Lexi Goes to Europe: Tour Kristallwelt, the Swarovski Crystal Museum

Sensory Overload: Falling in Love with Innsbruck, Swarovski, and Everything Baroque
by Lexi Erickson, "Foreign Correspondent" 

Even thought I live in the Rocky Mountains of the US, I must say that driving into Innsbruck (which means "bridge over the river Inns") is a spectacular experience. The capitol of Tyrol was home to the Olympics, twice, and it's easy to see why. Snow covered Alps surround the town where Empress Maria Theresa held court and built an 18th-century mini-palace.

And what a court it must have been! Innsbruck is filled with fabulous (though somewhat opulent for my tastes, but still breathtaking) German Grand Baroque architecture, lots of frills, gold, and shiny stuff. And that was just in our hotel bathroom! But I digress.

I love Austria, and my husband insisted that we visit Innsbruck, where he had previously enjoyed an especially memorable ski vacation. I am madly in love with Salzburg and the Lake District, where I had worked in another life. I didn't want to leave as we spent several days there, walking through Old Town, sampling the local beverages, and taking the "Sound of Music" tour. (Okay, I'm a dork.) So we left Salzburg and headed to Innsbruck.


It was truly a surprise to find our hotel, the Schwarzer Adler, bathed in Swarovski crystals, and yes, the bathroom was lined with crystals and had red crystals like gemstones around the lights in the ceiling, and a few cherubs here and there. Actually it was a delight. And what I love about Europe is the down comforters and down pillows. Ahhhhh, Heaven.


I could hardly wait to visit Kristallwelt, the Crystal World, located in Wattens, a 20-minute drive from Innsbruck. Originally created in 1995 by Andre Heller, a world-renowned multimedia artist, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the founding of Swarovski, Kristallwelt is visited by thousands of people from all over the world every day. It's like a crystal lover's theme park, mixed with a bit of a museum, or that's how it's described. I consider it to be more of an experience.


Andre Heller based the design of the Kristallwelt on the chamber of wonders in Ambras Castle–that's the big room of bizarre and unique treasures that Archduke Ferdinand collected from all over the world. The "ruler" of this magical Swarovski realm is The Giant, an archaic figure from Tyrollean mythology. It's pretty impressive from the start.


As you enter into the hill by The Giant's mouth, the first amazing and breath-taking sight is the Centenary, the world's largest manufactured crystal. It weighs a massive 300,000 carats, has a diameter of 40 cm and features 100 hand-polished facets to symbolize 100 years of Swarovski. All I could think was it would make one overwhelming Elizabeth Taylor-ring sized bauble! (Note the human feet at the top of the photo, for comparison.)


In the same room is the Crystal Wall, which is the longest of its kind in the world. Millions of precision-cut crystals sparkle from behind the 11-by-42-meter-long transparent wall.


I only wanted to take home a single meter or two of these sparking beauties . . . and there were lots of cubes in there, which are my favorite.


There were several life-sized sculptures accented with crystals, such as a boa constrictor-sized snake and a vividly real black stallion, which is a replica of a valuable horse commissioned by an Indian Maharajah as a tribute to his favorite animal.


Absolutely the favorite of mine was the huge crystal fir tree, because I'm such a Snow Queen and love the frostiness of the ice on the trees here in the mountains. Evidently others loved it as much because it was hard to get a picture of it without someone in the way. No way does the photo do it justice.


Continuing through Kristallwelt takes you into a huge geodesic-looking dome, but once you go inside, it's like you are inside a giant crystal and looking out . . . I guess kind of like being a fly and looking at things. It's a bit dizzying and takes a few minutes to get used to it. Traveling on through the museum is a bizarre display of flying shirts, which I obviously am too illiterate to understand. The path through Kristallwelt is perhaps a bit claustrophobic and at times dark and confusing.

There were some disappointments, such as the installation of crystals which are supposed to be designed to the music of Brian Eno, one of my favorite "space music" composers, but I guess it wasn't working right, as there was no music playing. There were just a few quotes here and there.


Toward the end of the exhibit was a Lego-like series of architectural pieces, which were all designed in crystals. They were bright, sparkly and spectacular, like the Taj Mahal.


As we ended the "path" through the museum, there was a collection of Swarovski art pieces, some historical jewelry pieces and a delightful display of two mermaids in crystal crowns that looked like real gemstone crowns.


Thought I really did love experiencing the beauty of all the crystal art, I was a bit disappointed there wasn't more educational emphasis on the actual production of the crystals, which, of course, is a deeply kept secret.


The trip through Crystal World ends inevitably in the world's largest Swarovski gift shop. There certainly were no bargains, nor were there any Swarovski crystal beads for sale. I was hugely disappointed because I hoped to purchase some shapes and colors that maybe were not available in the US. You could only purchase the crystals, no beads. Bummer! So I bought a few gifts for close friends who love gemstones and shiny stuff, and that was it.

My patient hubby was waiting on one of the crystal-covered settees as I shopped. On the way out, a photographer snapped our photo at a particularly photogenic spot with "The Giant" in the background and we could purchase it for 8 Euros. Of course, I did. I told you I'm a dork.

If you ever get a chance, don't pass up this attraction. It's free if you purchase The Innsbruck Card for 31 Euros, but the card gets you into other sites in the city, also. We had our own car, but you can take the shuttle from anywhere in Innsbruck. If you love Swarovski crystals, it's worth the money. It's as magnificent as the single Swarovski which glows and sparkles in a beauty of its own.  


It's so easy to love Lexi's charm and sense of humor; plus she's always full of great insight about artisan jewelry making, gemstones, and design. She's a contributing editor to Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine, and you can enjoy more of her work in the 2011 Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist Collection CD or digital collection download–a whole year's worth of timeless LJJA back issues on a convenient clutter-free format.

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