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Robert Buchner, St Christoph am Arlberg. Die Geschichte von Hospiz und Taverne, Kapelle und Bruderschaft, von Brucken, Wegen und Wasserstrafien, Saumern, Wirten und anderen Menschen an einem Alpenpafi. Ende des 14. bis Mitte des 17. Jahrhunderts.

Robert Buchner, St Christoph am Arlberg. Die Geschichte von Hospiz und Taverne, Kapelle und Bruderschaft, von Brucken, Wegen und Wasserstrafien, Saumern, Wirten und anderen Menschen an einem Alpenpafi. Ende des 14. bis Mitte des 17. Jahrhunderts, Bohlau, Vienna, Cologne and Weimar (2005), 523 pp., 69.00 [euro]. (The history of hospice and taverns, chapel and brotherhood: of bridges, paths and streets, mule drivers, innkeepers and other people in an Alpine pass, late fourteenth century to the mid-seventeenth.)

This book explores the history of St Christoph am Arlberg, now one of the most famous Alpine ski resorts, between the late fourteenth and mid-seventeenth centuries. In those days it was an inn with a chapel located in the Arlberg passage on the route from Tirol to Vorarlberg and Switzerland. Yet the author offers considerably more than a local history or a chronicle of the passageway. He presents the area encompassing the pass in all its historical relationships and contexts.

The book moves from the general to the particular, beginning with brief descriptions of Alpine journeys and hospices, then moving on to a discussion of Arlberg's first hospice, founded in 1386. Its purpose was, like that of other hospices, to provide those travelling through the pass with room and board, and in particular to offer emergency aid to injured or lost travellers (in winter and in the frequent cases of bad weather). It was financed principally through donations acquired by travelling alms collectors who would usually exchange religious indulgences by bishop's letters.

In 1421 for commercial reasons the hospice had to be converted into a guest house, which maintained the most important aid services. It was subject to Tirolean authority and was rented to proprietors. In 1647 a brotherhood emerged that had an influence over the economy of the pass until 1783, when it was abolished by reforms of Kaiser Joseph II.

The book does not focus primarily on matters of commerce. It is, however, important for historians of commerce and economics because it presents a comprehensive picture of an important Alpine habitat and market, starting from St Christoph and extending to the Arlberg pass and its manifold relations within its environment. Here the second part of the work is especially relevant.

Although only a mule track existed through the pass from 1500 it was nonetheless important for the exchange of goods between east and west. The most important goods were the Hall salt from Tirol, and lard and grain from the west bound for Tirol. The cattle trade too played a substantial role, as did merchant wares like textiles from Upper Swabia and north-east Switzerland. Usually, mule drivers provided the transport with their horses; their circumstances are described in great detail. All manner of travellers traversed the pass: merchants, pilgrims, soldiers, messengers and nomadic people. For a while, mining played a modest role in the pass region.

The author paints a lively picture of around two and a half centuries of activity in and around the pass. It is strikingly supplemented with portraits of tavern proprietors between 1518 and 1659 in Part 3. Most of them were older men with large families already living in comfortable economic circumstances who spent an average of six years on the mountain before returning to the valley. An account of the not always glorious history of the pass brotherhoods of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (Part 4) ends the book.

The frequently articulated demand to see commercial and economic histories as components of cultural history is amply fulfilled by this book. The economic and social occurrences are bound up with the political and religious developments of the times and appear as one entity, within whose framework the people operate. These people, 'for whom the Arlberg was once, occasionally, frequently, or always a station or hub' (p. 456), are for the author the actual subject of the book; the fullness of the painstakingly compiled individual narratives flows together through them. The work is certainly rich in detail and reading it requires patience. It is, however, worth the time because through this book a reader can gain insight into the historical events of an important European pass landscape.

Karl Heinrich Kaufhold, University of Gottingen
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Author:Kaufhold, Karl Heinrich
Publication:The Journal of Transport History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 1, 2007
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