The alpine rocker

Merian 01/2009 | Text: Verena Lugert | Photos: Daniel Müller

Hubert von Goisern, folk musician, world traveller, searcher. Born in the Salzkammergut, he has harmonised the music of his homeland with sounds of distant cultures - both preserving and renewing it. Since 2007 he has travelled the rivers of Europe with boat and band.

Hubert von Goisern

The river flows sluggishly like oil, the water is black now, it has grown dark. From the well-equipped rehearsal stage a few chords sound from the port side, the river ship passes little towns, onion-topped churches, façades with illuminated windows. A ponderous moon rests above the water like an apricot dumpling, the silhouette of the firs on the shore stand in contrast to the dark blue night's sky, church bells ring. Hubert von Goisern sits stoically in the centre of the stage on the ship on a plastic chair, the accordion rests on his lap, he looks inwardly. Fine lines traverse Goisern's face, which is tanned from the summer on the ship. He looks young, not the 55 that he really is.

The landscape slowly unfurls behind the ship, the quiet of the evening broken by the peaceful quarrel the band members are having over the key. The whole summer long he and the band have been travelling up the Main and Rhine to the North Sea with the fleet consisting of the tugboat MS "Wallsee" and the large barracks ship with the cabins and stage. They gave concerts in the cities that lay along the route, right up as far as Rotterdam. Took on board guest musicians like Xavier Naidoo. The year before they travelled the Danube to the mouth of the Black Sea, met musicians and bands along the way, heard and played new melodies, Balkan sound, gypsy tunes, gave concerts. In 2008 they then went west. And in 2009 in Linz, European Capital of Culture, the Linz Europe Tour 2007-2009 has its finale - with a concert and all the musicians Goisern met on the journey.

Now the band is on its way back to Linz, tomorrow they will arrive in Schweinfurt, the next concert will take place. "The tour is now nearly over. I'll feel wistful about it, it's a shame - but it's good too", he says, Hubert von Goisern, folk musician, world traveller, rambler, searcher, Goiserer. Born as Hubert Achleitner in the Upper Austrian town of Bad Goisern, he named himself after his birth town - which he continually left, but which also pulled him back time and again.

Hubert von GoisernGoisern, Goisern, it's terrible, again and again I must return to you, otherwise I just can't take it. So goes the song Goisern, to the melody of Ray Charles' Georgia. A declaration of love and longing for origin, homeland, security, and also the closeness of the place below the Dachstein, where Hubert grew up. "Goisern, Goisern, you give no peace, your mountains and your meadows, they are simply a part of me."

So why then did he go to South Africa more than 30 years ago? "Because I didn't have anyone who was on my wavelength. I felt like an outsider. Like someone who offends everywhere he goes. I didn't have the feeling of being socially integrated," he says. He was different from the others. Different from his brother, father and mother. Even as a young boy he was kicked out of the brass band - the long hair! The waywardness! He even had to give back the trumpet, which really hurt the young lad. One day his grandfather gave him a Styrian diatonic accordion, after initial resistance Goisern taught himself how to play it.

One such accordion is now, on this warm evening on the ship, laying in his lap. It is his trademark, standing for the music he makes: the update of classic folk music, the melding of the sounds of the homeland with world music, with jazz, with the new and foreign.

In his early twenties he went to South Africa. He didn't decide on the country for any special reason - he just wanted to go "far, far away", as one of his hits is called, and in South Africa were the fewest visa disputes. He found employment there are a chemistry laboratory assistant, tried to find his own way with racial segregation by organising black-white mixed sport competitions and finally after a few years gave up completely drained. He married a Canadian woman and went to Toronto with her. He loved the rivers and forests of Canada, the expanse of the country, he says. In Toronto he studied music and flamenco guitar, until the relationship came to an end. Then he travelled again, to the Philippines, where he lived with headhunters and was taught by them the art of playing the nose flute: air is blown into the flute not with the mouth, but with the nose. Many primitive races believe in nasal breathing, that it stands you in closer contact with the soul than the mundane mouth-breathing and thus is holy.

Hubert von Goisern & BandIn return Goisern taught the headhunters Austrian songs. "During the years abroad I spent more time engaging with my roots, with that which I had previously rejected: for example, yodelling. Previously for me this folksiness had lain over everything, the shadow of national socialism - but I could feel: there was something in the old melodies that had touched me. Something archaic. Aside from that I saw that there was no sense in wanting to reinvent everything. There are simply basic forms, you could say traditions, from which everything develops." Goisern had realised from what he wanted to create in the future - and returned to Austria.

In his 30s he decided to become a professional musician. "I was back, with stories and visions with me that had alienated me even more from the others. I'm nomadic, most of my friends were striving for security. I think: there isn't any security. So I don't need to strive for it." His father was anything but delighted with his son's plans for the future. "He thought the desire was arrogant." Nonetheless Goisern went to Vienna to study experimental music. And began to play in public, in pubs, in bars, sometimes he barely had four or five listeners. At first alone and then with Wolfgang Staribacher from Vienna. They presented themselves on stage as "Wolfgang from Vienna" and "Hubert from Goisern". They played rocky, jazzed-up syncopal folk music with often ironic lyrics. They called their style "alpine rock". In 1986 they formed their band, the Original Alpinkatzen. In 1991 they parted way - and a year later Goisern landed his biggest hit: Hiatamadl, the shepherdess. Goisern was in the charts for weeks, the Alpinkatzen's concert filled huge halls.

It has grown quiet on the ship, Goisern goes to bed in his tiny cabin, in which he has been sleeping for weeks. The band are still sitting together. The next morning Goisern is the first awake, looking at the river, at the shore. "I'm a disciplined person. I get up very early here on the ship too. Energy is clearest in the morning. And the best time to check what you've done at night is in the morning, to see whether it can withstand the bright morning light." Above the ship flutters a flag, a dragon is the emblem of the journey. Slowly the deck comes to life, today is a concert day. The ship is moored, the stage raised, the violinists go on stage in sunglasses and flip flops, the rehearsal starts.

After the time with the Alpinkatzen Goisern travelled further, this time inwardly. He occupied himself more intensively with other folk music, became ever more experimental - and melded ever braver sounds and styles. During the summer he retired to the old, small house he had bought in Goisern. Back to the mountains, to the alpine world in which he feels secure - and which at the same time wakes such longing in him: with the view into the distance that the mountain peaks grant, the view of the rivers that flow somewhere. And then he ripped himself free from Austria again to jump into the world again. He went to Tibet, explored the music of the Tibetans, brought Tibetan musicians to Austria, recorded an album with them - Inexil. He met the Dalai Lama in India and concentrated on eastern wisdom. For years Hubert von Goisern has meditated almost daily.

Hubert von GoisernTibetan prayer flags on a line on the ship flutter in the summer wind. Goisern looks into the sun, pulling his hat down over his face a little. What is meditation? "Becoming one with the world. Understanding that everything is connected with everything else." Is music meditation? - "Good music, good poetry, those are things that can carry you beyond what can be experienced with the senses. Music is like a magic, which when it's good can affect and grasp you." Composing brings forth a feeling of delimitation within him, he says. But: "Living an upstanding, integral life is much more difficult than writing a song about it. Living that about which you sing." In one his new songs, Leben, he says something similar: "That's why your whole life is the greatest art."

In front of the Main lock, at which the MS "Wallsee" has moored, cyclists have dismounted, walkers have stopped, small groups of curious people have formed at the barriers. A sense of anticipation hangs over the ship. Roadies stand in the evening light with caps and cigarettes and ponytails. Bread rolls are being halved in booths, frankfurters will be sold here later. Goisern has to go on stage, rehearses a trumpet solo, passers-by applaud.

Goisern went to Africa, played on Cape Verde in front of a crowd of 90,000. Went to Tanzania, into the mountain world of Gombe and became friends with the chimpanzee research scientist Jane Goodall. Von Goisern nach Gombe was the name of the ORF documentary made at the time. Now matter how far Goisern went, he always took his homeland with him. He went to Lappland, to study the music of the Samis. And to return to Austria again.

"Somewhere else often pleases me too, but then quite unhoped-for, something suddenly stirs in me, and back, back I must come to you." When he's not touring he lives in Salzburg with his wife and two children, but in the summers he is in Goisern. In old age perhaps? "Returning is the motion of the Dao", he says. Return as completion of the journey.

Then comes the rain. The stage is quickly cleared, tarpaulins are stretched out and fixed to the floor with gaffer tape, meanwhile the band members eat potato soup with chipolatas, the singers hum a few bars. It rains ever harder, the drops falling ever more heavily on the umbrellas of the spectators, who are now standing in their hundreds, waiting for the start of the concert.

But the rain stops, the sky turns a beguiling red and the musicians let rip. The night spreads across the scenery, the yodel solo from singer Maria Moling sounds almost mystical, the music powerfully breaks free, Goisern's voice rings out across the square, laser light whips through the darkness, the fans roar with Hiatamadl.

The river calmly swooshes and gurgles, gently rocking the boat. Tomorrow they will be sailing on, back to Austria, tomorrow will bring them home.

Homeland and the other thing

Salzburger Nachrichten 3rd January 2009 | Text: Bernhard Flieher | Photo: SN / Heinz Bayer
Hubert von Goisern

A man who comes from Bad Goisern, has been on the road for years now as a world traveller in all things musical, lives in Salzburg and during the last two years appeared as ambassador for the Capital of Culture Linz: Hubert von Goisern travelled on the water through Europe and sang his songs from a ship. Along the way he also brought attention to "Linz09".

The EU is a rag rug of regional peculiarities and characteristics." That is the starting point from which Hubert von Goisern set off in spring 2007 to make himself a thread that tied together the rags. "When we retrace Europe's history, we can see that it is exactly this variety that has made Europe great", it said in the "Mission Statement" for the Linz Europe Tour. A third of the tour was financed by Linz as the "European Capital of Culture".

"Linz 09" was "a stroke of luck" for him, allowing him to have this adventure. "But I was a stroke of luck for "Linz 09" too. If you have a look at the budgeting, you'll see. More than two thirds of the financing [for the tour] comes from Red Bull and my own resources," he told the SN at the end of the tour last September.

Hubert von Goisern covered around 12,000 kilometres on the water with his band. 60 concerts were played, at each venue local musicians performed too. He was ambassador for "Linz09" with a language that knows no boundaries abroad either: music.

You are a world traveller, born in the Upper Austrian Salzkammergut, and have lived for a long time in Salzburg. What do you connect on a personal level - on the one hand in terms of clichés, on the other hand in terms of experienced truths - with the city of Linz?

In response to the question, why do you like living in Salzburg, you mostly hear the answer: because it's so beautiful there. In answer to the same question about Linz you can hear something different. The people say that they live there: because it's so classy.

There are often these discrepancies in perception between the countryside and the city, between the so-called provincials and so-called urbanites. Did the provincial capital Linz appear to be a desirable destination to you during your youth in Bad Goisern?

No, I was more oriented towards Salzburg. It seemed nearer, too - in any case the road to Salzburg leads through one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. You can put up a bench nearly every metre and take in the panorama along the lakes, with the mountains and the hills of the alpine foothills.

Going to Linz meant: driving on the autobahn. So, a bit dull. And back then the air in Linz was still very dirty. The whole journey there had a smell. First of all it stank on the autobahn in Steyrermühl, then came Lenzing and finally the Linz chemical works. People who didn't experience it can't imagine it at all.

I've always found the ambience of Linz society pleasant though. The proletarian ideology was more me than the very bourgeois Salzburg.

In the last two years you have been travelling through Europe on the Danube, Rhine, Main and tributaries as ambassador for "European Capital of Culture - Linz09". What message can such an ambassador deliver?

For two summers we referenced the Capital of Culture with a unique ship tour from the Black Sea to the North Sea, so across Europe. It occurred not just at the concerts, but in communication outside the shows too. The media in the individual countries took up the subject as well as ever.

I think we made a contribution to the awareness of Linz there and for Linz self-awareness too. And we brought back with us a piece of Europe from our travels as well.

What do you think in principle of the by all means controversial idea of having an annual European Capital of Culture?

It is a great reason to deal with the cultural environment, your homeland and your relationship with "the other thing". It puts things in motion, it breaks the conventional rhythm, I think that's important and good.

The fact that you have this role as ambassador has also been criticised in parts of the Linz art scene. What do you say in response to this criticism?

Which role? Mine? Are you alluding to people reproaching me, saying that I'm not right because I live in Salzburg? I don't take it seriously. Apart from that I prefer to be the attacked than the attacker. I see people's critical preoccupation with me more as a form of appreciation. And society needs grumblers too.

You have been travelling with your music for years, partly in order to meet new musicians and to play with them. Did the Linz Europe Tour pay off in this respect?

Yes, it did.

During "Linz 09" there will be a three day festival, curated by you, as a quasi finale to your two year Danube ship expedition. Where will that take place? What can we expect there?

It's no secret that we will be inviting to Linz all the artists, whom we had on board over the last two summers. And with them we will be playing from 3rd to 5th July in Linz harbour. It won't be a festival at which music sets are played one after the other. It'll be a concert that will last for days. I'll play with my band on all three days and do a different programme each day. Moreover we want to paint the town, or rather Upper Austria, red. Watch out, nomads are coming!

Cultural adventurer on a European tour

Mittelbayerische Zeitung 14th October 2008 | Text & Photo: Mario Kunzendorf

Interview with Hubert von Goisern: summing up after two summers on the ship and his experience with the "Blue Meanies"

Hubert von GoisernThe Beatles failed. Anyone who believed that the despotic Blue Meanies from Yellow Submarine had been completely banished has been wrong since 1968. In reality many of the curmudgeons are still alive today within fortresses of forms that have colourless names ending in department, office or authority. In the last two summers the musician Hubert von Goisern opened up some of these places as he travelled rivers and channels from Rotterdam to the Black Sea with his band and stage ship. Socioculturally the Austrian unintentionally worked out Europe's central common base: it's Kafka-esque.

The pioneers brave the storm

The aim was not this realisation when Hubert von Goisern and publisher Hage Hein planned the unique tour, which came to a close at the end of August with a show in Passau after 12,000 river kilometres and about 60 concerts with 135,000 spectators. The aim was to make the cultural variety of Europe sound, to bring the countries closer together playing music, to find a common language in order to get to know each other better. An act of pioneering that they didn't abandon, even when a storm over Vienna drowned the stage and the whole inventory before the first concert. The musical sailors painstakingly unscrewed everything, drying every instrument with a hairdryer, every computer card by hand.

In hindsight, when the memory fades, it's an anecdote. But such anecdotes leave marks. "I haven't lost my romantic outlook", Hubert von Goisern says in the interview with the MZ in his cabin, "but some things have cleared me of a naïvety." The 55 year old is relieved that the project has ended and "proud that we've managed it", although "from the start there were constantly points where you could have said: throw it all in". Perhaps these two summers full of complications are responsible for the fact that the Austrian, on the Danube in front of the Passau Rathausplatz, is thinking something unexpected: "I'm looking forward to the winter, to skiing."

Von Goisern is a cultural adventurer. He wants to journey into foreign lands, meet people, play music with them, again and again. That is why he started the ship project with a volume of around four million Euros (from which a six digit deficit remains), played almost exclusively at places where concerts had never before taken place, tried everywhere to get local groups up on stage, fought against the mistrust of many Eastern Europeans (someone is coming from the west and wants to play for us free of charge - what's that about?), comforted himself on the culturally oversaturated abstinence of many western Europeans: "Reaching 300 people is better than 3000 people who don't give a shit."

Aware of the size of the cultural expedition the required composure is more measurable, demanded when the patrolmen at the Austro-Bavarian border pursue the flotilla that is "fleeing" upstream on the Danube at 5kmph along the river bank in order to carry out a kind of vehicle spot-check. Or when officials in the Dutch town of Arnhem permit a concert in the manner of a divine act of grace with: "We'll shut our eyes and let you have your fun for two hours. But clear the rubbish away afterwards." Or when shipping watchmen in Regensburg say that permission for an impromptu concert in Kelheim would need a processing period of a week. Or when marshals in Passau have the ship cleared because on paper it's not a passenger ferry. But somehow it's not a cargo ship either. So it's a kind of special vehicle. So everyone goes back on board again. Because there is no rule. In the words of Franz Kafka: The spirit becomes free only when it ceases to be a support.

"Everything is regulated, nothing more is alive"

"Nothing like that happened to us in Eastern Europe", says Hubert von Goisern looking back, despite everything he believes in the good, sees the good. "I'm not the same as I was before - but I hope that is in a positive sense", he says. In the end many new musical friendships were made, in the end there were also a number of helpful officials, like those in Cologne, who even diverted all shipping traffic, the concert ending up as a high point of the tour.

"Cultural politics has a simple denominator: by cultural officials for cultural officials", says Hage Hein, whose Munich music publishing company has worked with von Goisern for years. He puts it in similar words: "Everything is regulated, nothing more is alive. If we had wanted to carry out our idea in conformity with the EU we'd have needed to employ 30 more people to deal with all the applications." They tried to play in Strasbourg. But even the parliamentary president of the EU wasn't able in a year to make the concert possible against the resistance of the base bureaucratic Blue Meanies. Von Goisern was even travelling as the official ambassador for Linz, the European Capital of Culture 2009. Now it's too late. The flotilla has been broken up, the rented, colourfully-decorate stage barge has to be returned to the ship owner in its original state. "They even insisted that we paint the ship a dull grey-brown", says von Goisern. From which can be concluded: the ship owner must be a friend of the Blue Meanies.

Homecoming: the journey to Linz - 1st September 2008

12th September | Photos: © Linz09/Andreas Maringer

Hubert von Goisern comes back singing to Linz

Volksblatt 2nd September 2008 | Text: hut

Hubert von GoisernHubert is back again! With a slight delay - originally arrival was planned for about 1.30pm - Hubert von Goisern's concert ship, the MS Wallsee, arrived in Linz at about half past three yesterday afternoon. It had come from Passau, where at the Rathausplatz on Sunday evening the Upper Austrian alpine rocker and world musician had performed the last of about 30 concerts on the Linz Europe Tour 2008. Between the end of June and the end of August the tour had led from Austria to Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium.

As on Friday in the German town of Kelheim and yesterday morning in the Schlögener Schlinge, a "surprise concert on the move" was planned for the afternoon in Linz, though due to being late, only two songs were played: Showtime and the well-known yodelled Juchitzer.

"We're the crazy ones"

OÖN 2nd September 2008 | Text: Bernhard Lichtenberger

12,000 river kilometres in two summers, 21 concerts on the Danube to the Black Sea, 25 shows on the ship on the west tour to Rotterdam - it was with these numbers on board the Linz09 ambassador Hubert von Goisern returned to his home port yesterday.

The number juggling continues. Hubert von Goisern took 31 guest musicians on board his expedition ship to give musical voice on the journey through 12 countries to the utopia of a Europe without borders. The second leg of the Linz Europe Tour was reported in 2300 media reports (as of 19th August), said the assistant to the Linz09 manager.

Google shows 12,500 entries for the search "Hubert von Goisern Linz Europe Tour", "Hubert von Goisern Linz09" has 1820 results, in connection with "Kulturhauptstadt" the musician comes up 8810 times.

The man of the mountains who took to water won't pay much heed to such number games. It's more for the people concerned with tourism and the Capital of Culture, for whom the artistic project was the right tugboat to create a stir for Linz09 beyond the Austrian border.

Today work will begin in the shipyard on breaking up the flotilla, disassembling the stage, dismantling the village of containers that was home to the musicians for 20 weeks.

On Sunday the ship moored at the Rathausplatz in the three river city of Passau for the last concert of the long journey. With the grand Veste Oberhaus behind, towering over the Danube from the rock above and a seated audience in front, Hubert von Goisern and his superb band said goodbye. Three hours and ten minutes long.

To be heard again in July

Melancholy dissolved in the blues, energy sparkled from I bin an, harmony was found in yodel duets, the long-discarded Hiatamadl found her way back to the music. "It's a pretty cool boat", Hubert von Goisern said of the iron monster that has carried them along a remarkable stretch of water, "but the really crazy ones are us". He wasn't exaggerating.

The cultural connector's Linz Europe Tour is not quite over yet. The last chapter of the water journey will be written in 2009. From 3rd to 5th July the many musical travel companions, everyone from the German group BAP to the Moldovans of Zdob Si Zdub will come together for a grand harbour festival in Linz.

Passau − as if made for a midsummer night's dream

Passauer Neue Presse 2nd September 2008 | Text: Christian Karl | Photo: Giesler

Hubert von GoisernHubert von Goisern celebrates the end of his tour in style after his concert
Town hall praises the effective promotion of the cultural treat - Local residents happy to cooperate

"Absolutely happy". Organiser Till Hofmann cut to the chase with how he felt. And that probably goes for most of those taking part too as well as the 2000 spectators at lucky charm Hubert von Goisern's concert on Sunday evening. On his stage ship in front of the Rathausplatz the Austrian musician celebrated the end of a two year Europe tour into the night, at times wistfully, but certainly extensively. Yesterday at 7.30am the 140 metre long convoy set off with its stage towards the home port of Linz. "As far as I know it will then be disassembled and will next be transporting gravel to the Ukraine again," Till Hofmann said yesterday.

But before that the ship made a considerable contribution to a memorable event. The protagonist couldn't avoid the feeling of anticipation either. "Hubert wanted to get out at half past seven and start," Hofmann revealed. At 8pm the alpine rocker finally started his three and a half hour song marathon.

At the town hall there was delight at the promotion the cultural treat had brought. "It was really something great," said spokeswoman Susanne Gabriel. "We now see the Rathausplatz as an alternative for events. But certainly out of consideration for local residents that should be restricted to one or two events per year."

Despite a long and loud night of music there were no complaints from neighbours. "That was perhaps also down to the fact that leaflets had been distributed to the houses in advance", says Gabriel. Hofmann had also allowed a good 150 locals free tickets. Hundreds of onlookers in front of the old executioner's house were also given a free view. In return for the promise to "either donate to the Lukas Kern children's home or the Passau football club", the organiser soon removed the tarpaulins.

It was a wonderful concert evening for all on the last day of the meteorological summer. For Till Hofmann too, who is however extending the summer a little. He had come away from a family holiday in the Basque region especially for the Goisern concert in his hometown. But he landed back there yesterday afternoon "pretty happy".

Hubert von Goisern: End of the Linz Europe Tour

TRP1 2nd September 2008

Hubert von GoisernThe Rathausplatz in Passau, Sunday evening. A very special event awaits the excited spectators. Right in the heart of Bavaria Hubert von Goisern played the final concert of his Linz Europe Tour. The Austrian artist has been on tour for nearly two years. But Hubert von Goisern didn't want to sit in a tour bus and set off to the cities. He moved his tour onto a ship.

Hubert von Goisern organised a barge and converted it to a floating stage. With this stage he and his crew sailed along the Danube in 2007, playing in the various countries to different audiences. In 2008 on the Linz Europe Tour West then came the Main and Rhine.

Of course on such a long tour, travelling and playing music together in the close quarters of the ship, a special relationship develops between the travellers.

At the last concert Hubert von Goisern was able to once more take a few more new memories with him. With a great feeling in the air and wonderful weather, the band rocked, jazzed and yodelled through an atmospheric evening with their very individual sound. The audience was enthralled. And thus Hubert von Goisern's journey ended. After the last concert and the return to Linz the stage ship will return to its original use, transporting ballast. After a long tour the artist is also now looking forward to returning home.

Hubert von Goisern has recorded his impressions from his travels on the DVD Goisern goes east. The journey along the Danube down to the Black Sea is documented in five episodes. For the time being the musician has no plans for the near future. But hopefully he won't stay "far, far away" for too long.