Arts and crafts are sexy in Innsbruck. No need to be ashamed to have a father who makes bells or hats, on the contrary, you might want to take over that business one day and continue the legacy and tradition.
We first spend a glowing afternoon surrounded by hundreds, hand-made bells at the Glockengie├čer Grassmayr, which exists since 1599 making it the oldest family business in Austria dealing with traditional crafts. “This year alone we made bells for eight different religions.” says Elisabeth Grassmayr, the lady of the house. Her husband took over the company from his father and Elizabeth’s sons are already working in the company with their teenagers also willing to step into the family business. Grassmayr is perhaps the only place in the world where all religions from all over the world come together for the same product that is made with love and skill. “Just now there were Buddhist monks visiting the workshop, we are casting for a Catholic church in Switzerland right now and next Friday a huge bell of 8 ton is being casted for an Orthodox church in Macedonia.” explains Elisabeth. Tons of molten bronze, red-hot from the oven, sizzling away like in a in a horror movie, is transformed into something tangible and unique. The craftsmen wear fireproof, Martian-like suits and work fast but accurately. When the bronze is poured into the mould, schnapps are always handed around, always accompanied by cookies made by Elisabeth. According to John and Peter Grassmayr there are fewer and fewer bell makers, it is a dying profession. Not only religious bells are cast here as well as special designs for homes, hotels and even a tubular bell for the city hall of Aarhus in Denmark, who strikes whenever a baby is born.
But Innsbruck is hiding more secret workshops. Held is the 4th generation of hat makers. Albert Held is always found in his tiny studio in a dark and secret street of the Old Town. He is working on a batch of Trachtenhut, the traditional Tyrolean hats made from felt. With old machinery and tools he assembles as one of the only hat makers in the country these sturdy, old-fashioned hats. His son Lorenz is also ready to take on the business although Held sells nowadays also fishing equipment and other hat brands to keep everything viable and realistic. Passing on traditional crafts from father to son, is in Innsbruck still a matter of honour, and that’s a good thing.