Dornbirn: The Prickly Pear of Vorarlberg

A cable-car takes tourists up the mountains near Dornbirn in Vorarlberg

Dornbirn is Vorarlberg′s biggest city and one of many communities in the Alemannic province with a funny name - meaning something like "prickly pear". It is also a county town and conveniently located for a variety of hiking trips to the surroundings.

The city itself, however, does not bear an awful lot of attractions. Most tourists that come are nature-lovers, but aficionados of modern architecture will enjoy a stroll around, too. In the past 20-odd years, Vorarlberg has become a hot-bed for innovative architecture in Austria, and Dornbirn is one of the most significant examples for this development.

There is the obligatory town museum connected with the city′s archives. Of greater interest, however, will be the fairly new "inatura" museum of natural history with a highly interactive exhibition. There is also a small art museum called "Kunstraum Dornbirn", a museum of traditional nativity scenes and - somewhat unexpectedly - a Rolls-Royce-Museum.

The city itself has a rather modern feel, so historic attractions are rare. You should take a stroll around the town centre and the market square for a few old houses: The Rotes Haus or "red house" was built in 1639 and served as a pub. The Martinskirche Church was built in 1839/1840 and is mostly a historicist building of mediocre interest.

The Rise of Dornbirn

The church is not very popular among locals, as it does not blend into its surroundings at all and is not coherent with Vorarlberg′s building traditions (which you certainly couldn′t blame for being conservative - but this church simply doesn′t fit in). Other churches include the Kirche Watzenegg from 1986 and a protestant one from 1931.

In the 19th century, the local textile factory was the base for much of Voralberg′s wealth. These days, it is shopping malls and the role that Dornbirn plays as an administrative centre alongside with a bit of tourism. Despite of its modern face, Dornbirn dates back to the Stone Age with the oldest record of people′s presence dating back to 8,000 to 3,000 BC.

The first settlement was probably an Alemannic village in the 6th century. Dornbirn became part of the Habsburg′s growing portfolio of possessions in 1380 and during the next centuries, saw itself engaged in fierce competition with the Counts of Ems in nearby Hohenems.

Dornbing versus Hohenems

The Habsburgs tried to sell the court of justice of Dornbirn, but the citizens resisted and collected money to keep it with Austria, proving their loyalty to the Habsburgs. Only in the late 18th century, the counts of Hohenems were in serious financial difficulties and finally sold their possessions in and around Dornbirn to the locals there. This is still considered a big deal in the town′s history and called the "Loskauf" ("dissolution purchase").

Shortly after this event, Dornbirn shared its fate with Hohenems and went to Bavaria in the course of the Napoleonic Wars in and finally back to Austria in 1804. An economic rise followed in the 19th century, largely due to the railway connection and the textile factory. In the 20th century, Dornbirn became a bastion for the Nazis, but at the end of WWII, it was also among the first places in Austria to be liberated. It was here that the Austrian public broadcast (my former employer) started to transmit a radio programme for the first time since 1938.

Back to "Vorarlberg Sightseeing Guide"

Sightseeing by Austrian Province

Bregenz and Vorarlberg - Innsbruck and Tyrol - Salzburg - Salzkammergut - Graz and Styria - Klagenfurt and Carinthia - Wachau and Lower Austria - Vienna - Burgenland

Further Reading

Official Website of Dornbirn

Official Website of Vorarlberg