The global citizen
from Bad Goisern
Hubert von Goisern
One word that isn’t in Hubert von Goisern’s vocabulary is downtime. Even at well over 60, the star of Alpine rock is constantly reinventing himself – most recently as an author. Hubert von Goisern recently published his first novel, “flüchtig”, under his real name, Hubert Achleitner, making it straight onto the bestseller list in the process. Not long after, his 13th studio album, “Zeiten & Zeichen”, came out.
In the music video for “Heast as net”, a barge travels across a mist-shrouded Lake Hallstättersee. On it are Hubert von Goisern and singer Zabine. Old men with long, rustic beards and chamois hats stand on the shore smoking wooden pipes. They’re all really just extras though, because the leading role is played by the lake – a lake to which the star is repeatedly drawn back. It lies mythical and unfathomable, like water poured into a basin; framed by the unique world heritage region, the world-famous village of Hallstatt, and the mighty mountains – silent witnesses that have towered into the sky for millions of years. Home and tradition – these are concepts the widely-travelled Hubert von Goisern has always engaged with.
As a young man, Hubert Achleitner went out into the world full of curiosity and openness. Now worldly wise, he has come back from his years of travel with an entire “tool kit”, to get to work on deconstructing traditional Alpine folk music. “It’s something I have had to deal with, because of the way I ‘integrate’ traditional folk music. Anyone who engages with it and changes things and says, ‘just because it’s tradition, doesn’t mean it’s all good’, is stirring up a hornets’ nest.” And it’s precisely this kind of confrontation that has made him one of the best known and most notable representatives of his genre – has made him a star. When he comes home, sits round the table for a spur-of-the-moment drink at the Steegwirt on Lake Hallstättersee and makes music with the other guests, he leaves the rockstar at the door. When that happens, he is just Hubert. No “von”. Just a normal guy in his late sixties visiting his hometown.
Bad Goisern, of all places
Born in 1952, in his discography the artist demonstrates time and time again that the market town of Bad Goisern is more than just a set of coordinates on a map to him. As he does in his novel, “flüchtig”, which is primarily set in the beautiful Salzkammergut, transporting readers to many of the locations from Hubert von Goisern’s childhood and youth. It was another voice that wrote the book though, the neo-author explains as we chat. “Hubert von Goisern is a musician, a composer, first and foremost, but he didn’t write the book. I feel like Hubert von Goisern is part of me, but he’s not all of me. I wanted to free the author from that musical past. Obviously, I realise it’s hardly a secret that Hubert Achleitner is Hubert von Goisern.”
No place like home
In “flüchtig”, we meet Eva Maria Magdalena, known as Maria, who came into the world one night in the middle of a snowstorm in a cable car on the way from Dachstein down to the valley. Later on, when she goes to school in the spa town of Bad Ischl, all the locations are suddenly right there in front of you: Café Zauner on the Esplanade, the river Traun flowing gently by, the spa gardens with their avenues and opulent flowerbeds. Operetta is in the air. In the minutest, most tender detail, Achleitner describes Maria’s life story, which takes an abrupt turn when she leaves her husband, Herwig, after 30 years together and, without leaving so much as a message, takes his Volvo and drives from the Salzkammergut to Greece. Achleitner sends his protagonists on an exciting journey through mountains and valleys, which ultimately represent the emotional highs and lows of his characters. The soundtrack ranges from André Heller to blues from “Radio Salzkammergut” and the melancholy tones of the Greek bouzouki.
“It was 2003 when I first had the idea of writing a story about a woman who walks out of the front door and never comes back. Without even saying what she’s doing or why.” The classic anecdote is the man who goes out to buy cigarettes and never comes back again. That’s where the basic idea came from, and then I kept thinking about why someone would do something like that. Whether they were a man or a woman. I started to work on the characters, thought about their background, what jobs they have. I tried out various things until I felt like it worked. And then it was a long while before I sat down to write it.”
“Zeiten & Zeichen” album
The conception and recording of his 13th studio album to date, “Zeiten & Zeichen” (“Times & Signs”), which came out at almost the same time as his novel, took less time, but its reception has sometimes been very critical. The song “Freunde” (“Friends”), in particular, is a real test of the sense of collective guilt felt about the Nazi era. It’s about operetta librettist Fritz Löhner-Beda, who was murdered by the Nazis in Auschwitz concentration camp, and king of operetta Franz Lehár, one of Hitler’s favourite composers, who did nothing to save his friend. In the song, which is partly rapped and partly underlaid with the hookline “Freunde, das Leben ist lebenswert” (“Friends, life is worth living”), the musician and songwriter once again demonstrates his deep insight and his willingness to broach unpleasant topics, and look closely, where others look away. To place his fingers in the wound. This boldness, this audacity to offend and not to have to please everyone, to be rebellious, is a characteristic that is commonly found in those from the Salzkammergut. Does that sound like a cliche? If you look at the area, with its beautiful, yet often raw natural surroundings, it’s a backdrop that seems to be invariably reflected in its protagonists.
As the musical comedy „Im Weißen Rössl am Wolfgangsee“ goes, “In the Salzkammergut it’s easy to be funny”. Not just funny though – sentimental and melancholy as well. Perhaps it’s the longing for these incredibly strong feelings that makes Hubert von Goisern so happy to return to his hometown. Anyone holidaying in the area would find that more than understandable.
Talking of Franz Lehár, Hubert von Goisern also enjoys attending the Bad Ischl Lehár Festival, the renowned operetta festival that has been staged since 1961 to commemorate the great composer. When he comes home, he doesn’t just sit back and indulge in the delicacies and entertainment that are on offer here from Lake Traunsee to the Pötschenpass though. The artist in him doesn’t rest. He likes to keep a close eye on the preparations for the 2024 Capital of Culture year. It’s a year when Bad Ischl and 22 other regions in the Salzkammergut will become a European hotspot. For the musician, having this high-profile cultural event in his home town is a double delight and opportunity, because back in 2009, when Linz was the European Capital of Culture, his Linz Europa Tour was his contribution to what was a spectacular project. “I like to get involved, even if don’t have any visions for it at the moment. But now that the book and album are done, I have some free time again and I can play a part in helping make it a fantastic year.”
This report was written by Inez Ardelt.
The Salzkammergut and artists
The Salzkammergut has always attracted and produced artists. In the Silver Age of Operetta, the contemporary greats of the music business like composer Franz Lehár, his favourite singer, tenor Richard Tauber, Oscar Straus, Emmerich Kálmán and many more made Bad Ischl their home. Countless memorials, plaques and the Lehár-Villa, which is now a museum, are testament to that fact.
But the Salzkammergut has also brought its own great musical talent into the world. As well as Hubert von Goisern, who reached the top of the charts with the group “Alpinkatzen” and his song “Hiatamadl”, there is also Austropop legend Wilfried. Further north-east of Bad Goisern are Gmunden-born Klaus Eberhartinger (lead singer of EAV) and Conchita Wurst, while star conductor Franz Welser-Möst also loves his adopted home of Lake Attersee.
On the trail of Hubert von Goisern through the Salzkammergut
The Fuhr on Lake Hallstatt
In 2020, the "Fuhr" (flat wooden transport boats, also called "Plätten") at Lake Hallstatt was included in the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage. The Fuhren were used as early as the 13th century to transport salt from the Hallstatt salt works across the lake and the Traun. Today, only a few people still master this craft.