My wife and I are deep in conversation in front on the parish church in Au. In reality, we are just below the church, because it rests upon a hill and we’re on the street. I mention this because there is a large bronze plaque on said rock (on which the 14th-century church is perched), which has captured our attention. “It’s in memory of the Baroque master builders and stuccoers from the Au guild,” I explain. I can tell by the look on my wife’s face that she’s still curious to know more. Soon she reads aloud from the plaque: “In 1657, master builder Michael Beer founded the Au guild of bricklayers and stonecutters. From this guild, about 200 masters emerged in the 17th and 18th centuries.” A few prominent names of the master builders and stuccoers are listed and at the bottom there’s another brief line: “Built in 1957.” “The people of Au obviously put this in place to mark the 300th anniversary.
The splendour of the Baroque master builders
The astonishing achievements of the Bregenzerwald Baroque master builders, who built around 800 Baroque buildings in Europe, are now documented in a fabulous new museum in the village of Au. The museum is a testament to the dedication of several local associations.
The designer of this bronze plaque, Kaspar Albrecht, is also listed.” This is a prime opportunity for me to provide some background: “Kaspar Albrecht lived from 1889 to 1970. He was a sculptor and architect in Au. For instance, he created the remarkable war memorial in front of the church. His nephew, the architect Jakob Albrecht, supervised the church renovations in the 1980s. Another nephew, the sculptor Herbert Albrecht, contributed the magnificent altar and ambo. The Albrechts were descended in a direct line from the Baroque master builders. For instance, two of their ancestors were the master builders Johann Ferdinand Beer and Franz I. Beer. They lived from 1731 to 1789 and from 1659 to 1722 respectively.”
With a wry grin, my wife says: “Well, now that you’ve thrown all those numbers around, let’s go to the district of Rehmen. There’s an excellent small museum about the Baroque master builders, which opened last year. One of the important drivers behind this museum was Walter Lingg. He’s the owner of the ‘Krone’ hotel next to the church. It just so happens that I’ve arranged an appointment with him at the museum.” To get to the museum, it’s possible to take a hiking trail on the other side of the Bregenzerache river, or walk through the Au district of Schrecken to Rehmen. Both are worthwhile half-an-hour walks. Naturally, it’s also possible to simply drive to the museum as well. Once we arrive, I am simply astounded. The area is like a new village centre in Au. It’s an extraordinary place next to the old church of Rehmen.
The museum is located in the former curate’s house. A curate used to be called a clergyman, so actually the building is an erstwhile parsonage, which had been neglected until recently. “The members of the craftsmen’s guild association primarily built the house using old masonry and with old artifacts. Countless unpaid hours of work went into its construction,” says Rainer Muxel, chairman of the “akkurat” association, which was founded specifically for the preservation of the museum. This undisputed gem now houses the museum, the nursing association, and an apartment of the parish. Construction was financed with generous support from the State of Vorarlberg and the municipality of Au.
“We are fortunate to be so well connected with all the associations and committees in the municipality,” says Walter Lingg, who is visibly proud of what the new museum has become. He first conceived of the idea two decades ago. The museum is small and yet there is much to discover and especially to read. “The centrepiece is the Auer Lehrgänge, which come from the property of the aforementioned Albrecht family,” I tell my wife. “These two books, with building drawings from about 1715, served as the theoretical training foundation of future master builders. They are amongst the hundred most important historical works in Vorarlberg.
The originals aren’t here, of course, but you can browse through them electronically, enlarge them, or look at the details.” In addition to models, for example, of the Einsiedeln monastery built by Brother Caspar Moosbrugger or the Engelberg monastery in Switzerland (designed by Johannes Rüf), there are extensive references to other Baroque master builders such as Michael or Franz Beer, Johann Michael Beer von Bleichten, and Michael, Christian and Peter Thumb, just to name but a few. “Around 800 Baroque buildings in Europe were erected by the Bregenzerwald Baroque master builders over the span of about 150 years. The majority are in southern Germany, Switzerland and also in Alsace,” I report. Amongst them are such magnificent buildings as the minster church and collegiate library of St. Gallen, which has been declared a Unesco World Heritage Site. There is also the monastery of Weingarten, or Birnau, Germany’s most popular wedding church, which boasts a magnificent location above Lake Constance.”
“One of the gems of the exhibition is the original chest of the Au craftsmen’s guild from the 17th century. Belonging to the guild, it is brought back every year for the craftsmen’s association’s guild day (‘Lädolar’),” says my wife before adding: “I particularly enjoy the explanations of how the magnificent stucco work was created.” Pausing to take a breath, my wife then adds: “There’s so much here, how can you possibly take it all in?” “You can’t,” I say, “But what you can do is return again and again to refresh your memory. At some point, you’re bound to have a good overview of the information, but In the meantime, I suggest we head back to the hotel.” “Good idea,” says my wife. “Today is Friday, which means that Walter Lingg will be giving a guided tour of the Au parish church at 5 pm. We can learn more about the Au guild and the Baroque master builders. Arnold Meusburger will also play the organ. Afterwards, I plan to go to the spa before enjoying a good dinner and a bottle of wine.” My wife has big plans but I can’t resist reminding her of her duties. “We need to do justice to all that’s possible here in Au so I suggest that we return to the Baroque Master Builder Museum again tomorrow.” “I see,” says my wife. “I suppose you plan to quiz me on the subject of Baroque Master Builders as well?” – “But of course!”
Author: Walter Fink
Travel Magazine Issue: Winter 2022-23