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The Bregenz forest

The Bregenz Forest or Bregenzerwald is an open high valley in the north of Vorarlberg. A valley that looks down on the Rhine Valley, Lake Constance, over to the Swiss mountains and the increasingly flatter land in Upper Swabia and Bavaria.

Topographically, it is a uniform valley.  It is made up of 24 communities and 30,000 inhabitants, and is the largest valley in Vorarlberg.  Florian Aicher and Renate Breuss describe the Bregenzerwald as a borderland in their book „Head + Strong“.  You look out of the Bregenzerwald when you are in it, and when you are in it, you are inside, between the mountains in a valley full of nativeness and identity.  

The people of the Bregenzerwald are border crossers.  They have always had to leave the Bregenzerwald in order to feed themselves because the land isn‘t fertile.  Large parts of the area is mountainous and has only limited use.  And so they left, either temporarily as children who were sent through the Alps in the spring to the „children‘s market“ in Upper Swabia and from there to work on the farms, or as servants, or to go to school.   

The community of Au made changes of great consequence.  In 1650, they founded the so called Au Guild, from an idea that Michael Beer had.  This was a consolidation of master builders, master masons, carpenters, stone masons and plasterers from the village and the surrounding area, but also included talented craftsmen from other valleys, as well.  From the middle of the 17th century to the end of the 18th century, a total of 850 builders were used.  With up to 600 members, the Au Guild formed the core of the well known Vorarlberg Baroque master builder school.  Between 1670 and 1699 almost the whole male population in Au and Schoppenau made their living in the building trades.   After the miserable years of the 30 year war, a rapid period of re-building began.  The ebullient baroque architecture of those times, mirrored the newly won zest for life of the people.  One of the most splendid baroque churches in southern Germany, Switzerland or even in Alsace, was built by master builders and craftsmen from Vorarlberg in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Most of the artisans came from the Au Guild.  Some of the most famous works are the Pilgrimage church in Birnau, Germany, the convent churches in Kempten, and Weingarten in Germany, and St. Gallen, and Einsiedeln in Switzerland.

One of the things that made the Au Guild a success was the close and personal solidarity between the members.  Generations of family clans made up the teams of leaders.  This is why 53 of the master builders had the name Moosbrugger, and 33 of them were named Beer.  Other typical names were Dumb, Kuen, and Ruef.  

One of the most important reasons for their success was the above average training of the younger generations.  From 1650 to 1787, about 1,800 apprentices learned their trade there.  They were taught geometry, statics, material science, cost accounting and many other professional skills.  Once the apprentices finished their training, they began to wander, spending the winters in their homeland, and learning more skills.  In those days, besides the actual apprenticeship, advanced training was offered throughout the region.  

The Au Guild started to lose standing around the middle of the 18th century.  One of the reasons was the drastic decline of church building during that period.

Experts are always drawing parallels between the architects and the craftsmen of the new Vorarlberg building school and the baroque master builders.  The difference between them is that the artisans of today almost always build functional buildings and cultivate autonomy, as well as commit themselves completely to reduction, economy and building in an environmentally friendly manner.  During the last 20 years, they have turned the region into a much quoted and visited laboratory for new construction in Europe - as a French institute for architecture likes to call it.  It seems as if the roots of the baroque master builders are starting to come to life again, but are bearing different fruit.  

Construction seems to be a regional strength when it comes to handicrafts.  For this reason it would be wise to cultivate this cultural asset and develop it in the direction of future employment.

You can hear more about the culture of handicrafts by dialling 3.  Details of the LEADER+ project, Baroque Master Builders, a project that deals with the cultivation of the handicraft culture, can be heard by dialling 2.

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