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Culture that’s off the rails

Culture that’s off the rails

Culture that’s off the rails

The Wälderbähnle, a narrow-gauge railway with Bosnian gauge, once connected villages in the Bregenzerwald with the city of Bregenz. The stops were often far away from the village centre, which also contributed to the closure of the railway. Things are different in Andelsbuch, however. The railway station building is located close to the village centre. Although no trains have stopped here for a long time, it is now possible to "journey" far away in your mind thanks to the kulturverein bahnhof cultural association.

It’s a sunny, early-summer morning in Andelsbuch. Bicycles lean lazily against the wooden carriages in front of the old train station building, while wild flowers line the path and the rudimentary erstwhile railway track. An empty bench rests beneath the shady canopy, whilst a town sign dangles from rusty chains. This could be the setting for a film. Inside, the bar smells of culture and cultivation, of concert evenings past, good company and the fragrant scent of coffee that Sandra Pöltl, chairwoman of the kulturverein bahnhof cultural association, has just brewed. The association hosts cultural events inside at a former train station. “Although I am relatively new to this position, I’ve actually been affiliated with the kulturverein bahnhof for many years. The first time I was here was for a wild party under the fantastic motto ‘Save the Tigers.’ Some time later, I was invited to a preview performance by the band Holstuanarmusigbigbandclub. Quite honestly, I had never heard of them before. I thought at the time that this kind of music was not for me. I guess I was wrong. Hearing them play, I really experienced the true ‘vibe’ of this place in its full glory. From tigers to interesting music, I joined the club and knew that I had found a place where I belong.”

Sandra Pöltl would go on to support the kulturverein bahnhof for many years, designing the graphics, helping out at the bar on many evenings, accompanying the Holstuanar band on concert tours, and going to Vienna herself for a few years before coming back again. To Andelsbuch and to the kulturverein bahnhof cultural association, of course. The association was founded in 1999 with the goal of preserving the old train station building and hosting cultural events here. The project was a resounding success. After almost twenty years, hundreds of events and considerable dedication, the founding chairwoman Margarete Broger was ready to hand over the reins. When she left, the association needed to reorganise. “That was five years ago now,” recalls Sandra Pöltl. “We did a workshop at that time with about fourteen people. I did not actively seek leadership, but it was important to me that the kulturverein bahnhof continue. So a few years later an expanded board was formed, I became chairwoman in 2021, and thought: OK, we are a team, we can do this, and everything will be fine.”

But then came the pandemic. In spite of challenges, the new team was nevertheless able to preserve. “We put on events for as long as was possible including concerts, lectures, and cabaret with masks and just half the seats occupied. We postponed, reorganised, corrected information again and again and sent it out via newsletter. Things continued this way and the kulturverein bahnhof remained full.” Gradually, new people also joined the association. One of them was Andreas Schwarzmann, who already had a long history with the kulturverein bahnhof.

“I used to live in Feldkirch and I was a regular at the ‘Sonderbar.’ It was a basement pub where big bands used to give small concerts. One day, there was a ‘meeting of cultural promoters’ in Vorarlberg, and they invited those of us from the ‘Sonderbar’ to come to Andelsbuch. We had a barbecue in front of the kulturverein bahnhof. It was a great party. When I moved to Andelsbuch 17 years later, I had such fond memories of the kulturverein bahnhof. For me, it was like a catalyst for integration, an anchor and a harbour. I work in Dornbirn, and my daily walk to the bus stop takes me past the bahnhof. So I pop in, check the mail. It’s my first stop of the day.” The way everything looks in the area around the kulturverein bahnhof is also thanks to Schwarzmann’s actions.  “In cooperation with the local Horticultural Association, we designed a flower meadow around the building. A gravel lot next to the tracks was transformed into a colourful, bustling world.” Sustainable coexistence, also with the surrounding environment, is now part of the kulturverein bahnhof’s agenda.

“Some time ago, thanks to Andreas’ help, the municipality organised a repair café afternoon,” says Pöltl. “This was a very exciting thing. It attracted many people from the valley to the kulturverein bahnhof for the first time. So we decided to include this event in our programme going forward. After all, when the village comes together at the bahnhof and repairs old things for the future, that’s culture too.” The kulturverein bahnhof has space for about a hundred seated visitors. There is also a small bar where the ticket office used to be. “It’s the most important place after an event, where the guests like to congregate.” The erstwhile waiting room serves as a stage and visitors’ area. There is space for bar tables and a couch in the back, seating in the front, and the stage is close and barely elevated. “It’s a very special setting.

The artists’ dressing room is in an old wagon in front of the door. Nothing is spacious here, so everyone has to get really close. It’s a space for open encounters in a place that still evokes memories. The Wälderbähnle railway used to stop here from 1902 to 1980, and that history still resonates. Some guests used to ride the train themselves, others are interested in railways in general. For everyone else, the rooms have an impact through their history.” Pöltl points to places in the wall that reveal the original wallpaper or the underlying brick wall even after the renovations. “Some people want to know more and ask questions. I can at least help them out by providing some information, such as the fact that the Wälderbähnle ran on a 760 millimetre gauge, the ‘Bosnian gauge’.”

Most visitors, of course, come for the colourful event programme which is nothing if not diverse. “Which I think is so great,” enthuses Andreas Schwarzmann. “There are so many different proposals flowing into the schedule that no single person can know all of them. The dance weekend is a great example. I have long been involved with Irish dance myself, but other dances were new to me. There were workshops, a dance café and a disco. Now a lot of people are asking for a repeat performance.” Pöltl adds, “We are not able to hold big concerts here, but we are able to present artists in an intimate setting. Prince Grizzley is a prime example. He fills festival arenas far and wide with his band and his country music. His first performance at the kulturverein bahnhof (under strict coronavirus protocols) was something truly special. The audience had to wear masks and be seated. They stayed glued to their seats until the very last note. This was very special for everyone.

We allow acts to take the stage here, to try things out, and perhaps launch a career. We also present music, literature, art or cabaret that’s edgy and perhaps little known. Almost 15 years ago, I was asked to help out at the bar. It was a concert with an unknown musician: Herbert Pixner. He was on stage with an accordion, a harp and a bass violin. Probably not for me, I thought. I did the bar duty, and because there was soon not much going on, I went into the event room. Five minutes later, I had experienced a personal epiphany: I sat there crying in torrents, I was so moved by the music. I still get goosebumps when I think about it. That’s what you can experience when you visit the kulturverein bahnhof. Emotional breakthroughs that open up new worlds.”

Author: Carina Jielg
Issue: Bregenzerwald Travel Magazine – Summer 2023