In Defense of Linz
Mentioning the name of Austria’s third largest city often stirs that famous, but peculiar saying, "In Linz beginnt’s." Although initially a response to the insulting "In Linz stinkt’s" – time honored epithet for the country’s traditional center of heavy industry – this optimistic adage always seemed to merit the question, "Just what, exactly, begins in Linz?"
2009 may very well be the year of new beginnings, as the city dons the wandering moniker of European Capital of Culture, along with the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius. First bestowed in 1985 on Athens, this opportunity for European cities to showcase their culture for a year has already passed through 39 cities, including Graz in 2003.
Entering the city by car, the trappings of celebration are immediately evident. The typical white signs with a blue border and black writing still indicate Linz, but suddenly they are in another language like Arabic or Russian. In fact, each location in the city has a little something extra to offer the visitor.
Perhaps a good place to begin one’s journey through the city is up on the Römerberg Hill, location of the Linzer Schloss, which features a controversial new modern wing built for the occasion. Decide for yourself if the wing blends in well with the 17th century Renaissance remains.
The last time Linz was envisioned as a cultural hub of Europe was during the reign of one of its native sons: Adolf Hitler. Having grown up there and seen his parents buried in nearby Leonding, the infamous legacy of the man no one wants to highlight is finally being addressed in this temporary exhibition at the Schlossmuseum ending Mar. 22. Entitled "Kulturstadt des Führers" the exhibition portrays the daily life of the inhabitants between 1938 and 1945 and how the arts fed into Hitler’s Kulturpolitik.
A similar series of installations called "In Situ" highlights locations around the city that acknowledge this dark period, including the Gestapo headquarters at Langgasse 13.
Fortunately, the millennia of Linz’s culture long preceded the dark eight years of history that commonly tarnish its reputation. From the splendid lookout on the Römerberg, one can’t help but notice the great spire of the neo-Gothic Marienkirche. Also known as the Neuer Dom, or New Cathedral, this construction was completed by the same architect of the renowned cathedral in Cologne. Yet here, architect Vincent Statz was given one condition: the spire can not be higher than that of Vienna’s Stephansdom. At 134 meters, it is a mere three meters shy.
When admiring the size of Austria’s largest church, take notice of the donut shaped construction attached high up on the spire. Organized specifically for "Linz ‘09", the small living quarters is reserved for hermits who need a week of solitude with a view. Spots in this aerie were available to the public, but they have long since been booked up for the entire year. You could try for next year, though.
A prime example of the modern elements of its culture is the riverside Lentos museum, borrowing its name from the settlement known as Lentia in Celtic times. The modern glass construction built in 2003 houses a major art exhibition featuring eight centuries worth of some of the most renowned works of Austrian art.
This collaboration between 30 Austrian museums and private collectors entitled "Best of Austria," contains an array of works from Gothic stained glass to the most modern installations to come out of Austria in recent years. Keep an eye on the Lentos as you spend time in Linz and you’ll notice it changes color.
Any showcase of the culture of Linz must include its musical heritage, with associations to Anton Bruckner, once the Cathedral’s organist, and Mozart who composed Linzer Symphony here. The Landestheater will host an original opera by renowned composer Philip Glass (whose work includes films scores for The Hours and The Illusionist) to premiere on September 20th.
The American composer has chosen as inspiration for his opus one of Linz’s more memorable native sons, Johannes Keplar, the mathematician and astronomer who discovered the laws of motion in the solar system.
The scientist who lived in Linz from 1612 to 1627 discovered the third law of planetary motion while in Linz, and lived in Rathausgasse 5, just off the Hauptplatz.
In addition to the special events happening at Linz’s main locations, numerous artistic, musical and cultural events will take place throughout the city throughout the year. From the Crossing Europe Film Festival from Apr. 20 to 26, to the 30th anniversary of the Ars Electronica Center in September, each month promises to offer something special for both new and seasoned visitors to the city.
One particularly exciting installation will be unveiled in May: a platform extending out into the middle of the Danube that will offer a new perspective on Linz.
So perhaps in this year as European Capital of Culture we’ll find the proof we need after all: In Linz, something does indeed begin. And it’s well worth checking out.