My wife says to me: “It’s such wonderful weather. We could spend a few days enjoying the beauty of the Bregenzerwald, hike a bit, make use of the spa facilities and, above all, eat and drink well.” I glance over at her as she continues to make her case: “In any event, we could have a look at the Bizau area, perhaps search for the patina-covered metal poles that lead to unusual architectural monuments.” And just like that, we were on our way to Bizau. One km down the road, she asks me about the meaning of the word Umgang. “The word has several meanings,” I reply with a smile. “It refers to both a tour, for example a circuit within the village but also to interacting with one another and the surrounding environment.”
In this specific case, and most certainly in reference to Bregenzerwald villages, both meanings are relevant. An Umgang is indeed a walk through a village, but it’s also the way in which people in the Bregenzerwald shape their living spaces – this according to official Umgang informational materials. For more evidence, it helps to more thoroughly examine small towns like Bizau in person. “Pay attention to the incredible industrial and production facilities. For instance, have a closer look at the building where ‘Bregenzerwald windows’ are produced. This corresponds to pole 5 on the Umgang map. Such characteristic examples are everywhere in Bizau.” We park our car at town hall and approach the rust-coloured pole: The 1989 construction of the municipal building and the fire station behind it marked the beginning of a new architectural era in Bizau.
The municipality commissioned Bregenzerwald architect Hermann Kaufmann with the planning. Kaufmann, one of the most important architects in the state, is certainly also Bizau’s most influential guiding force when it comes to both public and private buildings. He was also behind the creation of a magnificent funerary chapel at the cemetery, which he erected along with sculptor Herbert Meusburger. Beyond the cemetery walls, Meusburger also erected the new village fountain and the stone fence, which points to the old Alpgasse alley used by cows when descending from high-Alpine pastures. Meanwhile, in Bizauer Moos, a particularly beautiful corner of the community, there is an ancient wooden fence behind which, according to my wife, the most delicious potatoes grow. Recognising that these same potatoes are sold at restaurants like the Taube and the Schwanen, we decide to head on to the next stage of our Umgang, and to lunch.
On the way, we pass the community’s most awarded building: the kindergarten planned by architect Bernardo Bader. Speaking of awards: Bizau received the main prize for modern architecture in rural areas from Arge Alp. In my estimation, this award is most deserved. After all, where else does modern architecture exist in such harmony with ancient farmhouses? My wife asks: “Now that we’ve finished the Umgang, what else can you tell me about Bizau?” Where should I start? “Gebhard Wölfle in particular, who lived from 1848 to 1904, is worth mentioning. As the most important dialect poet in Bregenzerwald, many of his poems have also been set to music and are still sung like folk songs today. Last but not least, he co-founded the theatre club in Bizau, which just so happens to be the oldest in the state. Performances are still ongoing and there’s hardly a family in town that hasn’t participated in the theatre in one way or another.” “Ah yes,” says my wife. “They always premiere the Sunday after Easter. Afterwards, audience and performers sit together and sing old songs from the region. And you can sit at the centre of the action and sing along deep into the night.” “Exactly,” I say with a smile. “Because it’s so beautiful in Bizau.”
Author: Walter Fink
Issue: Winter 2019-20 Travel Magazine