “watchman of St. Martin” inevitably makes one think of the “Hunchback of Notre Dame” – with the maintenance of the historic walls and the exhibition rooms on Bregenz history housed therein, the Bregenz watchmen are not subjected to any horrific tasks at all. The occupants of the prison likely felt considerably less at home there; the prison has since been renovated and now, appropriately, houses the Federal Monument Office. And those for whom the “executioner’s bell” in the St. Martin’s Tower sounded were likely really horror-stricken; after all, this meant that the unlucky ones would soon be executed. Luckily, for many decades it has only dutifully announced the time.
Honour the Guta!
Likewise, political decisions are no longer made in the Old Town Hall (1662), the city’s largest half-timbered building, but rather in the Deuringsschlössle castle. The gem built in the 17th century served as a motif for painters such as Egon Schiele and now houses the city’s best known gourmet temple, to which the rich, powerful and connoisseurs from near and far come to dine. They mostly park their cars on the “Ehreguta-Platz” – often not knowing what this “Guta” refers to, which according to the name, is to be honoured. In 1406, the little old woman rescued the people of Bregenz in the face of an attack by the Appenzellers, who had secretly eavesdropped on them. Thus, we are likely indebted to that Guta for our Upper Town, in which almost every house is a photo motif, having been preserved as a place of quiet, reflection and – a little bit – scariness and not having been razed by the mediaeval hordes. That is certainly worth a square and a fountain named after her. After all, the Upper Town developed more and more into a gem not only for the people of Bregenz, but for all in the region with an interest in history. A gem definitely worth visiting!