Artful encounters

Interview with Florian Werner

Florian Werner, host at the legendary Arlberg Hospiz Hotel in St. Christoph, is more than just a committed hotelier. His passion for art earned him a leading role in the conception and realisation of the new, subterranean art gallery arlberg1800. The model project, situated at 1,800 altitude metres in St. Christoph am Arlberg, is a platform for internationally renowned artists and aspiring talents. At inspiring cultural events the guests find a precious place for artistic encounters in the middle of a winter sports destination. LA LOUPE spoke with the pioneer Florian Werner – about corporate management, hospitality and artistic vision.

Florian Werner
Florian Werner

L.L.

The Arlberg Hospiz Hotel stands for extraordinary hospitality. Where does this great passion for being a host that your entire family shares come from?

F.W.

I think that’s something that is passed down through generations. From when I was little I observed my parents and saw the passion they put in their work in St. Christoph. I guess this commitment rubbed off on me. I don’t exactly know what made my parents become as hospitable as they are. My father probably picked up and internalised a lot during his time abroad.

L.L.

Keyword handing over the hotel: Does the trust the older generation puts in you sometimes create a certain pressure – after all it’s about continuing a legacy?

F.W.

In 1993 I came back from my time abroad and back then my father and I sat down together and talked about the new way work was going to be shared. Then came the next season and everything remained the way it had always been. It is understandable that particularly the long-standing staff will still go to my father and not the 27-year-old junior. So the process of handing over the business required quite some patience and took until about 2001/2002. At that time we got quite a few new department managers that I got to pick myself. So in the end it was a very natural process, a “handover light” so to say, and it worked out really well. Of course, both the person who handed things over, my father, had to learn a lot and hold back, and so did I. If both sides were stubborn, a conflict of generations would ensue quickly but both of us did quite well and I found my own way of doing things. I am different from my father, that’s something the guests and my father have come to accept. Luckily, my discovery of art meant I also went down a completely different path. If I had started to collect Whiskeys and Burgundies I’d be too similar to my father.

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L.L.

The Arlberg Hospiz Hotel’s philosophy is that of honouring long-standing traditions without coming to a standstill. How do you manage to always stay up to date?

F.W.

Always keeping the hotel up to date really is difficult. We often find areas that need optimising, but renewing the entire house in one go would be financially challenging. Of course, we feel the need to constantly keep evolving and at the same time we need to figure our how to increase the occupancy in the remaining 8 months. In winter the hotel and the Arlberg have reached a level that really is hard to beat. So now the biggest challenge is to stimulate business during the rest of the year. That’s why we created the art gallery arlberg1800.

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L.L.

The art gallery arlberg1800 focuses on arts and culture throughout the year. What is offered on these premises?

F.W.

The arlberg1800 sees itself as a “home away from home” for artists from all kinds of different genres. A concert hall for 200 people as well as a 600m² exhibition space are used all year round. Artists find a large atelier here, for musicians there is a state of the art studio that provides the perfect platform for the creation of their projects. Guests, on the other hand, get to experience the region outside of its usual character and they can enjoy a perfect place for intellectual encounters and enjoyment of art.

arlberg1800

L.L.

Particularly in summer and autumn arlberg1800 is supposed to increase the occupancy in St. Christoph. How would you evaluate the attractiveness of arts and culture in a traditional winter sports destination?

F.W.

The wellness topic has long become part of a touristic standard programme. There also are lots and lots of wine cellars now and simply renting out beds is far from enough these days. The topic of culture and the way we deal with it is not yet as “exhausted”. More than 150 concerts, cabarets and two exhibitions per year lend a certain festival feel to the arlberg1800 Resort. With the art gallery we’ve created the perfect infrastructure for events, conventions, congresses etc. As a result the athletic and culinary offer is enriched by a further up-scale aspect – arts and culture.

L.L.

Above all you see yourself as a platform for the “next generation”. Which artists and musicians can we look forward to welcoming in St. Christoph in the next months?

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F.W.

There will be two top-class concert series “Meisterkonzerte” (Master concerts) and “Sonderkonzerte” (Special concerts). Classical music, jazz and real traditional music will once again be performed within the framework of the “Meisterkurse” (Master Classes). Aspiring masters like Claire Huangci, the AMAR quartet, Jeanne Mikitka, Dimitri Lavrentiev, Julian Bachmann, Sophie Wang, Valeriy Sokolov, das Gémeaux Quartett, Viktoria Hirschhuber, Faltenradio, Die Hoameligen, Bradlberg Musig, Saxofour and many more will delight us with their great musical performances. World stars like Art Garfunkel, Chris de Burgh or Reinhard Fendrich are also part of the programme and at the “Sonderkonzerte” they will deliver a true firework of hits. In January 2016, the best of the German-speaking cabaret scene – think Florian Adamski, Ohne Rolf, Adele Neuhauser, Paolo Nani, Markus Jeroch, Werner Koczwana, Michael Quast und Sabine Fischmann, Thomas Stipsits or Alexander Goebel – will present their work with wit and charm. The first exhibition at arlberg1800 (4 Oct 2015 – 17 Apr 2016) deals with the topic “High Performance”. Visual, acoustic and spatial artistic works are created in front of the visitors’ eyes, forming a type of performance. Artists like Ovidiu Anton, Maria Anwander or Sonia Leimer are part of the event.

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L.L.

The arlberg1800 follows a very innovative concept. What or who is it you need in order to realise projects such as this?

F.W.

What you need is a strong will, tenacity and a great will to learn. Additionally you should have a great team and friends with know-how at your side. And a great family and a wee bit of luck certainly helped with the realisation of my dream.

L.L.

Your passion for art is not only visible at arlberg1800 but also at the family’s own Arlberg Hospiz Hotel. Does this go down well with the guests?

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F.W.

The guests are becoming increasingly aware of the fact that there are things happening in the world of art around here. At the beginning I was being watched from all sides, obviously, people were asking themselves: Is this just a passing phase or will he stick to it? But the longer I’ve been doing this, the more I’m being taken seriously in the world of art. With the new art gallery we are perceived in a completely different way. In our house many guests were confronted with the topic for the first time and they needed to loose a certain reserve first. Now our guests have been dealing with certain artists and artistic movements for years. This does not mean the guests have to love the art, they just need to deal with it openly. I think this is a very exciting process that revives the entire house. Because of the changing exhibitions and the “artists-in-residence” programme there’s always something new to see.

L.L.

What do you feel are the decisive factors when it comes to the future success of tourism around the Arlberg?

F.W.

We need to keep up the quality and must not miss new developments. The winters will only be profitable as long as there is snow. Fortunately the great number of great hotels and restaurants makes us unique. But still every business needs to find its own way to stay open longer than just through the winter. Our predecessors used to invest their entire advertising budget exclusively in promotion for the winter, so it’s only logical that the Arlberg is a massive winter brand now. It is going to take some time and quite some effort to change that, to become a year-round destination. That’s the biggest challenge, really. At present the Arlberg is rarely perceived as a holiday destination after April. Just like no-one goes to Lake Garda in autumn or Côte d’Azur in winter. As a tourism association we here on the Arlberg are small and exclusive so we cannot work wonders.

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arlberg1800

Exhibitions, concerts, cabaret and readings at 1,800 metres above sea level. The art gallery arlberg1800 – an architectural work of art – lends St. Christoph am Arlberg a certain “festival feel” all year round. World class artists and young talents offer an attractive programme for hotel- and evening guests and they enjoy an inspiring “home-away-from-home” here at the arlberg1800-Resort. A concert hall with excellent acoustics, a spacious atelier, a state of the art music studio and an exhibition space provide the perfect prerequisites for the realisation of creative projects. Different sponsorship programmes that give you the possibility to support the project are part of the art gallery arlberg1800.