Having stumbled into a trove of vintage photographs of my birth city Innsbruck, Austria, I’ve decided share the ones that have vintage cars on the streets. I’ll start with a series of Innsbruck’s ‘Main street’, the Maria Theresian Strasse with the Annasäule (St. Ann’s column, from 1706) in the center. Since this iconic view of Innsbruck, with the mountains close behind, has been reproduced so many times over the decades and even centuries, I’m going to go back as far as I could find images, which was 1840. The series of shots documents how this street started out as a pedestrian-oriented plaza, and is now again one. In the long history of this street, which goes back much further yet, the automobile is just a temporary interloper.
I picked this one for the first shot because we’re mainly interested in the cars, and this shot from approximately 1971 has a particularly healthy sample.
This is from 1840, the oldest one with the view that came to grace millions of postcards. This area is the Neustadt (new city) of Innsbruck, first built up in the 1300s when the walled Altstadt (Old City) Innsbruck, founded in 1180, and just beyond the two buildings at the far end of the street, became too crowded. The suburbs, in other words.
Originally, this was built up with wood houses and shops, for craftsmen of various trades. A fire in 1620 wiped it out, and after that time, all buildings had to be built of stone. The definitive buildings seen here and today were mostly built in the 1670-1750 period, mostly for high-level administrators and nobility (Innsbruck was the home to the somewhat short-lived Tirolean line of the Habsburgs, and later emperors also used Innsbruck as an alternate imperial city to Vienna.
This small image from 1850 shows the street more romantically, which includes what appears to be a religious procession on the right.
An early hand-tinted postcard, from about 1890. The street was named Maria Theresian Strasse in 1873, after the former Empress.
This photo is dated 1898, and no cars to be seen, not surprisingly. Instead, there’s a woman with her dog cart.
This shot from 1910 shows horses and cart, as well as the tracks and overhead line for the new electric street car. That would become a fixture in many of the subsequent images.
It’s 1928, and the first shot with a few cars (don’t ask me what it is). These folks are likely tourists, probably just gotten out of the horse-drawn carriage after a ride from the train station. Tourists had been coming to the Alpine area around Innsbruck already for some time, since the mid 1800s. Needless to say, tourism has been one of the biggest sectors of the economy for a long time.
This shot was dated “1930” in the archives, but the cars are a bit more recent than that, showing distinctive signs of mid-thirties styling.
This one is dated 1939, and reflects the effect of Hitler’s Anschluss (annexation) of Austria in 1938. I’d never seen an image like this before, and it’s disturbing. Austria was very small and weak after losing WW1, and struggled with its identity. In 1918, there was a movement to unite with Germany, but the Treaty of Versailles forbade that. Given that Austrians are ethnic Germans, and Hitler was of course from Austria, it’s not really surprising that he and his troops got a welcome reception when they entered on March 15, 1938, in defiance of what he had promised only months earlier.
Needless to say, Austrians were either pro or anti Hitler, which made life difficult. Both of my parents came from strong anti-Hitler families; my father’s father was imprisoned for some months because of his outspoken politics as well as because of his Jewish mother. A very dark chapter.
It certainly doesn’t look very war-like in this shot, but then the date could be wrong. It might well be a few years later. But Innsbruck suffered only mild-moderate bombing damage in the war. I still remember seeing a number of ruins when I was a small child in the 1950s.
Where the Nazi banners were flying earlier, the flags of Austria and Innsbruck are up. Austria was occupied by the four powers, but managed to avoid being split up in an East-West divide like Germany. Full independence didn’t come until 1955. And that split-window car is a Steyr, not an early VW.
This is an excellent-quality color shot; click on for full size. Looks like a Mercedes 170, followed by a car I don’t recognize. On the right side, the silver-gray car looks like a Chevrolet, and there’s the ubiquitous VW just past it.
I’m a bit surprised at how many American cars there are in this shot; this isn’t downtown Cedar Rapids. after all. A fastback Chevy, followed by a Nash, and then another slightly older Chevy…oops; that black one is actually a big Opel, best as I can tell. It just happens to look American.
I’m a bit embarrassed to say that I don’t recognize the blueish car, and I don’t have time to look it up. Another big Opel is sticking out behind it.
The street cars have been noticeably absent so far, but here’s two of them in action. There were really only two generations of street cars in Innsbruck until recent years; these are the original ones going back to the electrification in 1905. New sleek Lohner cars were put in service on some routes in the 1950s, but the old trams were still in use into the 70s. And now they run in the summer on nostalgia runs. Fiat 600 on left; Ford Taunus on right.
Utility trailers like this weren’t a very common sight back then, but this Mercedes is puling one.
The stereotypical Mercedes taxi. In the 50s, big American sedans were commonly used for taxis.
Here we see a Simca 1000, an Opel Rekord, a Fiat 850 and another Rekord. Pretty typical cars for the time and place.
Traffic is still light. An NSU Prinz has the road all to itself. Parked on the left is a BMW 2000 and 1967-1968 Mustang behind it.
This is the same image as at the very top, and shows a diverse bunch of cars. On the left, what looks like a Fiat 500 is actually a Steyr-Puch 500 or 650. S-P bought bare 500 body shells/chassis, and installed their own engines, transmissions, brakes, etc. The S-P engine was a boxer twin, so it ran quite a bit smoother than the parallel twin in the Fiat 500. And the 650 TR was Austria’s answer to the little Abarth. My aunt had a S-P 650, and I have vivid memories of riding in it in 1969. I can still hear its twin at full chat in my ears now.
I’ll let you all have fun identifying the other cars.
I know I’m showing you way too many of these shots, but I can’t not show this one with a rare NSU Ro80 in it.
I would have liked to show you some more from the 80s and 90s, but they’re not readily found. So we take a big jump into the present, or at the last few year. Beginning in 2006, the north section of Maria Theresian Strasse was converted into a pedestrian zone. The last time I was there, the street was all torn up. Now it’s back to being used similarly to how it was in the 1800s. The automobile era here was a relatively short one. And a hundred fifty years from now, finding images of this street with cars will be a quaint relic.
Vintage Innsbruck images via sagen.at