I am no skier, and I am certainly no jumper, but I still love to see and visit Bergisel just to enjoy the view both to and from the tower’s fine lines and curves, symbols of originality and creativity in a city that appreciates both. Those who admire the work of world-renowned architect Dame Zaha Hadid already know ingenuity is integral to the modus operandi of this Iraqi-born, London-based genius; how fortunate for Innsbruckers that their city is endowed with two of Dame Zaha’s most original projects.
The Bergisel ski-jump stadium, completed in 2002 and immediately awarded the Austrian State Architecture Prize the same year, is a unique sight on the Innsbruck landscape. The view from the top may take your breath away, but hopefully not your appetite; the Bergisel Panorama-Restaurant provides an ideal vantage point for enjoying a meal while surveying the beautiful city centre below and the Nordketten Mountain on the opposite side of the valley.
Nordketten is another summit conquered by Zaha Hadid. The Innsbrucker Nordkettenbahnen rail/funicular line and the stations it serves rank highly among the most intelligently designed transport systems ever created. Not limited to the traditional interpretation of rail travel, the cars are loosely attached to allow for travel along the rails both on a flat surface in town and in ascent of the steep mountainside when the cars separate but stay connected and function as a funicular.
The roomy gondolas suspended on the cables take hikers, skiers, and other outdoorsy people from Hungerburg to Seegrube and Hafelekar, where the enjoyment of Nordpark’s various sporting facilities await. As at Bergisel, there is the chance to take in some stew with the view in Seegrube’s restaurant where the panorama to the south side of the Inn Valley is just as impressive as the one from the south looking north.
What is so impressive about this rail and cable-car system is not that it exists, but that its city start and mountain terminus are so close together. There are scores of pleasant small cities around Europe, and certainly many scenic mountain areas; Innsbruck is one of the very few places in the whole world to offer both in one place. Aside from the beauty of both the town and the scenery, the impressive feat of travelling 2000 metres in elevation on the Innsbrucker Nordkettenbahnen in only 20 minutes is very much part of the excitement.
Zaha Hadid is not alone in bringing remarkable architecture to Innsbruck. Joining her works around town in a reflection of Innsbruck’s cosmopolitanism are British architect David Chipperfield’s Kaufhaus Tyrol department store and native Austrian Rainer Köberl’s BTV bank building, whose chequerboard pattern looks deceivingly simple on the outside, but the various architectural devices used on the structure all serve a purpose. No visitor to Innsbruck will miss a visit to esteemed French architect Dominique Perrault’s Rathaus Galerien, an indoor extension of sorts of the atmospheric Maria-Theresien-Strasse in the form of an enclosed promenade that serves as the ground floor of a stylish town hall and office building topped by two of the city’s best places to socialise, the cylindrical bar 360° and the cubical restaurant Lichtblick.
All of these smart, modern structures serve as 21st-century counterpoints to the grand Baroque masterpieces around the city, which when built in their own eras were the modern architecture of their day. Times and styles may change, but the Innsbruck appreciation for excellence never does.