As we stroll through the beautiful village of Bezau, I remind my wife that I grew up here. She knows of course, but I’m reflecting on how much things have changed since I was young. Heading towards the church, my wife’s trained eyes easily spot the first info column. “Look”, she says, “This is the start of another Umgang.” Umgangs are architectural tours set up in villages throughout Bregenzerwald. The principle is simple: At each stage, an informational column, a pole with patina finish, provides detailed background info on the architecture of a particular building.
This time we’re standing before a column at the thoroughly inviting Kuschelhotel Gams in Bezau. As the name “Kuschel” (cuddle) denotes in German, this place is all about getting cosy with your partner. My wife turns to me with a smile and asks: “Shall we go for a cuddle?” She winks at me and I blush, asking: “Do we need a hotel to enjoy each other’s company?” Hand in hand, we continue towards the district of Oberbezau. Here I notice an old Bregenzerwald estate next to a modern wooden house. The style is quite typical of modern Vorarlberg architecture. My wife and I have a closer look: “There are parallels between the old house and the new one,” she says. “Notice the smooth facade, the window bands and the typical Bregenzerwald porch. Here the architects, Helmut Dietrich and Much Untertrifaller, have made a nod towards tradition.”
There is an old barn in the meadow. “I wonder why they put a pole here next to this inconspicuous woodshed?” my wife asks in amazement. I explain that such small barns used to be characteristic of the Bregenzerwald landscape. Plus, regardless of its historical background, the barn is simply beautiful. Proceeding along the Grebenbach stream we arrive at the village’s first houses on the path that leads to Reuthe. “Check out that beautiful church on the mountain. That’s likely to be our next stop.” Soon enough my wife locates the next information column. “Unbelievable, the first documented mention of this church was in 1250!” Just below, built directly into the mountainside, we locate the mortuary chapel, a small masterpiece that was designed by Hermann Kaufmann. “See that building over there,” says my wife. “That must be the Gesundhotel Bad Reuthe health & wellness hotel.”
“For over 250 years, buildings from different time periods have stood side by side next to one another. Bernd Frick and Hermann Kaufmann designed one of the more recent buildings,” says my wife. The Gesundhotel Bad Reuthe also has the distinction of being one of Austria’s best-utilised hotels. After admiring an office building that was designed by three architects from Kaufmanns’ extended family, I seize the opportunity to impress my wife with a little bit of family history. One of my ancestors once owned an old Bregenzerwald house, which she bequeathed to the municipality on the condition that they set up a museum of local history. And that’s exactly what they did. The next stop on our Umgang tour, which again features an informational column, is a community building. This social centre houses a nursery as well as rooms for the elderly or disabled. Last but not least, the new bus stop is also dedicated to the public, though other towns have perhaps invested more from an architectural perspective.
Having reached the Bezau village centre, my wife has another idea: “At our next stop, you could gift me a wellness break at Susanne Kaufmann’s Hotel Post. While I enjoy the pampering, you could have a closer look at the building’s architecture,” she suggests. It’s an idea that suits both of us, I admit. After all, the father and son duo Leopold and Oskar Leo Kaufmann were responsible for the architecture. While my wife devotes herself to beauty, I make my way to the final stop of the Bezau Umgang tour, the Bildungshaus Kloster educational centre. Here, a new roof was built at the cloister of the erstwhile Capuchin monastery. The result: a new multi-purpose hall. At the end of the Umgang tour, and with some measure of persuasion, I coax my wife away from the wellness oasis to the nearest inn. It’s a fitting end to yet another lovely ‘Umgang.’
Author: Walter Fink
Issue: Bregenzerwald Travel Magazine – Summer 2020