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Photo diary: Wörgl

by gk Wed Feb 25th, 2009 at 06:20:02 AM EST

There have been several references here to Silvio Gesell and the experiment with his theories in Wörgl in Austria. As I've gone through Wörgl many times on the train to Munich, I figured it was time to actually get off the train there and see if there is anything related to this worth seeing.

I won't get into detail about Silvio Gesell and his theories, as my knowledge of this is almost exclusively from the 4 or 5 pages in the General Theory. The Geldexperiment in Wörgl was started by the mayor, Michael Unterguggenberger

in 1932 and lasted until August 1933, at which point the central bank finally managed to put a stop to it. They issued banknotes for which one needed to purchase a stamp (I think for 1% of the value of the note), otherwise it would become worthless.

In the words of Ezra Pound (Canto LXXIV)

he state need not borrow
            as was shown by the mayor of Worgl
            who had a milk route
            and whose wife sold shirts and short breeches
and on whose book-shelf was the Life of Henry Ford
and also a copy of the Divina Commedia
            and of the Gedichte of Heine
            a nice little town in the Tyrol in a wide flat-lying valley
near Innsbruck and when a note of the
            small town of Worgl went over
a counter in Innsbruck
            and the banker saw it go over
            all the slobs in Europe were terrified

In the short term, the experiment was very successful, resulting in many public works projects, and a significant improvement in the local economy. As far as the longer term is concerned, the central bank managed to stop it, at the point where many other places were threatening to follow suit. Soon afterwards, with the fascist takeover, most signs of the experiment were erased, but there has recently been an attempt  to revive the memory (and the idea itself), among others by the Unterguggenberger Institut in Wörgl.

It wasn't easy to find out if there was anything to see there. Most tour guides don't mention it, or dismiss the town in a sentence or two. There is a Heimatmuseum, which seems to have a display about the Freigeldexperiment, but the website claimed they were closed in the winter, and the local tourist board claimed they were open only in the morning. We got there around 11:30, to find a sign on the back of the building giving very inconvenient opening hours, of a few hours in the early morning some days, and in the late afternoon on other days. Maybe we should have gone round to the front door to get another opinion, but we noticed a yellow arrow labelled "Freigeld Wanderweg", so we followed that.

The first stop was a board showing a map of the whole route, that we photographed partly to use as a guide if we didn't find anything better

but we then immediately passed the offices of  the Unterguggenberger Institut (in his old home)

which had some leaflets with maps that we could take from the door (they were closed as this was Sunday). The next stop was a street whose sewage system was built in that year (no picture as there isn't much to photograph), and next came a bridge

also built with that money (but since expanded). Here's an old picture with a (not very legible) sign, long removed, saying that it was built with the Freigeld.

then Unterguggenberger's grave

and then a ski jump built at the same time

The last stop was a hiking trail built with this money, but as it was quite a way off, and no longer usable, we didn't bother.

There is an additional thing to see in the town, related to the Freigeldexperiment. A few years ago, the town installed a "Milestein" project, meant to illustrate the absurdity of compound interest. Assuming that you invested 1 Euro on 1.1.1 at 3% compound interest, a series of milestones (starting at the train station, going to the Heimatmuseum and back) shows you what your investment would be worth at various points in history. Here is a selection; the numbers themselves are not always legible in these photos, but the number of digits should be.

9. Teutoburger Forest battle

14. Augustus dies

70s. "Pecunia non olet"

691. Mosque in Jerusalem built

Around here is the Unterguggenberger monument

1204. Fourth Crusade

1769. Mozart spends the night in Wörgl

1945. Hiroshima

ca. 1969. Invention of the internet

2006. Milestone project

Note: most of the pictures were taken by a friend. On the way, I suddenly realised that I had forgotten to take my camera with me....

Excellent,gk,it brings it home that this was a real world experiment.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson
by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Wed Feb 25th, 2009 at 06:23:05 AM EST

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