Cities and Landscapes: Comparing Innsbruck and New Orleans
Christina Antenhofer, Robert L. Dupont
How should it be possible to compare two such different cities as Innsbruck and New Orleans? And why should one even want to compare these cities which at first glance do not have much in common? New Orleans, the Big Easy, the Crescent City, famous for its jazz, home to 389,617 people, surrounded by spectacular wetlands, is characterized by a tropical climate and its struggle against hurricanes. The city is strongly marked by its river, the Mississippi, and its historical neighborhoods such as the Vieux Carré and the Garden District, which make it a favored site for shooting movies and experiencing historic architectural sites of the 18th and 19th centuries. Most tourists, however, enjoy the city because of its many festivals and bars, which make it a unique place to party and enjoy live music. Innsbruck, on the other hand, is a lot smaller with 132,048 inhabitants. Situated in the center of the Alps, it is famous for having hosted the Olympic Games twice and appreciated for its historical atmosphere where its short period as an imperial city under Emperor Maximilian I left its traces in the Old Town and its surroundings, thus making Innsbruck one of the most interesting places to study the German Late Middle Ages and Renaissance. Yet most tourists now know Innsbruck as place for winter sports and its Christmas market, reflected by the Swarovski crystals which are certainly its most cherished souvenir. To this fairly associative list, one could add other aspects of these cities such as the fantastic cuisines which both New Orleans and Innsbruck are famous for. Both cities have strong local and regional identities. Both have long histories of being centers of multicultural exchange. Both cities profit from their spectacular landscapes and geographical situations. In particular, their geographical locations situate them within environmental and technological as well as security challenges that need to be combined with aesthetical (cultural heritage) and ecological debates. However, the main justification for focusing on these two cities as case studies and dedicating this volume to them is that this comparison is based not only on first impressions but also on longer lived experiences. For more than 40 years now the stories of the two cities have become intensely intertwined because of the International Summer School the University of New Orleans first started to organize in Innsbruck in 1976. Altogether, almost 10,000 students, 454 professors and 62 staff have spent six summer weeks in Innsbruck over the years.
Every summer 250 to 300 students from various universities in the American South have been hosted in Innsbruck and attended classes at the University of Innsbruck. Every year, when regular Innsbruck students leave their university and most often also the city for their summer holidays, they are replaced by crowds of young Americans who change the entire atmosphere in the city. In reference to this volume's title, one might say these American visitors create new landscapes of their own. They alter the image of the city, visibly bringing their own dressing styles to Innsbruck, an experience most intensely felt in the 1990s and 2000s when most young Europeans still preferred jeans to the visiting Southern girls wearing their light summer dresses and high heels, rarely seen before in the otherwise sporty Alpine city. Hearing American English all over the streets of Innsbruck adds to a new linguistic landscape. What began as individual experience grew into a collective one with students recommending their Innsbruck paths and even writing special travel guides for students spending their summer in the Alpine town. To reference Susanne Rau, thus real topographies came into being, written parcours on how to walk around the city and which places to visit. The places they frequent are not necessarily the ones tourists or locals would choose. The Gasthof Mohren, for example, situated conveniently halfway between the Old Town and the dormitories of the students, successfully survived for many years thanks to the New Orleanean students who would gather there every day after school, whereas the rest of the year it was a rather deserted place.
By now students whose parents had already been to Innsbruck for the Summer School participate in the program, and their written or narrated Innsbruck topographies have been passed down via generations of students. As well as the more or less fleeting images presented in the first paragraphs of this essay, real narratives on Innsbruck were created. They are made visible in the Memories & Stories that were collected via interviews for the 40th anniversary of the Summer School and presented in a brochure. Students and faculty staff of all the years were asked to write about their memories and their favorite places in the town of Innsbruck. The short portraits they give sketch the panorama of a New Orleanean topography of Innsbruck, one remarkably shaped by the river Inn. While Innsbruck locals do not pay their river much attention, it plays a special part in the New Orleanean encounter with Innsbruck, an impression which may have to do with the importance the Mississippi plays for New Orleans.
"My best memories: I like to walk beside the river, then sit on one of the benches and pretend I'm local […]". "My favorite place in Innsbruck is where the gray-green Inn River flows past the medieval Old Town and under the bridge for which the city was named." "However, Lynn and I recall with everlasting fondness, our daily walks along the Inn River at sunset […]." "My favorite spot in Innsbruck is the path along the Inn River, where I would take a daily walk." "Our favorite spot in Innsbruck is the walk along the Inn River […]" "My favorite place is to walk along the Inn river." "Aside from the 'tourist' spots, I'd have to say something very simple, the benches near the Inn River, near the Studentenhaus. You could sit still as the Inn rushed by, and all around, everywhere you looked, was beauty." "My favorite site?/?spot in Innsbruck is anywhere along the river, but especially near the old town […]".
Next to the river it is the Old Town that ranks among the most important spots, particularly the Golden Roof, Innsbruck's landmark.
"It's hard to choose a favorite site from that summer, as the family traveled to Venice, Salzburg, Vienna, hiked a glacier, rafted the Inn, and stood in awe of the Goldenes Dachl." "My favorite spot in Innsbruck is sitting in an outdoor café in the Old Town in front of the Goldenes Dachl, because of the beauty, history, and ambience of the place." "My favorite place in Innsbruck is the Old City because of its beauty and the history it represents." "My favorite place was the square by the Golden Roof and the Tower because of all the restaurants."
But obviously the strongest impression is left by the steep mountains surrounding Innsbruck, something "unlike anything you've seen" for any Louisiana native:
"Before you know it, there are these massive mountains that you're surrounded by, and for a Louisiana native, it's unlike anything you've seen. In 2012, the sight of such natural beauty and the bus ride into the city made me lose my breath and bring tears to my eyes. I wish I could have bottled the feeling. Since then, I've made a point to sit with a student on the shuttle ride into Innsbruck every year-just to see their face upon arrival. Every time, no matter what year, the look is always the same-wide-eyed, mouth opened, and full of awe."
While the New Orleans-Innsbruck relationship has thus generated its own narratives and lived topographies in and about Innsbruck, hundreds Innsbruck students and faculty have also been studying and teaching in New Orleans. With up to 80 students leaving Innsbruck for an exchange term or two every year, the partnership between the two universities represents the most successful Austrian student exchange program with an American university. These Innsbruck students return with lasting memories of Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest, and Halloween. The intriguing tastes of New Orleans stay with them as well-boiled crawfish, jambalaya, and oysters Rockefeller. In fact, out of the UNO International Summer School grew a friendship treaty between the University of New Orleans and the University of Innsbruck which also inspired a sister cities' agreement which was signed 20 years ago. The Innsbruck-New Orleans relationship has generated numerous transatlantic marriages, and it has left an audible landmark in Innsbruck via the New Orleans Jazz Festival which takes place annually in summer.
At the beginning of this volume stood the occasion of a number of anniversaries in 2015 (40 years for the UNO International Summer School and University collaboration, 20 years for the Innsbruck-New Orleans city partnership) which were celebrated by a symposium hosted by the University of Innsbruck in June 2015 with the title Cities and Landscapes. Considering New Orleans and Innsbruck as Multiple Landscapes. The aim was to draw attention to the profound connections between Innsbruck and New Orleans by looking at the two cities through interdisciplinary spatial lenses. The conference wanted to review both cities in a way that combines space and time and brings them together not only on a local but also on a global level, connecting two continents. It was realized as part of the cycle of the annual symposia which have been organized by the two universities since 1982 to enhance the academic exchange. In 2011, for example, a conference was dedicated to the phenomenon of the Global City.
The idea of dedicating the jubilee conference explicitly to the two cities was therefore close at hand. Neither the conference nor this volume, however, pursue a straight comparison between the two cities. Rather, we share an open approach which takes the research done at both universities as a starting point. The main question was which role does either city play in research projects based at both universities and what does this tell us about the interaction between the cities and their intellectual centers, the universities. One of our first findings was that while New Orleans is the focus of genuine research concentrated on the city, many Innsbruck-based research projects deal with the city and/or the region of the Tyrol without being necessarily urban studies projects or even focusing on the city itself. This finding seems to reflect to some extent Helmuth Berking's statement about the state of the art of German urban studies. Could it be, he asks, that in the last decades we were facing urban studies without cities? Besides the historians, he states, nobody really cared about the individual shape (Gestalt) of one city versus the other. He asserts a blank space between two complementary theoretical approaches. On the one hand, there is a theoretical tradition beginning with the Chicago School according to which the city is a laboratory for sociological processes of any kind and the research on the city is thus more or less research on society. On the other hand, beginning in the mid-Eighties, attention has been focused on micro-sociological processes-in one part of the city, a quarter, or milieu-thus risking that the city went lost among micro-analytical questions. Against this academic lacuna stands, as Martina Löw puts it, a large amount of everyday knowledge about cities fueled by journalistic brandings that like to create atmospheric city images. Where academic discourse is reluctant to pose concrete questions, there seems to be a huge interest in the very specific character of individual cities which only becomes visible when you investigate their differences from other cities and thus crystallize what is unique. This question has become the program of the research focus on the unique logic of cities, the Eigenlogik der Städte, initiated likewise by Berking and Löw.
In the United States, similar issues appear in the fields of urban history and urban studies, two overlapping but also conflicting academic areas. From its beginning as city biography, the scholarly study of urban areas has evolved into increasingly sophisticated (and contentious) manifestations. Historians of urban areas tended to concentrate on the biographies of particular cities or regions with little or no reference to larger processes. Sociologists of the Chicago School identified the urban prototype almost without reference to its historical or cultural antecedents. In the late 1960s the new urban history emerged, seeking to widen the perspectives and increase the tools available to urban historians. This represented a recognition that urban history must be open to the lessons not only of sociology, but also of economics, political science, and demography. Yet if cities were merely interchangeable backdrops to repetitive social processes, what role did the distinctive characteristics of cities play? Stephan Thernstrom suggested that the processes under study ought to be observable in rural areas as well, "implying that city life itself had no particular impact on the processes he wished to study."
The dichotomy between city biography and city as a location evolved into the concepts of space and place. Space is the site of study, interchangeable with others because one expects the processes under study to be replicable. Place, on the other hand, is the particular, distinctive location of study, the characteristics of which impact social processes in specific ways. Spatial analysis (considerably more sophisticated than a brief description can impart) provides an organizing tool to the daunting complexity of urban analysis. In particular, historians examine the competition to define space by contending urban groups (class, gender, race) and bring together both social and political elements.
From the introduction of the new urban history until the late 1990s, considerations of space dominated urban history in the U.S. More recent developments stress the nature of place in urban analysis and seek to locate universal social processes within the peculiarities of the cities under examination. By its nature, place analysis encourages a focus on local history, especially in those instances in which political actors consciously strive to utilize place distinctions to the advantage, generally economical, of their cities. In addition, advocates of place in urban history, promote (sometimes inadvertently) an activist form of urban history in which connections between localities and universities thrive.
This volume of essays draws upon both space and place analysis, but in its selection of two distinctive cities, the editors more closely examine the place of Innsbruck and New Orleans. In other words, what we were looking for with the challenging undertaking of this conference and volume was to get close to the particular atmosphere and fascination of both cities. Besides reflecting on the space both cities occupy in research projects at both universities, the second focus was on both cities as genuine subjects of research. According to Martina Löw, sister cities form ideal subjects for such comparisons since both cities stand in a relational context. This means that processes occurring in one city influence the other. As we have shown in the opening paragraphs, this is particularly true for the relationship between Innsbruck and New Orleans where new micro-landscapes are created via the programs and activities connecting both cities. While it was clear that it would be impossible to draw a linear comparison between both cities, we decided to start with a decidedly interdisciplinary approach integrating the surroundings of both cities, the landscapes. For this comparison, we could build on the experience of yet another volume realized by the Innsbruck research group Politische Ästhetik which was dedicated to the Tyrol as landscape and identity.
Innsbruck and New Orleans offer highly complex landscapes. Both stand for prototypical deeply rooted local and regional identities. They are elemental components of multicultural exchanges in the urban landscape. Both have a reputation for their images in the world as places with profound historical legacies that benefit from the spectacular landscapes surrounding them. Both Innsbruck and New Orleans face many social, environmental, architectural, and technological challenges. Discourses about security in these cities are coupled with both aesthetic (cultural inheritance) and ecological discourses. Tourism and gentrification are also important subjects of discussion in both cities.
In this book we propose the idea of multiple landscapes which will serve as a heuristic concept to organize the approaches to the multiple layers and unique logic of each of the two cities alike. We are deeply convinced that the project of investigating cities as multiple landscapes, thus singling out their distinct features, can only be realized as an interdisciplinary project. We are therefore particularly thankful to Martina Löw and the series editors for accepting our volume in their series of interdisciplinary urban research, which to us was the ideal place for presenting the results.
The Organization of the Volume and the Individual Contributions
Cities are conglomerates combining different actors: urban and rural spaces, objects and technical features, human bodies as well as political, social, and cultural discourses. In sum, these actors coagulate to complex networks, which we call multiple landscapes. The papers of this volume are organized along key aspects we consider to be significant within the concept of multiple landscapes. Thus the book is divided in six sections: I Multiple Landscapes, II Historical Readings, III Material Realities, IV Atmospheres, V Micro-Landscapes, and VI Hidden Sides.
Im Zentrum dieses Buches stehen Geschichte, Materialität, Mikrolandschaften und Atmosphären der Partnerstädte Innsbruck und New Orleans. Dabei stützen sich die Autorinnen und Autoren auf das Konzept der "multiplen Landschaften".