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Bozen or Bolzano?

View of the Dolomites

Spaghetti or Schnitzel? Vespa or Volkswagon? Piazza or Platz? Italian or German?

Bozen (in German), or Bolzano (in Italian), has more than just bilingual signages. This capital of Italy’s Süd Tirol region has an equally strong blend of Italian and German influences, so the locals are not quite sure if they prefer to speak Italian or German, or even if they want to be passionate or efficient at their jobs. As a result, Bozen is a happy, if slightly schizophrenic, city that can make the Germans feel at home in Italy, and make the Italians feel proud to be so efficiently Germanic.

Cow in scenic pasture

The city of Bozen/Bolzano is situated close to the mighty Dolomites mountain range, the birthplace of Via Ferrata or Klettersteig (or the ‘Iron Way’). Originally ‘invented’ during WWI, it was used by both Austrians and Italians to bring soldiers and supplies around the harsh mountainscape. Today, these Via Ferrata routes are a magnet for climbing enthusiasts from around the world. For the not-so-active, the Dolomites is perhaps one of the most unique and picturesque mountain ranges in the world.

Mountains play a big part in Bozen/Bolzano: it is surrounded by them, and its claim to fame are its two mountain men: the frozen “Ötzi” and the frostbitten, climbing god Rheinhold Messner. Ötzi (named for the Ötztal Mountains in Austria where he was found) was discovered by German tourists in 1991 and was assumed to be just another casualty, until the autopsy revealed that he was actually over 5,000 years old. Rheinhold Messner, on the other hand, was born in 1944 and is a mountaineering legend who’s climbed all the world’s 8 peaks over 8,000 metres.

Castle amidst mountains

Visitors can see both legends in Bozen’s respective museums: Ötzi permanently resides (intact with leather boots, tattoos, flint knife and all) in the city’s South Tirol Archeological Museum as Europe’s oldest mummy, while Messner’s body of work can be explored in the handful of Messner Mountain Museums – themselves architectural masterpieces – dotted around the Dolomites. While both Ötzi and Messner may be technically Germanic, they’re both now definitely Italians.

The Germans are well-known to be into outdoor sports and healthy living, while the Italians are famous for living la dolce vita. Here in Bozen/Bolzano, it’s the best of both worlds. The mountains are a mecca for the outdoor enthusiasts, home to 20,000km of hiking routes and 1,200km of ski trails (it’s Europe’s biggest ski area), while the hedonistic crowd will have no problem diving into the rich local cuisine and wine culture.

It doesn’t stop there – the shops here are a mix of Italian high street and outdoor gear shops; something you don’t see everywhere. It’s the kind of place where you can get an authentic bierstein from one store, and a custom-made Italian pair of boots next door. Or having your weissbier served ice-cold with your wurst, and still have a gelato and a great cup of Italian coffee afterwards. Like 2 sides to a coin, Bozen/Bolzano is Italy without the noisy piazzas and traffic, and it’s Germany with a touch of flair.

If you can’t decide between Austria, Germany or Italy, Bozen/Bolzano hits both marks. This is where the Germans come to loosen up without losing a bit of home, and where the Italians come to take a holiday from the rest of Italy.

The Dolomites

Bolzano's backyard - the Dolomites

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