To Home Page of Echoworld Communications
To Home Page of Echo Germanica
February 2011 - Nr. 2


Salzkammergut, Austria

Historically, the Salzkammergut has been known for thousands of years. “Hall” being the Celtic word for salt, one can find many towns and villages who incorporate Hall in their names, as e.g. Hallstatt or Hallein near Salzburg. Many hundreds of years before Christ, salt mining was already one of the main reasons that this area would be settled by people who would take the risks of a life in the wilderness and mining in the most primitive form. Archeological finds, however, show yet earlier settlements dating back to the Stone Age and an entire period is now known as the “Hallstatt Culture”. The area flourished during the Bronze Age and salt later brought enormous wealth to the rulers of the district. With the decline of the Roman rule Hallstatt was largely forgotten and only revitalized in the 13th Century AD by Queen Elizabeth, widow of Duke Albert I. of Austria, leading to serious disputes with the Archbishops of Salzburg with their already flourishing mines.

Several of these ancient mines have now been converted to museums and offer interesting tours through the bowels of the mountains, well worth a visit. Hallstatt is celebrating its 700 year anniversary of having been given the rights of a “Market Town” on January 21, 1311 by Queen Elizabeth. Queen Elizabeth, widow of Duke Albert I. of Austria, had brought the “Ischlland” into her marriage as part of her dowry. The events in Hallstatt in 1311 signified also the birth of the Salzkammergut as such, even though it was first documented as such only in 1656, and the area celebrated its 350th anniversary in 2006.

So much for its history - to describe the charms and the attraction of the Salzkammergut in words is nearly impossible. One can give it this or that name, in order to rekindle feelings and memories; everything is so incredibly beautiful to behold! One could say that “God has created the world in seven Holidays!”

Towns, lakes, mountains — lovely and delightful vistas versus stark and dark impressions. The sunny and bright southern part of the Traunsee vis-a-vis its northern romantic, dark and serious side towards Gmunden with its many ever hungry swans floating gracefully in the waters along the promenade; the bright and happy Mondsee with its fields of water lilies below the vertical face of the “Drachenwand”; the Wolfgangsee framed by the incomparable guardians of its mountain panorama, the town of St. Wolfgang, beautiful at any time of the day, but especially so at sunset against the mountains. Hallstattersee, with its thousands of years of history with Hallstatt itself nestled against the steep mountain wall protective of its ancient secrets, including its cemetery, everywhere traces of old traditions, some dating back to prehistoric times, some adjusted to the new religious customs of Christianity. Across the lake the enormous glacier of the Dachstein stands guard as it has for thousands of years.

And then there is Bad Ischl, the Imperial Summer vacation favourite of the Ha bsburgs, with its beautiful Kaiservilla, and the “Marmorschlossl”, the Tea Pavilion, Emperor Franz Josef had had built for his wife, Empress Elisabeth or Sissi, as she was popularly known. Empress Sissi was said to have been the most beautiful woman of her time and it was in Bad Ischl that the young Franz Josef proposed to her and where their engagement was celebrated.

The Salzkammergut and Bad Ischl specifically were the favourite summer destination also of the Viennese intelligentsia and artistic community, composers, musicians, painters and poets gathered in this gentile town. Many paintings of the lake sceneries in the vibrant colours of a summer’s day attest to the sojourn of many an artist.

The famous composer Franz Lehar owned a villa in Bad Ischl as did his friend Richard Tauber. Richard Tauber represented Lehar’s fulfillment of a Tenor ideal and became Lehar’s standard interpreter. Tauber made the Operetta “Land des Lachelns”, a world-wide success as the main character “Sou Chong”. “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz” from this Operetta became Tauber’s greatest success and his leitmotiv, the key-note of this great Tenor. The two friends would meet at Lehar’s home in Bad Ischl in the summer and visitors to the spa town would line up along the garden fence to enjoy Lehar and Tauber making music together. There were few festivals in those days and Bad Ischl was a prime example of “the good old times”. Today when visiting Bad Ischl one is still reminded of those days in the architecture of the buildings, the old spa hall, and then, of course, there is everyone’s favourite the “Konditorei Zauner” or as it is still known colloquially — “Beim Zauner”.

In the Salzkammergut you can choose between the quiet solitude of centuries-old churches and the natural beauty of the landscape, gazing down onto the unparalleled loveliness of the Lake District from the height of a summit, whether you conquered the mountain on foot or on a mountain railway as e.g. the cog-wheel railway up the steep inclines of the Schafberg behind St. Wolfgang. As in Rome one would throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain, to say farewell to the incomparable beauty of the Salzkammergut you must take a last stroll along the promenade at Gmunden, with a final look at its scenery of gracious bourgeois buildings cheek to cheek with villas and castles in an amicable neighbourhood, boats gently bobbing on the waves, the swans floating towards the shore with wings stretched wide, and Schloss Orth mirrored in the calm waters. 


To the top of the page