Western Europe is vast. It stretches over 18 countries and across three time zones; cultures collide and currency is shared over nearly the entire continent. Yet there are few places like Bolzano, a quiet town that just as often goes by the name Bozen. The town is technically in Italy, but sits so close to Germany that the cultural border between the two disappears as if under the snow in the Alps.
This area is usually considered the epicenter of classic western culture, where old cathedrals and famous frescoes offer a view of the past handful of centuries. We came here for a past even more distant, and to find out what it can tell us about the future.
In 1991, hikers in the mountains near here discovered the remains of a man who died 5,000 years ago. Freeze-dried in the snow, the man came to be known as the Iceman, one of the world’s most famous and well-preserved mummies. For more than 20 years, Ötzi—the nickname given to him because he was found in the Ötztal Alps—has fascinated archaeologists and anthropologists. We’ll meet with both types of scientists and ask them the very direct question: What relevance do ancient people have on our lives today?
We have other questions about this region, too. In 2006 the eyes of the world were trained not far from here, over in Torino. What happens to smaller cities after they host the Olympics? And in time for Halloween, one reader suggested we make it to Venice. We’ll make it there, aiming to explore a city that’s staring down the threat of a very wet deadline.