Out and about in Stein

Stein occupies a narrow strip of land between the steep slopes of the valley and the River Danube. Running through the town there is a long main street, the Steiner Landstraße. Parallel to the this street there is the Donaulände, which likewise runs the length of the town and today separates it from the river. As goods were hauled up river in long conveys that involved three barges, eighty men and as many horses, there were no harbours as such. Rather, in a laborious process, the convey would slowly approach the banks, with barges and auxiliary craft being secured by one means or another once a standstill had been achieved. To this effect, many houses on the Donaulände have iron rings built into their walls which were used for the mooring of barges and other craft. As they were part of the city-wall that protected the town, the walls of these houses are very thick.

From Krems one approaches Stein from the East, entering the town through the Kremser Tor. This gateway is the starting point for a tour given in German by Christine Emberger in which Stein is revealed to visitors through the eyes of a night watchman from the Middle Ages. For details on these and other of tours see: www.christine-emberger.at.

© Rainer Skrovny
© Rainer Skrovny

The eastern gateway is also where Kleine Welten, or „Little Worlds“ may be found. Here educational, innovative and sustainable presents for all ages may be found. Products include games toys, books, stationary and well as top quality chocolate made by the Austrian chocolatier, Berger. See www.kleinewelten.at for opening times.

Next to Kleine Welten, following the Gottweigerhofgasse North leads to the Gottweigerhof itself. This was where the factor for Gottweig Monastery lived and the courtyard was an agricultural collecting yard where crops and tithes were gathered together for processing, sale and storing. Built over the southern entrance, there is a Gothic chapel with an eight-sided tower, the key of which can be borrowed from Museum Krems. The frescos that decorate the chapel, hallway and oratorium are important examples of Gothic mural painting and the interior features rib vaulting and niches. Crossing the courtyard and going through the third archway, leads one out of the old town and looking at the eastern wall it can seen that the north and eastern sides of the courtyard  formed the north-eastern corner of the city wall and accordingly have a strongly defensive character.

The south-eastern corner of the city-wall is obscured but can be glimpsed if one stands at Steiner Landstraße 10 and looks through the entrance to the courtyard opposite towards the South-West. A hundred metres South of the town’s eastern gate there is the Danube and a landing stage where river cruises along the Wachau Valley can be booked and the ferry boarded. An open air exhibition gives an introduction the history and culture of the Wachau which along with the old town of Krems and the abbeys of Gottweig and Melk was accepted as a world heritage site by the UNESCO in 2000.  This is also the starting point for another tour given by Christine Emberger that introduces the lively world of the „shippers“, the teams of up to 80 men and horses, who used to haul conveys of freight barges up river.  Often the barges carried wine upstream and iron and salt downstream as well as wood, stone and luxury items. For more on the shippers and their lost world, see the Reloading Humanism Liza Herzog page.

Also near the eastern gate, at Steiner Landstraße 24, is Zorba’s Taverna which can be recommended to those who like Greek cooking and wine. The houses on the Steiner Landstraße were built during the Middle Ages with many being rebuilt and adapted during the Renaissance as was the case at number 24 which was rebuilt in 1562. Others were adapted or were rebuilt during the Baroque era, this being the second of the town’s two periods of prosperity.

Also on the Steiner Landstrasse, at number 32, are two imposing houses in which salt was stored prior to resale. Here there is the „Salzstadl“ a traditional Gasthaus that also runs a stage for cabaret, concerts and lectures. See www.salzstadl.at. Continuing West, either along the Steiner Landstraße or along the Danube tow path, one soon enough arrives at Ludwig von Köchel-Platz, named after the prominent Mozart scholar, Ludwig Ritter von Köchel, who was born in Stein in 1800. The so-called „Köchel-Verzeichnis“ (K-V) was first published in 1862 and still to this day is a standard work of reference that is used by Mozart scholars throughout the world. Apart from writing extensively on music Köchel also conducted botanical and mineralogical studies and was seen by his contemporaries as exemplifying the ideal of the universal man. In his will he left a large part of his mineralogical collection to the Piraist School in Krems, where he himself was once a pupil and where the specimens he donated are still used as teaching aids to this day.

Ludwig Ritter Alois Friedrich von Köchel (1800-1877)

At Ludwig von Köchel-Platz there is „The House of Regions“ where traditional ladies‘ costumes with an innovative twist may be found, along with textiles, hand-blown glass, enamel ware and traditionally made wicker baskets. Around the corner at Donaulande 56, books and CD’s with a regional focus are also available. Here a wide variety of concerts, cabaret shows and lectures are held. These include the „Kremser Fireplace Talks“ where every autumn, pairs or trios of experts from different fields are invited to discuss current themes pertaining to society, the future and our conceptions of how we wish to live. The House of Regions was previously known as the Gasthaus zu Elefant as it was here that in 1551, an elephant named Solomon and his mahout, Subhro, spent a night. The elephant was a wedding present from the king of Portugal, King João III, to Archduke Maximillian of Austria and Solomon and Subhro walked all the way from Portugal to Vienna. Everywhere they went they were seen as a great marvel and in the towns and villages where they stopped, inns and hostels recorded the event by renaming themselves with such names as „Elephant’s Rest“ and the „Elephant’s Guest House“.

Following the Steiner Landstraße brings one to the Church of Saint Nicholas, which is Stein’s the parish church. Once visible from the river, on the South side of the building there is an over life size image of Saint Christopher that dates from 1537. As he successfully carried Jesus across a river despite the ever growing weight of the cares of mankind that Jesus bore, Saint Christopher was popular among the shippers and the fresco shows the Saint stepping into the river with the Christ Child on his shoulder.

The church is first mentioned in the fourteenth century, with the current structure dating from the fifteenth century. Built in a Late Gothic style, inside there is a kind of webbed rib vaulting that is typical for the region. During the eighteenth century, the church was fitted out with a dominating array of Baroque furniture which at the beginning of the twentieth century, was replaced by a much lighter Neo-Gothic selection. Nevertheless as a tribute to the acclaimed painter, Martin Johann Schmidt, who lived and worked in Stein and who is buried in the town cemetery, a large altarpiece painted by the artist was allowed to remain. This is located in an alcove on the North wall and shows Saint Nepomuk. A side altar on the South side of the church also features a painting by Martin Johann Schmidt and shows the church’s patron, Saint Nicholas. Reflecting the importance of the river, both altarpieces address saints who may be called upon by those in danger of drowning and the saints are depicted in the process of saving people from watery graves. Nine other paintings in the church by Martin Johann Schmidt were sold in order to pay for the new Neogothic fittings. Nevertheless the pews, the font and the church organ are all Baroque. The Neogothic fittings are well designed and masterfully executed and admirable compliment the Late Gothic architecture. While the small main altar allows light from the specially commissioned stained glass windows to flow in, the pulpit is particularly gracile, despite the fact that it is surmounted by an almost life statue of Saint John the Baptist. All this serves to re-endow the church with an airy quality that for two hundred years was suppressed.

Behind the church, steps lead up to the Church of our Lady, with buildings built into the rocky overhang. Both the Church of our Lady and the Reb Tor that is situated a little higher up, offer panoramic views over the town.  It is here the beginnings of Stein as a settled community are to be found and the Church of Our Lady stands on the site of a church that dates from the eleventh century, the foundations of which in turn, stand on a structure that dates from the Roman era. The first people to live on the rocky outcrop were probably a people known as Slavs who are known to have inhabited the Northern banks of the Danube during the Late Roman Era and the Age of Migration. A short distance southwest of the church there is the well from which, for hundreds and perhaps thousands of years water was drawn. Once a busy meeting point, it is now a tranquil spot where a refreshing drink of spring water may be enjoyed.

In 1263, the still unfinished Church of Saint Nicholas was made the official parish church and the upper church was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and became known as the Frauenberg Kirche or „Ladyhill Church“. The church’s current form derives from the 1380’ies with the interior dating from around 1470. Meanwhile the tower dates from late sixteenth century and is capped by a distinctive Baroque roof. The tower has seven stories and unusually there is a chimney. This is because up until 1970, the top floor was where a watchman  lived who would keep a lookout for outbreaks of fire. In 1966, the church was dedicated to the memories of those who had fallen during the First and Second World Wars.

Continuing on along the Steiner Landstraße, one comes to Rathaus Platz with a three columned monument honouring Johannes Nepomuk (1350-1393). Nepomuk who was a Bohemian priest and martyr who became popular during the eighteenth century. Nepomuk was martyred by being thrown into the River Moldau from the Charles Bridge in Prague and left to drown. An inversion of the circumstances of his death made Nepomuk a patron saint of bridges who offered protection against death by drowning. Among those who invoked him were the shippers and according to legend, as his body floated downstream, it was accompanied by flickering tongues of fire. Like the Virgin Mary, he is therefore often depicted with a halo adorned with five stars and it is for this reason that on the monument, the five cherubs surrounding him, all hold stars. It should be noted that the 1855 date given on the pedestal below the Saint, is a date of restoration. Built in 1715, the monument utilises the latest in Baroque illusionist technology and suspended from the baldachin, a cloud and a cherub are held aloft by a chain.

After Rathaus Platz, one comes to Passauerhof, with a Renaissance façade topped by dog-tooth castillations and ornamental, miniature turrets. Like the Gottweigerhof, this was an agricultural collecting yard where crops were gathered in and grapes were pressed to make wine that was stored in the cellars below. Here, at Steiner Landstraße 76 is Il Magazzino, where a range of Italian specialities may be purchased. These include fine wines, grappa, cheese, charcuterie, tinned products, pasta and all manner of preserves and biscuits. Artisan bread and rolls are delivered by the baker Brotocnik, from Waldviertel, the wooded plateaux that lies to the North of Krems and Stein. For those in need of refreshment, wine, coffee aperitifs and antipasti are served. For those who cook, there books on Italian cooking. See www.il-magazzino.com for opening times. In the Kleine Passauerhof at number 74 there is the dressmaker and fashion designer Martina Wagensonner www.wagensonnerfshion.raumusik.at

One then comes to Schürer Platz, which is very much the living heart of Stein. Here, apart from a newsagent and a chemist’s, there is Café Hartl and the award winning pizzeria, Firenze, where oven baked pizza and hand-made pasta may be enjoyed either outside, or indoors under the cosy curve of a traditional vault. See www.firenze-krems.at. Continuing on towards the river one comes to a statue of Martin Johann Schmidt. On the other side of the square, opposite Firenze, there the so-called „Manzetti House“ named after an eighteenth century Lord Mayor of Stein. It was in this house that Ludwig von Köchel was born. Next to the Manzetti House there is the „Toll Collector’s House“, which is a masterpiece of Northern Renaissance architecture.

At ground floor level the most noticeable feature of the building are the columns  that support the bay-window. These derive from a tradition that, lacking an in-depth acquaintance with the Greek orders of architecture, did not distinguish between genuine Roman capitals and their Romanesque descendants. This misunderstanding lead however to an innovative and unrestrained approach that resulted in a uniquely South German style of Renaissance architecture and design. High above, enclosed in the ends of the scrolls that hide the gable end, there are relief portraits of Emperor Ferdinand I and his wife, Anna, whilst above the windows of the two-storey bay-window, there are the arms of Ferdinand and the imperial crown and eagle of Austria. Below the imperial crown and eagle there is the inscription: Jupiter in coelis Caesar regit omnia terris 1536. This translates as: „Jupiter, the heavenly Caesar rules all Earth“ and as the inscription implies, the house can be assumed to have been completed in 1536. Above the first floor window, a second  inscription reads: Verbum Domini manet in aeternum ex. This is taken from Isiah 40:8, in which the prophet says: „The grass withers and the flowers fade but the word of the Lord endures for ever“ with the inscription only giving the second phrase. The emphasis on the Word of God suggests a Protestant inclination, while the inscription that refers to Jupiter and Caesar, implies a humanist learning. This is confirmed by other reliefs and their encircling inscriptions. From the wills recorded in the town’s book of wills, it has been found that during the sixteenth century, thirty-three citizens owned collections of books that numbered between three and 290 works. An analysis of the books owned shows that, as one would expect, texts relating to the Reformation predominated, nevertheless the works of Greek and Roman authors were also well represented. Of the humanist writers, Erasmus, Petrarch and Ficino were particularly popular. There were also specialised collections of medical texts and books relating to teaching and instruction. Meanwhile the building’s other decorative elements consist of cherubs, dolphins and floral motifs. These are typical for the Renaissance and the whole can be seen as deriving from a style of decorative, ornamental painting known as grotesque. Here motifs such as flowers, birds, masks and dolphins are shown often joined together by curving decorative lines. In its pure and non-mannerist manifestations, grotesque painting and other such forms of ornamentation reflect the interconnectedness of all things and their capacity for metamorphosis. An example of grotesque painting may be seen in „The Red Room“ of Museum Krems, while the museum’s „Kappler Cupboard“ is also decorated in this manner and has clear parallels with the Toll Collector’s House. This suggests a culture in which a protestant orientation was combined with humanist learning, this occasionally finding architectural expression through the building of houses such as the Toll Collector’s House.

Dating from the same period but with a more Medieval flavour at Steiner Landstraße 92 there is the so called „Green Castle“. At Johann-Michael-Ehmann Platz there is a column, dating from 1744 that honours the Virgin Mary. As at Rathaus Platz, the 1817 date is a date of restoration.

A little further on at number 102, there is the schnapps distiller Bailoni. Since 1872, Wachau apricots have been mashed, fermented and distilled here to make an award winning schnapps that is sold in distinctive bottles. The Bailoni story begins when Eugenio Bailoni met Rosa Amon whilst travelling in Austria. Romance blossomed and the distiller’s son soon enough found himself moving to the Wachau where he quickly realised that the region’s apricots could be distilled. In due course the 1st Wachau Apricot Distillery was established and quickly became a flourishing business. The schnaps is well-rounded and combined with only a moderate amount of distiller’s „fire“. Made in the courtyard behind the shop and in an extensive system of underlying cellars, by prior arrangement tours are available for groups. See www.bailoni.at.

On the right hand side, Steiner Landstraße 122, is the last house before the town’s westward gate and is where Martin Johann Schmidt lived and worked. For those who can follow German, a well researched and highly informative tour given by Christine Emberger reconstructs the life and times of this versatile and vivacious artist. The starting point of the tour is the westward gate, which facing in the direction of Linz, is called the Linzer Tor and is characterised by a Baroque mansard roof.

© Rainer Skrovny
© Rainer Skrovny