The smallest cultural capital in the world

“This is where the holiday begins for us” is a phrase we hear ever so often from northern holidaymakers who are travelling through Bregenz on their way south. It probably has to do with the formal act of officially leaving one’s country, hence the moment in which one can leave behind, with a sigh of relief, all the trials and tribulations of the working year.

Festspielhaus Bregenz Bühnenturm Ausschnitt mit Himmel © Dominic Kummer

Now at last no one else has any rights over how I spend my time; everyday regulations don’t reach this far – those who have fled over the border think. As we know from experience, the same liberating effect is felt by others who are not on holiday but come here on business, for instance as a conference attendee at Bregenz Festival House. The name Bregenz simply doesn’t sound like work and stress. It sounds like culture, inspiration, recreation.

The town has a registered population of a little under thirty thousand, which corresponds to slightly more than four sold-out performances of an opera on the lake stage. But all the same it’s the capital of the federal state of Vorarlberg and consequently benefits from the presence of other major cultural institutions beyond the Bregenz Festival.

It also benefits, naturally, from its location on the shore of a great lake. What’s more, on a side of the lake from which the expanse of water (though bounded to the south by mountains) mostly seems as endless as a sea. A view that’s seldom to be had in Europe. And that’s not all. Just go a few kilometres inland and you will enter the Bregenz Forest, a region which boasts not only hundreds of kilometres of hiking trails but also its own building and craft traditions that have found expression in an architecture style that has come to be known and admired around the world.

The majority of the holidaymakers mentioned at the start don’t stay in Bregenz, of course. They are just passing through, on their way to a proper sea or, in winter, heading for really high mountains. As a result many of them are probably unaware of all that Bregenz, perhaps the smallest cultural capital in the world, has to offer.

Caption: One of the landmarks in Bregenz is the Milchpilz, a catering establishment that has become an inalienable part of the townscape. Though the Milchpilz – a daring neologism combining the German words for milkshake and toadstool – is not open in the cold seasons, all year round it’s a curious and highly visible way marker that tends to stick in the memory of people visiting Bregenz.


The smallest cultural capital in the world