Medieval Bolzano/Bolzan and Cobo’s Funky Fischbänke Bar

Walking the cobblestones and quaint corners in the town of Bolzano (Bolzan in German), the last thing I expected to find was Fischbänke and its eccentric proprietor, Cobo.

Bolzano/Bolzan is one of the principle towns of Alto Adige/Sudtïrol, the northern region of Italy bordering Austria where both Italian and German are spoken. Its neat and immaculately maintained streets have shops tucked under arched stone porticos in case of bad weather. It is well known for its enormous outdoor Christmas market from late November until Epiphany, January 6.

At the the confluence of three rivers from three directions (Adige-west, Talvera-north and Isarco-east), the city is an old strategic center that maintains an historic character. One afternoon, I strolled past churches and piazzas…
Into the market area with fresh vegetables and fruit vendors…
And stalls full of Speck (the local ham), salami and cheese.
When I came across Fischbänke…

A Jimmy Buffet style bar in what was once a fish stall. The marble slabs that once displayed rows of fresh fish now hold glasses of wine and cocktails.
In a town known for seriousness, organization and efficiency, Fishbänke is decidedly lighthearted. Cobo, the owner whose real name is Rino Vullo, sets the tone with signs in Italian and German and funky decor. IMG_2120 He comes around to chat with all his patrons, mostly regulars from the neighborhood. A traveler and explorer, he has lived in many countries around the world including California in the seventies…and speaks excellent English.

I discovered after my visit that Cobo is an artist and an expert on local history, landmarks and hiking trails. In Bolzano, you can find his trail book. He once did a whole series of television shows for the local stations.
In this video (unfortunately only in Italian), he conducts a tour of local landmarks.

To summarize, he goes first to the Church of Santa Maddalena in Santa Maddelena, a village on the hill above Bolzano. The medieval church is dedicated to Mary Magdelene and contains a unique cycle of 12 frescoes depicting the life of Mary Magdalene as told in the Golden Legend by Jacobus de Voragine. According to the legend, Mary Magdalene went to Provence and Marseilles after the crucifixion and performed miracles that led to thousands of conversations to Christianity.

His next stop is one of the towers of the Castel Mareccio. There, on the wall is a “Magic Square”: five rows and five columns of letters (SATOR, AREPO, TENET, OPERA, ROTAS) that has been found in various places around Italy including, according to Cobo, Pompeii. In Hebrew, the letters translate into numbers that always total 65 whether going across, down or diagonally. No one knows exactly what significance it has.

Finally, he notes that these hills are in the DOC wine classification of Santa Maddalena, made from the two native red grape varieties: Schiava (lighter) and Lagrein (heavier). My favorite winery in the area is biodynamic Loacker Read more.

Last year, when I visited Loacker, I saw this view, not far from the Santa Maddalena Church, across the Isarco River Valley toward the Dolomites. Cobo is right. The history, wine, culture and history of Bolzano and the surrounding area is fascinating.
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Via Dr. Josef Streiter 24
Bolzano (BZ)

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