The River Inn traverses Tirol from its southernmost perimeter to the north-eastern border. It flows through the province, beginning its journey as a merrily bubbling stream in Engadin in Switzerland. It steadily gains in size and strength before flowing through Tirol and Kufstein, where it leaves the country in the direction of Bavaria. The capital of Tirol, Innsbruck, is named after the river and the Inntal Valley is the main artery of Tirol. It never occurred to anyone, however, to regard the valley and its people as one single entity. At any rate, not the locals.
This starts with the fact that no Tirolean ever claims to be an “Inntaler”, or person from the Inntal. People describe themselves as being a “Paznauner”, “Villgrater”, “Zillertaler” – by no means do the Inntal Valley folk allow themselves to be lumped together under the same title. Generally speaking, one is either an “Oberlander” (from the highlands) or an “Unterländer” (from the lowlands) – whereby these comprise not only of the residents of every town and village located next to the River Inn, or the inhabitants of greater Innsbruck.
Those from Innsbruck are, as is often purported of the residents of every capital city around the world, arrogant and conceited (an opinion maintained, at any rate, by other Tiroleans). How very different the “Oberinntaler” and “Unterinntaler” are, is observed not only by those unaffected, but is projected by the folk themselves in their public self-image. To quote a well-known local saying, “Funerals in the lowlands are more fun than weddings in the highlands”. Or a lesser known, but slightly earthier variation of the theme, based on the fact that “Oberländer” are predisposed to being taciturn in nature and sparing with frivolous displays of emotion: “Before an “Oberländer” has kissed someone, an “Unterländer” has made a child”. In other words; it may take some time before an Oberländer brings himself to clearly express his interest in a female being.
People, namely, take on the characteristics of the landscape in which they live. And those who argue there is no sharper bend or narrower point in the River Inn than at Landeck, should travel up-river to „Obere Gericht“ and climb down the gorge to the picturesque border-town of Altfinstermünz.
This summer, I wrote about the various Tirolean valleys and told stories of so much life in so little space in the series “Valley Life“. I want to introduce visitors from all over the world to Tirol and open local people’s eyes to the very special aspects of their otherwise familiar environment.